TUC says no to government’s new disability alliance

Disabled trade unionists have refused to join the government’s new “alliance” of organisations interested in disability, because they say it will restrict their ability to campaign against coalition policies.

The Office for Disability Issues claims that about 90 disability, public, voluntary and private sector organisations have joined its Disability Action Alliance (DAA), which aims to identify actions and activities that can “make a difference to the lives of disabled people” at local and national level.

Disability Rights UK, which is convening DAA, says the alliance will advise on “implementation” of government policy and focus on how existing policies could be improved at a local level.

Disabled people’s organisations signed up so far include Equalities National Council, People First (Self Advocacy) and the National Survivor User Network. The government has yet to publish a full list.

But the TUC’s Disabled Workers’ Committee (DWC) said this week that it had decided not to accept a government invitation to join DAA.

DWC said that joining the alliance would restrict the TUC’s ability to campaign against government policies that were affecting disabled people.

Sean McGovern, DWC’s chair, said unions had been working with disabled people to challenge the government’s “brutal and inhumane cuts”, including the closure of the Independent Living Fund, the replacement of working-age disability living allowance with personal independence payment, and the “bedroom tax”.

He said: “Every single one of these changes is punishing and impoverishing disabled people and their families.

“Joining this government-inspired alliance now would be to pretend that none of this is happening.”

He added: “We want to see all disabled people and the organisations that represent them continuing to oppose government policy and not conned into becoming part of the problem rather than part of the solution.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “It’s disappointing that the TUC have chosen not to join around 90 other organisations that make up the alliance so far, and who want to work together to make a real difference to the lives of disabled people.

“The membership agreement that we ask organisations to read before they sign up states very clearly that, although organisations should not campaign or lobby ‘in the name of the alliance’, this would not affect them campaigning or lobbying in their own right.”

27 March 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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Just three Remploy factories could be left when the dust settles

Plans to remove all government funding from Remploy’s sheltered factories could leave just three of them operating in the private sector or as social enterprises, with the loss of hundreds more jobs.

Only four years ago, there were 83 factories spread across the UK, but Remploy announced today that staff at nearly all of those still left were now at risk of redundancy.

Remploy said in a company statement that another 875 employees – 682 of them disabled people – had been told they faced losing their jobs.

The unions attacked the announcement, with Unite describing it as “cruel, callous and calculated”, and the TUC calling it “heartless”.

The last government closed 29 Remploy factories in 2008, while the coalition announced in March that it was closing a further 36 by the end of 2012 – with the funds used to subsidise the factories to be ploughed instead into more personalised forms of employment support – although it said some of the other 18 could be saved.

But Remploy said in today’s statement that only three of the remaining 18 factories – the automotive business operating in Coventry, Birmingham and Derby – were “viable” and had the potential to move out of government control as a going concern.

Factories in Huddersfield, Porth, Heywood, Dundee, Stirling, Clydebank, Norwich, Portsmouth, Burnley and Sunderland have all been found “not viable” and have been “proposed for closure”, with all their staff now at risk of redundancy.

Furniture factories in Neath, Sheffield and Blackburn, and marine textiles factories in Leven and Cowdenbeath could still be sold, but Remploy suggested that they could struggle to find buyers.

These changes could leave just the three automotive factories in operation by next October, although negotiations are also continuing with bidders for two of the first 36 factories originally earmarked for closure.

In addition, Remploy is hoping to sell its CCTV business – and its 27 current contracts – but these staff have also been told they are at risk of redundancy.

Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, told MPs today that the government had committed £8 million in support for those disabled Remploy employees made redundant.

She said the government was working with Remploy’s own Employment Services division, as well as local and national employers, and the Business Disability Forum, to offer “targeted work opportunities for disabled people”.

This could include guaranteed job interviews, work trials, training, mock interviews, and training for employers in how to make adjustments for staff with particular impairments.

McVey said that of the 1,349 disabled people made redundant so far through the closure programme, 875 had “expressed an interest in returning to work” and were using the government support package, with just under 15 per cent – about 130 – of them now in work.

She said: “It is one of our top priorities to maximise employment opportunities for the Remploy factory-leavers.”

But Len McCluskey, Unite’s general secretary, said the process of selling off the factories had been “a shambles”, while his members were not receiving the support they had been promised to help them back into work.

He said: “Once again, this reveals a heartless and calculating government, putting cost-cutting before the real needs and employment prospects of disabled workers. It is a national disgrace.”

Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, added: “This is a heartless decision by a government that has shown very little interest in protecting the livelihoods of severely disabled people who need support both in and out of work.”

6 December 2012

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Labour conference: Members hear support call for the ‘Hardest Hit’

Labour party members have been urged to support protest events being led by disabled people who are “fighting back” against the government cuts and reforms that will push them deeper into poverty and exclusion.

The call from the party conference platform came from Dave Allan, general secretary of Labour’s disabled members group and a member of the union Unite.

He praised the thousands of disabled activists who took part in the TUC’s anti-cuts protest in March, and the national Hardest Hit demonstration in Westminster in May, and called for party members to “support disabled people and carry on the fight-back” against welfare reforms, and cuts to benefits and services for disabled people.

A series of regional anti-cuts protests, organised by disabled people’s organisations and disability charities as part of the Hardest Hit campaign, will take place across the UK on Saturday 22 October.

During a short equalities debate, held on the final morning of the conference, Allan attacked the coalition’s “empty promises” to disabled people.

And he attacked cuts such as closing the Independent Living Fund to new claimants, reducing support that helps disabled people with their mortgage interest payments, and new restrictions to the Access to Work scheme.

Allan said planned cuts to spending on disability living allowance, and proposals to replace it with a new benefit – included in the government’s welfare reform bill – were “particularly pernicious”, and would lead to many disabled people losing their jobs.

He said the “real barriers” facing disabled people were in “access to decent and well-paid employment, transport, education, care and health and social services”, and that discrimination was “the main barrier for disabled people to find work”.

Earlier in the debate, the shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper briefly mentioned disabled people.

She pointed to the government’s decisions to block implementation of key parts of Labour’s Equality Act and to target disabled people for “hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts… not through helping them into work, but through Treasury-driven targets against the vital support they need to live their lives.”

The regional Hardest Hit protests on 22 October have been planned for nine English regions, as well as Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, and are being organised by the UK Disabled People’s Council and members of the Disability Benefits Consortium.

The English events will take place in Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Leeds, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich and Nottingham.

The previous day, disabled people and other activists across the country will be lobbying their MPs at their weekly constituency surgeries.

The protests have been timed to coincide with the progress of the welfare reform bill through the House of Lords.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Sayce employment support review: Access to Work scheme ‘is key’

The government should double the number of people receiving support through the Access to Work (ATW) scheme, according to the author of a major review of disabled people’s employment support programmes.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, said ATW – which provides funding for adaptations and equipment at work – was “highly cost-effective” and a key part of helping disabled people to find, keep and stay in jobs.

And she called at the review’s launch in north London for efforts to increase awareness of ATW among disabled people and employers, so it becomes a “well-recognised passport to successful employment”.

Sayce said: “We want to see ATW turn from government’s best-kept secret into something that is really well-known.”

But her recommendations come as there are increasing concerns over reports of disabled people facing tighter eligibility criteria when they try to claim ATW.

Last month, the TUC’s disability conference heard that ATW was under serious threat as a result of the financial crisis and government spending cuts.

Also last month, Disability News Service revealed that government statistics showed the number of “new customers” granted ATW funding fell sharply in the first three quarters of 2010-11.

Sayce told Disability News Service: “RADAR have certainly picked up concerns about eligibility being tightened.”

She said she believed there should be a focus on “driving down the costs of products and services” obtained through ATW, and the costs of assessments.

Mike Adams, chief executive of Essex Coalition of Disabled People, who was a member of the review’s scrutiny panel, said his organisation had surveyed members about ATW and found that “when it worked it worked really well and when it didn’t work it was terrible”.

He said there were real concerns over tightening eligibility, with new claimants finding it tougher to claim but also evidence of disabled people having their existing ATW packages reduced when they were reviewed.

He added: “We are finding that people are saying it is harder to access Access to Work.”

But he said he also agreed with the need to drive down the cost of services and equipment obtained through ATW funding.

And he said he particularly welcomed Sayce’s call for the government to work with user-led organisations to provide peer support and services – including assessments – for people using ATW.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

TUC disability conference: Cuts are ‘threatening disabled people’s work support’

The future of the support that allows disabled people to find and keep work is under serious threat as a result of the financial crisis and government spending cuts, disabled trade unionists have heard.

The TUC’s annual disability conference heard from a string of activists who attacked the cuts to public sector spending and the government’s planned welfare reforms.

But one activist warned that threats to the Access to Work (ATW) scheme had so far not received enough attention from campaigners, who had focused instead on cuts to benefits such as disability living allowance (DLA).

Peter Milliken, from the education union ATL, claimed the government wanted to “decimate” ATW.

He said his own ability to work full-time, through a support worker part-funded by ATW, could be at risk.

He said: “If I lose that support I will not be able to work full-time. I know DLA is getting a huge amount of publicity but it is important for people to be very aware that ATW is at very great risk.”

The conference also heard that employers – both in the private and public sectors – were increasingly flouting their legal duties to make reasonable adjustments for their disabled staff.

Saraka Keating, from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, said there appeared to be an “increased willingness by some NHS and other employers to ignore their obligations to make reasonable adjustments”.

She said one disabled physiotherapist had been told he could not bring his guide dog to work, even though as a patient he was allowed to bring it onto the same premises.

She added: “They said if he couldn’t adapt they would sack him. This employer’s attitude is they would be perfectly happy to face a case at tribunal and take the hit if they lose it rather than make the necessary adjustments and keep the physio in employment.”

Michelle Williams, of the NASUWT teaching union, said she detected “a new selfishness” among employers, who were beginning to “challenge reasonable adjustments”.

She said unions must “protect disabled employees and their employment rights” and “end this new selfishness before it takes hold”.

Roland Zollner, from FDA, the public service union, said employers were targeting the workplace support that disabled employees needed to keep their jobs now that the “hard times” had begun to bite.

One after another, delegates to the conference attacked the government’s spending cuts and their disproportionate impact on disabled people.

Berni McCrea, from Unite, Britain’s biggest union, called on the TUC to produce a report on the impact of the cuts on disabled people, and for protest action later this year on or around the International Day of Disabled People in early December.

She said: “We have to stop these devastating cuts and show this government that we will not stand for their bullying tactics.”

Earlier, the conference had heard from the disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, who said that the government’s suggestion – on its Red Tape Challenge website – that the Equality Act could be scrapped had “sent chills down my body”.

She said that to even contemplate scrapping the act and to realise that it was now “perceived as a burden to business, as a piece of tape” was “fairly frightening”.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

TUC disability conference: Activists draw parallels with Nazi Germany

Union activists have drawn disturbing parallels between the hostility being experienced by disabled benefits claimants and the events that led to the murder of tens of thousands of disabled people in Nazi Germany.

Delegates to the TUC’s annual disability conference were told how disabled people in Nazi concentration camps had been forced to wear black triangles “because they couldn’t produce anything” and were “useless eaters”.

The Nazi Aktion-T4 programme is believed to have led to the targeted killing of as many as 200,000 disabled people, and possibly many more, and became the blueprint for the “Final Solution”, through which the Nazis hoped to wipe out Jews, gay people and other minority groups.

Sasha Callaghan, from the University and College Union, a founder member of Black Triangle, which campaigns against the government’s cuts to disability benefits, said headlines in UK newspapers about “benefit cheats” and “work-shy” disabled people had echoes of Nazi Germany.

She showed delegates a series of negative headlines in newspapers gathered over just a few days last autumn.

Only last month, disabled activists demonstrated outside the offices of the Daily Mail to protest about the newspaper’s “disablist” and “defamatory” coverage of the government’s push to force people off incapacity benefits.

They claimed the stories and their “lurid” and “sensationalist” headlines – such as “76 % of those who say they’re sick ‘can work’” – labelled disabled people as cheats and scroungers and fuelled hate crime.

Berni McCrea, from Unite, Britain’s biggest union, said she believed the attitude towards disabled people demonstrated by the headlines shown by Callaghan “suits the government very nicely”, and added: “It is very evident that there is a softening-up process.”

She said Callaghan had described “very well what happens when people are softened up and hated… What happened in Germany in the early 30s. I do think we must take it very, very seriously.”

Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network and an NUJ delegate and member of the TUC disability committee, said the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into disability-related harassment had produced so much evidence – 15,000 pages – that its completion had been delayed.

Brookes said the inquiry had shown a “systematic failure in all areas”, including by housing organisations and citizens advice bureaux, which showed the need to “work together”.

He said there was a need for better training around disability hate crime, as well as efforts to tackle complacency, such as the tolerance of abuse in care homes and hospitals.

He called for disabled people to work together to increase the reporting of hate crime. And he attacked the government over its commitment to tackling the issue.

He said: “It was a government priority and Maria Miller [the minister for disabled people] still says that disability hate crime is a priority and goes round visiting projects… before pulling the money from them.”

Meanwhile, a new report by Essex Coalition of Disabled People identifies key areas that need to be addressed in tackling disability hate crime.

The report calls for greater understanding, with education focused on disabled people, professionals and wider society; better services to support disabled victims; and improved reporting procedures.

But the coalition’s “primary recommendation” is that these areas can best be addressed by a user-led organisation working in partnership with the police and other agencies.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Equality 2025’s new chair pledges to keep disability ‘at top of agenda’

The new chair of the government’s advisory body of disabled people has pledged to ensure disability remains “at the top of the agenda” as public sector spending cuts begin to bite.

Dr Rachel Perkins said she was “delighted” to be appointed to chair Equality 2025, and said the advice body would need to “continually look at the implications for disabled people in all of the reforms”.

The clinical psychologist carried out a well-received review in 2009 for the Labour government on helping people with mental health conditions into work.

Last summer, she was Mind’s “champion of the year” in its mental health awards, and also received an OBE for services to mental health.

Perkins said the role of Equality 2025 was to examine the implications of policies for disabled people and “maybe suggest alternatives that are less damaging” and “ways that things could be changed”.

She added: “We do have to make sure that issues facing disabled people… remain at the forefront of people’s agenda.”

But she stressed that she did not believe that ministers in the coalition government were any more guilty of failing to recognise the implications of their policies on disabled people than those in previous governments.

When asked whether she had joined the TUC’s mass march and rally against the cuts, she said she had spent the weekend writing, away from London, although her partner had taken part.

But she added: “I would have been there if I had been in London. I do think there are concerns.”

Shortly afterwards, she added: “I don’t know whether I would have been there.”

She made it clear that Equality 2025 was now – following changes made last year which reduced membership from a maximum of 25 disabled people to just eight – a “strategic advisory group”, providing advice to ministers and senior officials “at the very early stages of policy development”.

She said it was no longer an “outward-facing” group that provided a “conduit” for disabled people to feed their opinions to the government.

And she repeated the views of her predecessor, Rowen Jade, who told Disability News Service last year – following criticism of the body’s low profile – that its advice to government had to remain private and confidential.

But Perkins added: “There is no way that Equality 2025 replaces the role of disabled people’s organisations. It has a different role and that is providing that early confidential advice that means it cannot be public.

“If you want impact on policy at that early stage it is confidential and… has to remain that way.”

Perkins pointed to the significance of someone living with a mental health condition securing such a prominent role and said she was “absolutely convinced” that the disability movement needed to encompass the “full range of disabled people”, which was “something I have been writing and speaking about for a long time”.

She also said that too much of the dialogue about mental health centred on “treatment and needs” rather than “rights and access”.

She said: “I really do feel the social model rights to citizenship is absolutely the way we have to look at people facing the full range of impairments.

“We have to help government to see that they have to look at the full range of our experiences.”

She also paid tribute to Rowen Jade, who was much mourned across the disability movement when she died last September.

She said Jade was “an amazing woman” and would be an “incredibly difficult act to follow”, but that she hoped to build on her work.

Perkins said her first task as chair was to work with her fellow members on a work plan for the next year, but she said she could not yet say what those priorities might be.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com