Disabled victims of bedroom tax granted urgent judicial review

Disabled people who are set to be hit by the government’s controversial “bedroom tax” have won the right to an urgent judicial review of the new rules.

Lawyers acting for the 10 individuals and families taking the legal action say that the changes – due to come into force on 1 April – will have a far greater impact on disabled people than non-disabled people.

They say the regulations breach the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act, as well as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The judicial review of the decision to cut housing benefit for those judged to be “over-occupying” their social housing will be heard in early May.

Sue McCafferty, a member of the We are Spartacus grassroots network of disabled campaigners, said: “The policy and the legislation underpinning the ‘bedroom tax’ are fundamentally flawed and it was evident from the government’s own equality impact assessment that the regulations would have a disproportionate impact upon sick and disabled people.

“We are Spartacus are delighted that the flaws of this policy will be examined and, we hope, that the profound distress caused to those affected will soon be over.”

Ugo Hayter, from solicitors Leigh Day, who is representing two of the claimants, said: “This is an excellent result and the first step in over-ruling what we believe is an unfair piece of legislation which has disproportionate negative consequences for disabled people and is therefore discriminatory.”

The new regulation will see a working-age single person or a couple with no children in social housing having their housing benefit reduced by 14 per cent if they occupy a two-bedroom home and by 25 per cent if they occupy a home with three or more bedrooms.

The two claimants represented by Hayter, Jacqueline Carmichael and Richard Rourke, came forward as a result of work by We are Spartacus.

Carmichael lives in a two-bedroom housing association flat with her husband, her full-time carer, and has to sleep in a fixed position in a hospital bed with an electronic pressure mattress.

Her husband cannot share her bed for safety reasons, and there is no space in the room for a second bed, so he sleeps in the second bedroom.

The Carmichaels say they cannot afford the 14 per cent benefit reduction in their housing benefit.

Rourke, a wheelchair-user, lives in a three-bedroom bungalow, with substantial adaptations.

He has a disabled daughter, also a wheelchair-user, who is studying at university but returns home for holidays, and often at weekends. The third bedroom is a tiny box-room used to store mobility and care equipment.

Rourke cannot move home because there is no wheelchair-accessible, two-bedroom social housing available. If forced to move, he risks losing access to his support network.

National Housing Federation figures released earlier this month showed that 230,000 disability living allowance (DLA) claimants would lose an average of £728 per year in housing benefit as a result of the new regulation.

Even if all the extra £30 million funding allocated by the government to help foster carers and disabled people in adapted properties was given to DLA claimants hit by the tax, they would each receive just £2.51 per week, compared with an average £14 a week loss.

27 March 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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Concern over progress on vital ‘shadow report’ on UN rights

The disabled people’s organisation (DPO) leading work on a vital report to the United Nations (UN) on disability rights in the UK has been forced to reassure concerned activists that the work will be finished on time.

Activists had warned this week that the disability movement risked missing a unique opportunity to tell the UN “how things are for disabled people in the UK” because of delays in completing the report.

The UK government’s report on how it is implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) was submitted to a UN committee more than 14 months ago, although it made almost no reference to the coalition’s programme of cuts to disability benefits and services.

But the UN committee will also be accepting a 60-page “shadow” report on the government’s progress, which is being led by the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC), under its Disability Rights Watch UK banner.

Tara Flood, who campaigned for a UN disability convention and worked on it when chair of the now defunct Disability Awareness in Action, said the shadow report would allow DPOs to set a “benchmark” for the state of disability rights in the UK, and to show the UN committee “how things are for disabled people in the UK now”.

Flood told a legal network of lawyers and DPOs* – set up by Inclusion London and the Public Law Project – that the UNCRPD was a “blueprint for activists” that creates a “campaigning framework for social, political and cultural rights”.

Evidence from the shadow report will help the UN committee quiz the UK government on where it is failing on disability rights, she said.

The UN monitoring committee had been due to scrutinise the UK government’s record this year, but there are believed to be about 20 countries to be assessed before the UK, with the committee only dealing with about five of them every year.

David Buxton, chief executive of the British Deaf Association, told the meeting he was “very concerned” about delays to the shadow report, particularly because there had to be time to secure agreement among Deaf and disabled people’s organisations about its contents.

Flood said she supported Buxton’s concerns, and told Disability News Service afterwards: “The shadow report should have been in 12 months ago.

“What I know from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is that to get consensus across the sector when there are so many differences of opinion, that negotiating work needs to start a good period of time before the report starts to get written.”

Jaspal Dhani, UKDPC’s chief executive, who was not at the meeting, said the target was to finish the report this year.

He said: “I am totally aware that some organisations may be feeling a bit anxious about the timing.”

But he added: “We could have produced a report last year, but all that would have done would be to sit in the UN office on a shelf. It will be done and it will be done through consultation through the DPOs.”

Dhani said there was a risk that if the report was sent to the UN too soon, it would be out-of-date by the time it was examined by the committee.

He also said that further research had been commissioned for the shadow report, following the purchase of new software that will allow more detailed data analysis.

Disability Rights Watch UK has already secured 500 case studies from disabled people, but hopes to collect another 500 through a new survey.

*The Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations (DDPO) Legal Network aims to bring lawyers and DDPOs together to swap information, identify possible legal cases, and raise understanding of the legal system, legislation, case law and policy relating to the “quality of life, rights and inclusion of Deaf and disabled people”.

For more information, email Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, or phone her on 020 7036 6036.

7 February 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Anger as government adds disabled people to workfare scheme

Disabled people could now be forced to work indefinitely for their out-of-work benefits, as a result of new government rules introduced this week.

Those who fail to co-operate with the periods of “work experience” arranged for them could have their benefits cut.

The new rules – introduced on the UN’s international day of disabled people – will apply to claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) who have been assessed as being able to find paid work at some point and so have been placed in the ESA work-related activity group (WRAG).

The decision to force them into work experience could be taken by a Jobcentre Plus adviser or one of the private sector contractors paid by the government to find jobs for long-term unemployed benefit claimants through its Work Programme.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) made it clear that there were “no plans to set a fixed minimum or maximum length for a work placement”, although they were expected to last “for around two weeks” and “must be reasonable and meet the claimant’s circumstances”.

The DWP said the placement must benefit the community and be “appropriate” to the claimant’s impairment, but could include cases “where someone refuses to take reasonable steps to address a barrier which is stopping them working”.

John McArdle, a founding member of the grassroots disabled people’s organisation Black Triangle, said: “It should be obvious to anyone why this is a bad idea. People who are unfit for work are being forced into unpaid ‘employment’ on pain of being made destitute.”

He said he believed the scheme was “immoral… and possibly illegal” and would probably be challenged in court.

And he suggested that any disabled person whose health was “seriously harmed” as a result of such work experience would be able to bring a clear case of negligence or discrimination.

He added: “We are talking about people with multiple impairments and/or illnesses as evidenced by real medical experts and not DWP/Atos ‘disability assessors’.”

In addition to the workfare scheme, DWP said that other WRAG claimants will be offered short periods of “voluntary” work experience.

A DWP spokesman said it was not possible to predict what proportion of ESA claimants would be expected to take part in the workfare scheme, as placements would be “decided on a case by case basis and must be appropriate to the individual’s circumstances”.

The DWP said in a statement that such work experience would “help people with limited employment history get a flavour of the workplace environment, gain new skills and boost their confidence for an eventual return to work”.

Mark Hoban, the Conservative employment minister, said: “People on sickness benefits who do all they can to improve their chances of moving back in to a job have nothing to worry about; they will get their benefits and we will do all we can to help.

“But in the small number of cases where people refuse to stick to their part of the bargain, it’s only right there are consequences.”

6 December 2012

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

UN’s international day sees awards, celebrations… and protests

Disabled people took part in protests, campaigns, awards, marches, conferences and celebrations as they found different ways to mark the UN’s international day of disabled people.

Many of the events used 3 December to continue the series of protests against government cuts to disability benefits and services, while others celebrated the achievements of organisations that have helped improve disabled people’s lives.

Breakthrough UK announced the winners of its National Independent Living Awards 2012, which included Harrow Asian Deaf Club, Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People, and retail giant Wilkinson.

In Guildford, Surrey, more than 350 people attended the first of a free, two-day sports festival organised by the British Paralympic Association, with more than 1,000 attending over the two days.

More than 20 Paralympians – including stars such as Jonnie Peacock, Sophie Christiansen, Ben Quilter and Mark Colbourne – were on hand to take part in the inaugural ParalympicsGB Sports Fest, which provided an opportunity for disabled people to try out different Paralympic sports and discover how to get involved in them.

In west London, members of Harrow Association of Disabled People took part in a 200-strong march to protest at disabled people being “hit the hardest by cuts to the benefits and services they need to live their lives”.

The march, which was joined by eight local councillors – seven Labour and one independent – and Labour MP Gareth Thomas, passed the Department for Work and Pensions’ Jobcentre Plus offices and ended at Harrow council’s Civic Centre headquarters, where Labour council leader Thaya Idaikkadar spoke to them about their concerns.

In Croydon, disabled people held a vigil inside the reception area of the building used by Atos Healthcare to test people’s eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits.

The vigil, organised by the Croydon and Bromley branch of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), included a minute’s silence to remember the sick and disabled people who had “suffered as a result of the punitive regime of assessments” operated by Atos on behalf of the government.

They were refused permission to leave flowers in the building, so laid them instead at the local war memorial.

Protesters from Cardiff DPAC gathered beside the statue of Aneurin Bevan, founder of the NHS, for a candlelight vigil which featured about 1,200 candles spelling out the words “Atos Kills”, before continuing their own remembrance protest by blocking traffic for about 30 minutes.

They and many other activists believe the assessments, as carried out by Atos, are putting thousands of sick and disabled people under serious and unnecessary strain, forcing them further into poverty, and are even responsible for many deaths, including some people driven to suicide.

Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People marked the UN’s day by releasing a striking visual and audio representation of the Austerity War report it commissioned and published in September, which describes how the burden of the government’s cuts are falling unfairly on disabled people’s shoulders.

In contrast, the Department for Work and Pensions used the day to launch its Role Models: Inspire a Generation campaign, which will use video clips of young disabled role models talking about the barriers they have overcome to inspire other young disabled people to “help fulfil their potential and achieve their aspirations”.

The European Commission made its contribution to the day by publishing proposed legislation to ensure the accessibility of public sector websites.

But the proposed laws would cover only 12 public services – such as websites for benefits, applying for passports, car registration, birth and marriage certificates, enrolling in higher education, and communicating with the police.

The European Disability Forum welcomed the publication as “a first positive step” but said it would work with MEPs and the European Council to ensure the final legislation was “even more far-reaching”.

The European Blind Union said the proposal was “a missed opportunity” and was “simply not going to deliver the radical change that is needed” because it failed to cover all public sector websites and private sector sites that deliver “basic services to citizens”.

In Tower Hamlets, east London, the disabled people’s organisation Real joined other charities to host a free information event (on 4 December) and party, and celebrated both the international day and its own success in winning a new local authority contract to give disabled people more say over how services are run in the borough.

Meanwhile, Remploy ignored continuing anger over the closure of many of its remaining sheltered factories and released a video featuring pledges from employers – and disabled people such as Paralympic champion David Weir – to push for an improvement in the employment rate of disabled people.

Just three days later, Remploy announced that another 682 disabled people had been told they were at risk of redundancy because of its closure programme.

There were also many powerful blogs using 3 December to warn of the threat to disabled people’s rights posed by the government’s “austerity” policies.

Jane Young wrote that there was “little to celebrate” on 3 December, with the anticipated implementation of a “horrifying range of policies set to devastate the lives of hundreds of thousands of disabled Britons”, with the threat next year of “a tsunami of human need, the like of which we haven’t seen in Britain for many years”.

Kaliya Franklin wrote in her blog of a time when Britain “led the way in promoting rights and independence for disabled people”, while Neil Crowther said the government’s “perverse and illogical” assault on disabled people’s rights was “not only unjust, it is pure economic folly”.

5 December 2012

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Government rewrites history for UN report

The government appears to have left out any mention of the brutal cuts to disabled people’s benefits and services in a crucial report about how it is implementing the United Nations (UN) disability convention.

The report was submitted today (Thursday) to the UN by the UK government’s Office for Disability Issues, and describes measures that are being taken to implement each of the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

But an initial analysis of the report suggests the government has omitted any mention of its planned 20 per cent cut to spending on disability living allowance (DLA), and of other cuts, such as plans to impose a one-year time limit on most claimants of the contributory form of employment and support allowance (ESA).

In the section on article 28 of the convention, which describes disabled people’s right to an adequate standard of living, the government’s report admits that twice as many disabled adults in Britain live in “persistent poverty” as non-disabled adults.

But it makes no mention of how the DLA cuts, the impact of ever-tightening eligibility criteria for care services being introduced by councils, the cuts to ESA, or the closure of the Independent Living Fund to new members are set to attack people’s standard of living.

Even in an annex summarising responses from disabled people and disabled people’s organisations to May’s draft version of the report, it appears to skate over the public spending cuts.

The annex says: “Disabled people believe that in the approach taken to reform, and the government’s ambition to reduce public sector spending, government should avoid steps that might result in disproportionate impact on them when compared to non-disabled people.”

It is also careful not to mention the word “cuts” in the annex section on independent living, instead reporting that disabled people had “suggested” that “changes” to local authority spending would lead to councils “focusing provision on the services which they have a legal obligation to deliver”.

Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, said the report was “an important milestone” and “sets out the progress we have made across the United Kingdom and the approach to delivering the government’s commitment to equality for disabled people”.

She added: “Going forward, we will maintain this momentum through a new disability strategy. We will use the convention as a starting point to focus all our energy on ensuring that disabled people have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.”

The UK Disabled People’s Council is leading a project – Disability Rights Watch UK – to compile a separate, independent report to the UN based on evidence from disabled people and their organisations, while the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Human Rights Commission will also submit reports to the UN.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com