Government silent on ‘draconian’ PIP mobility plans

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has refused to admit that it plans to tighten eligibility for support for people with the highest mobility needs, despite proof in its own documents.

Last month, DWP published the final assessment criteria that will decide eligibility for the new personal independence payment (PIP), the replacement for working-age disability living allowance (DLA).

The documents showed the government has tightened eligibility for the top – “enhanced” – rate of the mobility component of PIP.

Previous drafts of the criteria stated that a claimant who could not walk at least 50 metres would be entitled to the enhanced rate, making them eligible to lease a Motability vehicle. But this has now been slashed to just 20 metres.

Sir Bert Massie, who chaired the former Disability Rights Commission, has described the change as “extremely disturbing” and “draconian”, while Helen Dolphin, of Disabled Motoring UK said the “last minute” changes were “pretty outrageous”.

Jane Young, coordinator of the WeAreSpartacus network, has described how she and fellow campaigners were “shocked and stunned” when they saw the final PIP criteria and realised how many more people would lose the cars they lease through the Motability scheme.

These and other changes will – by 2015 – see 20,000 fewer disabled people eligible for the enhanced rate than under the previous version of the PIP regulations, with this gap rising to 51,000 by 2018.

But DWP insisted last month that it was merely “clarifying” the regulations and that the number of people receiving the enhanced rate as a result of the change from 50 metres to 20 metres will remain “broadly the same”.

When Disability News Service attempted this week to confirm the impact of the changes, DWP refused to add to its original statements.

A DWP press officer said: “You have put your point-of-view forward and we have put ours. It is for those organisations and the public to make up their minds.”

He refused to comment further on the new criteria.

10 January 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

DWP blocks vital detail on ILF consultation

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has refused to say how many disabled people who took part in a major public consultation were opposed to its decision to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF).

Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, confirmed last month that ILF would close in April 2015, with funding passed to local authorities and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, although this money will not be ring-fenced.

DWP has admitted that a “significant majority” of individuals who responded to the consultation were opposed to closure, but it is refusing to say exactly how strong that opposition was.

This mirrors its decision to block the release of individual responses to its disability living allowance consultation, which disabled activists say was also to prevent the true scale of opposition from becoming known.

DWP has admitted receiving about 2,000 responses to the ILF consultation, including 96 written responses from disabled people’s organisations, 78 from local authorities and 14 from other organisations.

There were hundreds of other responses from individual disabled people, including more than 400 from ILF-users and their representatives who attended consultation events.

But in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from disabled activist Linda Burnip, a co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, DWP claimed most respondents to the ILF consultation provided “lengthy, detailed and nuanced responses” and so it was “not possible to provide meaningful statistics on how many responses held particular beliefs or raised particular arguments or opinions”.

Burnip said: “How can they say the outcome of the consultation is that the ILF is going to close when they can’t give us any quantitative data to say how many people or local authorities were in favour of transferring the money to local authorities?

“I think this reinforces the case that government consultations are a total sham, and that the government makes the decisions beforehand.”

Many activists believe the plans to close ILF – a government-funded trust which helps about 19,000 disabled people with the highest support needs – threaten disabled people’s right to independent living.

They say the government has offered no details on how councils would be able to meet the extra costs of people with high support needs who previously received ILF money, most of whom receive both ILF and council funding.

The government’s failure to provide a proper account of the ILF consultation is now likely to be used as evidence in a legal action being taken by ILF-users who want the courts to declare the consultation unlawful.

A DWP spokesman said: “Respondents were free to respond to the questions with any answer they wished and were not constrained to simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers.

“The overwhelming majority of respondents chose to provide longer responses with many expressing mixed feelings about the proposals or laying out conditions on which they would support it.

“Such responses cannot be simply categorised as ‘supportive’ or ‘opposing’ nor is it always clear when a respondent is intending to provide a ‘mixed’ response.

“We have provided in the government’s response a qualitative assessment of the opinions and arguments expressed by respondents with a high level assessment of the strength and extent of support for them.”

10 January 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

ILF closure is ‘new nail in the coffin’ of independent living

The government has confirmed it is to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in April 2015, and has admitted the decision will have a “potential negative impact” on disabled people supported by the fund.

Outraged campaigners say the move comes despite “overwhelming opposition” from disabled people and their families.

The closure of ILF will see funding passed to local authorities and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but that money will not be ring-fenced.

Local authorities will then have “sole responsibility for meeting the eligible care and support needs of current ILF users” in England, while the devolved administrations will decide how to support those within their own care and support systems.

But the government has admitted – in its response to a consultation on the plans – that ILF users “may face reductions or alterations in their care package due to the reform”.

Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, said the government believed that “the needs of current users could be met in a more consistent and effective way within a single cohesive system”.

Local authorities have already stated 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.

The Department for Work and Pensions admitted that a “significant majority” of individuals who responded to the consultation were opposed to closure, although “a significant minority said they would be happy with local authorities taking control of the funding if it could be guaranteed that their care packages would remain the same”.

Most local authorities “expressed strong support” for the closure, according to the government.

But many activists believe the plans to close ILF – a government-funded trust which helps about 19,100 disabled people with the highest support needs – threaten disabled people’s right to independent living.

They say the government has offered no details on how councils would be able to meet the extra costs of people with high support needs who previously received ILF money, most of whom also receive both ILF and council funding.

Anne Pridmore, a leading disabled activist and one of the ILF-users taking legal action over the way the government consulted on scrapping the fund, said the government’s decision was “no great surprise”.

But she said the move would be “devastating” to her and others, and she pointed out that if it were implemented she would be unable to continue to take part in the many government consultation events she attends.

She said: “I will be able to do none of that in the future if I am relegated to an old people’s home, which seems to be the case.”

In a joint statement, Inclusion London and Disabled People Against Cuts said the confirmation of the closure had left disabled people with the highest support needs “in fear and distress”.

One ILF-user, Jenny Hurst, said she received a package of just four hours support a day before she was referred to the fund, “one hour for getting me up/showered and breakfasted, one hour for housework and lunch, one hour for supper and an hour to do the ‘put to bed’.

“In between times I couldn’t get a drink or use the toilet – let alone do anything meaningful with my life.”

With ILF support she has been able to go to university, secure a full-time job and become a charity trustee.

Kevin Caulfield, chair of Hammersmith and Fulham Coalition against Community Care Cuts, another ILF-user, said: “The announcement of the closure of the ILF is yet another nail in the coffin of the increasing numbers of disabled people being discarded into isolation, social exclusion, deteriorating health and premature death.

“This is more evidence that we are so far from being all in this together.”

Disability Rights UK said the decision to close ILF risked a return to “obligatory residential care home placements”.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “We are extremely concerned that the government is now adding to the enormous pressure on local authorities, disabled people and carers without taking steps to resolve the funding crisis.”

But one leading disabled activist – and ILF-user – has backed the decision to close ILF.

Simon Stevens, a disability consultant and trainer, said: “On paper it is the right move as it removes repetition, but the challenge is building a framework in the new arrangements that will stand the test of time.

“It’s what happens in 2018 and beyond we need to worry about when councils have full control.”

ILF will publish a “transition plan” early in 2013 describing “how users will be supported over the next two years in preparation for the transfer”.

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

DWP accused of ‘shameful whitewash’ over DLA consultation responses

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is set to break its promise to publish thousands of public responses to its controversial disability living allowance (DLA) consultation by the end of this year.

The DLA consultation took place from 6 December 2010 to 18 February 2011, but the government was subsequently accused of misleading parliament and the public about the scale of opposition to the reforms.

Now disabled activists are claiming DWP is resisting their attempts to obtain proof of the overwhelming opposition to its plans to replace DLA with a new personal independence payment (PIP).

Disabled activists who worked on Responsible Reform – published in January and also known as the Spartacus Report – had analysed the 523 responses to the consultation that were submitted by disabled people’s organisations, disability charities and other groups.

But they have so far been unable to examine the individual responses, which they believe will show just as strong opposition to the reforms, due to be implemented from April 2013.

The Spartacus Report found that 99 per cent of groups objected to DLA no longer being used as a “passport” to other benefits; 92 per cent opposed plans to remove the lowest rate of support for those with care needs; and nine in ten opposed plans for a new assessment.

But in the government’s response to the consultation, there had been no suggestion of such a high level of opposition to its plans.

DWP even claimed later that it had not carried out any basic statistical analysis of these and other answers to the consultation responses.

Lord Freud, the Conservative welfare reform minister, said in a letter to fellow peers that group responses had made up only 10 per cent of the consultation, and that the Spartacus Report had ignored nearly 5,000 individual responses.

He said all 5,000 had been “thoroughly and appropriately considered in the Government’s analysis and have been used to inform the design of the new benefit and supporting processes”.

In the wake of his comments, disabled activist Sam Barnett-Cormack used the Freedom of Information Act to ask DWP to publish these 5,000 individual responses. It promised to do so – “in tranches” – by the end of this year.

But so far, less than three weeks from the end of 2012, not a single response has been published.

Barnett-Cormack said: “It’s clear that the DWP is using any tactic they can to delay or prevent the release of these documents.

“I find it very unlikely, especially given the DWP’s behaviour, that the individual submissions will substantially change the picture we got from the group submissions – massive disagreement with the Government plan.

“The fact that the consultation was described by the Government as supporting their plan means, if our suspicions are correct, that the Government is perfectly willing to use dirty tricks and misrepresentation to support their ‘reforms’.”

Disabled activist Sue Marsh, co-author of the Spartacus Report, said the government’s failure to keep its promise was “disgusting and shameful”.

She said: “The government said these other responses would show that actually there was great support for PIP. I said they wouldn’t.”

She accused DWP of “whitewashing” the consultation, and has already warned that she will write to every MP and peer to tell them the government lied about the consultation responses if it fails to back up its claims.

A DWP spokeswoman refused to say why it had failed to meet its own deadline, and would not even admit the deadline had been set, despite Disability News Service sending her a copy of its own Freedom of Information Act response.

She said: “We are sorting through the 5,000 individual responses to the DLA consultation and intend to publish them in tranches on the website as soon as we can.”

13 December 2012

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Review of Equality 2025 sparks concerns

The launch of a government review has raised fears that ministers are planning to replace their advisory network of disabled people with a controversial new “alliance” of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), charities, service-providers and private sector organisations.

The new Conservative minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, quietly announced a review into the role of Equality 2025 this week.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) insisted that the review – which is set to be completed next spring – was “normal practice” and took place every three years, with the previous one completed in 2009.

But McVey also told MPs that the review would ask whether the “purposes for which Equality 2025 were established are still necessary”, and whether its “services” were still “appropriate, adequate and effective”.

If the review concludes that it should not be scrapped, it will suggest how its performance should be “enhanced and improved”, she said.

The timing of McVey’s statement has raised concerns, coming only a month after her department announced a new alliance of DPOs, charities, and private and public sector organisations, which will be asked to produce new disability policies for the coalition.

The new Disability Action Alliance (DAA) will be led by Disability Rights UK (DR UK), a decision which caused anger across the disability movement, amid allegations that the appointment had taken place “behind closed doors”, that DR UK was too close to the government, and that DAA would represent the views and interests of big business and service-providers.

Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Ciuncil, said he was not sure how “effective” Equality 2025 had been, but he believed the government was “preparing the ground” for it to be replaced by DR UK and the new alliance.

He said: “I think they are preparing DR UK to play a much greater role in working with the government and the Office for Disability Issues to promote the disability rights agenda.

“I think DAA will just become an extension, the working arm, of DR UK.

“I would not be surprised at all if they decided to remove Equality 2025 and put DAA in its place.”

Equality 2025 was set up six years ago to advise the then Labour government on achieving equality for disabled people by 2025.

It has in the past faced accusations from within the disability movement that it lacked a high enough profile and had failed to communicate its work, although its members insist that the vital advice they give ministers has to remain confidential.

Following changes made in 2010, which reduced its membership from a maximum of 25 disabled people to just eight, Equality 2025 became a “high-level” advisory group, but is still supposed to provide advice to ministers and senior officials at the early stages of policy development.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “It’s normal practice for government departments to review non departmental public bodies like Equality 2025 every three years. Equality 2025 was last reviewed in 2009 so this is just part of the regular process.”

She said there had been “no suggestion” that the government was considering replacing Equality 2025 with DAA.

25 October 2012

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Access to Work figures are ‘disgraceful’, says shadow minister

New figures that show how the number of disabled people receiving funding through the Access to Work (AtW) scheme has plummeted since the coalition came to power are “disgraceful”, according to a shadow minister.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show the number of people claiming funding through the employment support scheme fell by more than 5,000 to 30,690 last year, a drop of nearly 15 per cent on 2010-11.

The fall in “new customers helped” has been even more marked, with only 9,930 disabled people claiming funding for the first time in 2011-12, a fall of a quarter since 2010-11 and more than 6,500 lower than in the last year of the Labour government.

Anne McGuire, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said the figures were “a disgraceful indictment of the government’s commitment to using Access to Work as the primary means of support for disabled workers in employment”.

And she said they also called into question statements made to MPs by Maria Miller, the Conservative minister for disabled people.

She questioned Miller earlier this month about falling AtW figures, and was told to “check her facts” and that the government was “marketing Access to Work actively to make sure that more people can use it to get into work”.

McGuire told Disability News Service this week: “Well, the figures are now there for all to see and it is truly shocking that any minister for disabled people could take any pride in them.

“These figures highlight yet again that the government are failing disabled people in employment as well as in welfare reform.”

The latest figures follow a series of concerns about the coalition’s commitment to the AtW scheme – which provides funding for adaptations, equipment and ongoing support to make workplaces more accessible – since it came to power in 2010.

A review of employment support by Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK (DR UK), called last year for the number of disabled people receiving AtW to double, so the scheme could change from being the “government’s best-kept secret” into a “well-recognised passport to successful employment”.

But instead the numbers claiming AtW have plummeted since Sayce handed her report to the coalition.

DR UK declined to comment on the new AtW figures this week.

But when the government initially responded to Sayce’s report last July, it warned that her AtW recommendations could put “additional pressure on funding at a time when resources are limited”.

Concerns over the government’s willingness to increase AtW spending increased earlier this month after Miller announced a series of minor reforms that focused on marketing and awareness-raising.

Instead of implementing Sayce’s AtW proposals, Miller set up a new “expert advisory panel”, to advise the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “on the best way to take forward Liz Sayce’s recommendations”.

A DWP spokeswoman insisted this week that the government had “invested more money than ever before into the scheme” but accepted that “we need to do more to raise awareness of the scheme amongst all disabled people”.

She said: “That is why we are launching a marketing campaign and have set up an expert panel to look at how we can expand, strengthen and modernise AtW to make work and choice of work possible for many more disable people.”

She also referred to the £15 million the government was adding to the AtW budget as a result of the Remploy sheltered factory closures, which she claimed would “support 8,000 more people to get into and stay in work”.

But she refused to comment on why the number of people claiming AtW had fallen so sharply.

Meanwhile, Miller has announced that a £3 million fund set up to support the growth of disabled people’s organisations has been extended to Scotland and Wales.

The Strengthening Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations programme will now allow grassroots organisations in Scotland and Wales to join those in England in bidding for money to fund projects that will help them become more sustainable.

So far more than half a million pounds has been paid out since the fund was launched in July 2011.

For information on AtW, visit the government’s Directgov website.

New figures that show how the number of disabled people receiving funding through the Access to Work (AtW) scheme has plummeted since the coalition came to power are “disgraceful”, according to a shadow minister.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show the number of people claiming funding through the employment support scheme fell by more than 5,000 to 30,690 last year, a drop of nearly 15 per cent on 2010-11.

The fall in “new customers helped” has been even more marked, with only 9,930 disabled people claiming funding for the first time in 2011-12, a fall of a quarter since 2010-11 and more than 6,500 lower than in the last year of the Labour government.

Anne McGuire, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said the figures were “a disgraceful indictment of the government’s commitment to using Access to Work as the primary means of support for disabled workers in employment”.

And she said they also called into question statements made to MPs by Maria Miller, the Conservative minister for disabled people.

She questioned Miller earlier this month about falling AtW figures, and was told to “check her facts” and that the government was “marketing Access to Work actively to make sure that more people can use it to get into work”.

McGuire told Disability News Service this week: “Well, the figures are now there for all to see and it is truly shocking that any minister for disabled people could take any pride in them.

“These figures highlight yet again that the government are failing disabled people in employment as well as in welfare reform.”

The latest figures follow a series of concerns about the coalition’s commitment to the AtW scheme – which provides funding for adaptations, equipment and ongoing support to make workplaces more accessible – since it came to power in 2010.

A review of employment support by Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK (DR UK), called last year for the number of disabled people receiving AtW to double, so the scheme could change from being the “government’s best-kept secret” into a “well-recognised passport to successful employment”.

But instead the numbers claiming AtW have plummeted since Sayce handed her report to the coalition.

DR UK declined to comment on the new AtW figures this week.

But when the government initially responded to Sayce’s report last July, it warned that her AtW recommendations could put “additional pressure on funding at a time when resources are limited”.

Concerns over the government’s willingness to increase AtW spending increased earlier this month after Miller announced a series of minor reforms that focused on marketing and awareness-raising.

Instead of implementing Sayce’s AtW proposals, Miller set up a new “expert advisory panel”, to advise the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “on the best way to take forward Liz Sayce’s recommendations”.

A DWP spokeswoman insisted this week that the government had “invested more money than ever before into the scheme” but accepted that “we need to do more to raise awareness of the scheme amongst all disabled people”.

She said: “That is why we are launching a marketing campaign and have set up an expert panel to look at how we can expand, strengthen and modernise AtW to make work and choice of work possible for many more disable people.”

She also referred to the £15 million the government was adding to the AtW budget as a result of the Remploy sheltered factory closures, which she claimed would “support 8,000 more people to get into and stay in work”.

But she refused to comment on why the number of people claiming AtW had fallen so sharply.

Meanwhile, Miller has announced that a £3 million fund set up to support the growth of disabled people’s organisations has been extended to Scotland and Wales.

The Strengthening Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations programme will now allow grassroots organisations in Scotland and Wales to join those in England in bidding for money to fund projects that will help them become more sustainable.

So far more than half a million pounds has been paid out since the fund was launched in July 2011.

For information on AtW, visit the government’s Directgov website.