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10 March 2022

In this week’s edition:

  • DWP is forcing distressed claimants to attend weekly meetings, says whistleblower
  • Anger as Starmer says Labour is ‘the party of working people’
  • Shadow minister wants an inquiry into DWP deaths if Labour win power
  • Lords vote opens door to vital care charging reforms… ‘but pressure on MPs is vital’
  • Trio of disabled women shame DWP with parliamentary call for action on safety
  • PIP backlog has more than trebled in five years
  • Information commissioner orders DWP to release safeguarding review findings
  • Government bows to pressure over accessible versions of Human Rights Act consultation
  • Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week

 

 

DWP is forcing distressed claimants to attend weekly meetings, says whistleblower

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) whistleblower has warned that harsh new policies that are forcing more disabled people to attend weekly face-to-face jobcentre meetings could lead to benefit claimants taking their own lives.

The work coach, who has asked not to be identified*, has told Disability News Service (DNS) that she and her colleagues are being “bullied and harassed” into forcing claimants with significant mental distress into attending work-related meetings.

Many of them have been waiting months for a work capability assessment (WCA) and will eventually be found not fit for work and placed in universal credit’s limited capability for work-related activity (LCWRA) group.

But until that happens, and despite significant mental distress, they are still being forced to make weekly trips to the jobcentre, purely so that work coaches can meet their targets for face-to-face appointments.

The work coach, Jane**, says DWP managers are telling work coaches that they should not have any “white spaces” in their diaries, and so should tell claimants waiting for their WCA to come into the jobcentre even if they know they will eventually be placed in the LCWRA group.

Jane is aware of the many deaths of disabled benefit claimants that have been linked to DWP’s actions over the last decade, including many who have taken their own lives.

She said she was now “very concerned” that DWP’s new, even stricter, approach “might lead to more people taking their own lives”.

One young woman who is unable to leave her home without her mother, due to severe anxiety, has been referred to the government’s Restart Scheme for universal credit claimants who have been out of work for at least nine months, even though it is clear that she will eventually be placed in the LCWRA.

Jane says she has assured this young woman and other claimants she works with who are in similar situations that she will not sanction them if they fail to attend their work-related activity and will try to keep them “under the radar”.

She told DNS: “Why are we hassling these people when we know they are going to be moved into the LCWRA group anyway?

“We have managers looking at our diaries on an almost hourly basis and asking why we aren’t bringing in Tom, Dick or Harry.

“We are being bullied and harassed to bully and harass the people on our caseload and I just don’t believe in it.

“There are a lot of us who totally disagree with what is going on.”

But she fears that some work coaches are less understanding and that that will lead to more disabled people being sanctioned because they are unable to meet the strict conditions they have been set.

Jane said: “I work two desks away from someone and I cringe when I hear her telling people what they have got to do. She is absolutely hounding people.”

When she complained to her manager about the new rules, she was told that this was the process she had to follow.

She said: “It’s very worrying. We really are frightened to speak up about it.”

She is certain that the orders are filtering down from work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey, with every district manager putting their own “interpretation” on those orders, and then feeding them down to jobcentre managers, who pass them on to their work coaches.

But she said she was also deeply concerned that DWP decision-makers appear to be overturning recommendations made by assessors from Maximus – the private sector contractor that is paid by DWP to carry out WCAs – that disabled claimants should be placed in the LCWRA group.

She said: “I have been told of instances where LCWRA was recorded by the Maximus assessor, but when the DWP decision-makers looked at the reports sent back, they made their own decisions – completely ignoring the assessment – and just put LCW (limited capability for work).”

Such a decision would mean the claimant would be forced into work preparation and would not be eligible for an extra weekly payment.

She said: “If this is happening, it is a huge injustice.”

One of those she has been told this has happened to is a young disabled man with agoraphobia, stress and anxiety, who is unable to leave his house.

The Maximus assessor had recommended that he should be placed in the LCWRA group, but the DWP decision-maker over-ruled the advice and placed him instead in LCW.

This meant he received no extra money but – more importantly for him – he would have to cope with DWP pressure pushing him towards returning to work.

Jane said: “I have been told that there is quite a lot of this going on. It’s either to save the department money or to force people back to work, or both.

“Whatever the reason, it’s wrong.”

She has also been told of cases in which a Maximus assessor has made a recommendation, following a WCA, but DWP has left the case sitting in the system for months without making a decision.

Jane’s concerns come as there is growing alarm over delays and backlogs in the benefits assessment system, with DWP even refusing to carry out any repeat WCAs for claimants already receiving universal credit who need a higher level of support.

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, raised similar concerns to Jane this week.

He told a parliamentary meeting that Jobcentre Plus had increasingly become “a sanctioning regime, spreading fear, increasing pressure on highly vulnerable people, rather than offering people that tailored help that generally supports people moving towards work”.

He told the meeting on universal credit and mental health, hosted jointly by the all-party parliamentary groups on mental health and universal credit: “I think Jobcentre Plus needs reform so that we can create a modern employment service that helps people find work, helps people train and reskill, and helps support people to flourish.”

A DWP spokesperson did not dispute Jane’s evidence, and she declined to defend the measures that Jane said the department had been taking to force more disabled people to attend weekly jobcentre meetings.

But the spokesperson said: “Not all claimants need to come into the jobcentre and work coaches take a flexible approach for those with long-term health conditions to best meet the individual’s need.

“This includes considering their circumstances when agreeing achievable work-related activity and whether appointments should be carried out in person or via phone or their online journal.”

*DNS has seen proof that she works for DWP

**Not her real name.

10 March 2022

 

 

Anger as Starmer says Labour is ‘the party of working people’

Keir Starmer has caused anger among disabled activists – including within his own party – after declaring publicly that Labour is “the party of working people”.

The Labour leader’s comment, in a speech to Scottish Labour’s annual conference, has reignited concerns that the party has abandoned disabled voters and will do so in its next general election manifesto.

It risks causing a similar rift with disabled activists to the one created by the party’s current shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, when she said seven years ago that Labour did not want to be seen as “the party to represent those who are out of work”.

Starmer told the conference on Saturday: “We are the party of working people; our founding and defining mission.”

Later in his speech he added: “So we have a new opportunity now to have a Labour government that will be in partnership with business, to create work.

“Because Labour is the party of work, we always have been.”

There was no mention of disabled people in his speech.

Bob Ellard, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), resigned his Labour membership in 2015 over the Reeves comments.

This week he told Disability News Service (DNS): “Labour, by styling itself as ‘the party of working people’, will always fail to get elected by excluding millions of voters, disabled people who cannot work, or are excluded from the jobs market, family carers, unemployed people, stay-at-home parents, students, pensioners, just to mention a few.

“These millions of excluded voters will give up on Labour just as surely as Labour has given up on them.”

Linda Burnip, a DPAC co-founder, added: “As a disabled person and a pensioner I find this utterly offensive.

“Labour lost over 50 seats in Scotland to the SNP because of the attitude of Rachel Reeves and others, and frankly if they still haven’t learnt anything from that they don’t deserve to get any votes from disabled or older people.”

Kathy Bole, chair of Disability Labour, which is affiliated to the Labour party, said she was concerned that Starmer was validating negative stereotypes about disabled people.

She said: “It is concerning to me the leader of the Labour party is stressing the fact that the party is the party of working people.

“While many of its members are able to work, there are many who by illness or injury or by corporate employment constructs are unable to do so.

“Why are we having to have this conversation again? Why does the focus always have to alienate those who can’t work?

“This kind of rhetoric does nothing to banish the Tory trope of workshy disabled people unwilling to get a job.

“I would ask the Labour leader why he continues to validate these negative stereotypes?”

Starmer’s comments come as his party continues to face claims of discrimination against its own disabled members.

Labour’s general secretary, David Evans, was forced to promise at last autumn’s party conference that he would put an end to the years of discrimination experienced by disabled party members.

DNS has been reporting for several years on concerns raised by disabled Labour members about the barriers created by the party’s structures, policies and actions, both nationally and locally.

Labour’s press office and the party’s shadow minister for disabled people, Vicky Foxcroft, had both failed to comment by noon today (Thursday).

10 March 2022

 

 

Shadow minister wants an inquiry into DWP deaths if Labour win power

Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth has said he would want to order an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) if his party wins the next general election.

Although Labour under Jeremy Corbyn promised before the last election in 2019 to hold such an inquiry if it won power, its shadow ministers have resisted such calls since the election of their new leader two years ago.

But Ashworth, who has only been in post for three months, told Disability News Service (DNS) this week that he was committed to holding such an inquiry.

He had been speaking to a meeting on universal credit and mental health, hosted jointly by the all-party parliamentary groups on mental health and universal credit.

Three disabled women – Imogen Day, Alison Burton and Joy Dove – who have all lost relatives due to DWP failings had each contributed to the meeting (see separate story).

DNS had told Ashworth how disabled people’s grassroots groups, bereaved relatives and charities, as well as Labour MPs such as Debbie Abrahams, Marsha de Cordova and John McDonnell, had been calling for an inquiry since 2019, following countless avoidable deaths linked to DWP’s actions.

He was asked if he supported this call and would work to include it in Labour’s next general election manifesto.

Ashworth said: “We definitely should have a proper inquiry. It seems to me entirely right that we need to change the system so these awful, most tragic events do not happen again.

“I will undertake to speak to those MPs that you mentioned and discuss how we can work together on this, but… if I was secretary of state for work and pensions then a proper inquiry into these matters would be something that I would definitely want to pursue.”

Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat MP and vice-chair of the all-party mental health group, said the meeting had “made it very clear for me that we need to really push the government for an inquiry”.

She said she believed her own party colleagues would also be behind the call for an inquiry, and she called for “a culture change within DWP”.

Ashworth said earlier in the meeting that DWP “must get better at identifying vulnerable claimants, providing tailored support for services for them”.

He said: “The awful cases that we have heard… [are] because the pressures have got too much, the system does not treat people like human beings, poverty is too relentless, and frankly this should shame ministers.”

Alison Burton, whose father-in-law starved to death after he was wrongly deprived of his benefits by DWP, asked Ashworth if he thought there needed to be an assessment of the cost and effectiveness of DWP’s current approach to fighting benefit appeals, its lack of training around mental health, and its use of costly lawyers in DWP-related inquests and to fight benefit-related legal cases “instead of just taking criticism and making improvements”.

Ashworth agreed with the need for such an assessment and said the government was “fighting tooth and nail” to deprive “vulnerable people” of their right to support.

He said: “We all understand that money is tight… but the way in which the secretary of state casually throws money pursuing vulnerable people through the courts I think is absolutely unacceptable and wasteful.

“We need a system which properly supports people to flourish, to help them live a fulfilling life that is better economically overall, that adds to economic growth, so I would agree that we do need an assessment.”

In response to another DNS question, Alexa Knight, associate director of policy and practice at Rethink, said the mental health charity would “absolutely” work with disabled people’s grassroots groups on its campaign for an independent inquiry.

DNS had pointed out that disabled people’s groups have been campaigning since at least 2019 for an inquiry.

Rethink has been calling more recently for an inquiry into benefit-related deaths and serious harm, and for the government to set up an independent body to investigate causes of future deaths and serious harm in the benefits system.

This call is included in a new Rethink report, We’re Just Numbers To Them, which concludes that the government’s approach to investigating death and serious harm is “highly secretive and not fit for purpose”.

It also says that DWP should be carrying out its own internal process reviews (IPRs) into far more cases of suspected serious harm than it currently does, and that it should publish an annual report into the IPRs conducted by DWP into deaths and cases of serious harm.

Knight told the meeting that Rethink had asked DWP “a number of times” if they would meet with some of the families who have lost relatives due to failings in the benefits system, but they had refused to do so.

She said: “They don’t want to come and meet with the families, which is a real shame.”

Dan Norris, head of advice and rights for Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), told the meeting about the charity’s report on the impact of the universal credit (UC) system on mental health, which found that claimants with mental distress were rarely asked by DWP if they needed reasonable adjustments, despite the department’s obligations under the Equality Act.

This failure to provide a personalised and flexible approach means that claimants with mental distress face problems throughout the process of claiming UC and managing that claim, the report says.

CPAG says there is a need for a “robust and prompt system within UC to identify those who need additional support to claim, or different treatment to access support”.

Norris said the claimants CPAG had spoken to for its report had found that the system was “too rigidly orientated towards finding work”.

*The following organisations are among those that could be able to offer support if you have been affected by the issues raised in this article: SamaritansPapyrusMindSOS Silence of Suicide and Rethink

10 March 2022

 

 

Lords vote opens door to vital care charging reforms… ‘but pressure on MPs is vital’

A disabled peer has called on disabled people and their organisations to pressure MPs to back proposals on social care charging that could make a real difference to the life chances of younger people who rely on care and support.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell spoke out after a series of votes in the House of Lords on Monday – mostly thanks to opposition and crossbench peers – made significant changes to the government’s health and care bill.

The most important was the vote to remove a key part of the bill – clause 155 – that would have implemented the government’s controversial and much-criticised proposed cap on charges in England.

Those proposals – widely seen as regressive and unfair – would have introduced a lifetime cap of £86,000 on how much anyone paid for care, and would not have counted financial contributions made by local authorities to people’s care and support.

This combination would have meant that most disabled and older people who needed to be protected would not benefit, while those who were poorer would have faced the same care costs as the wealthiest.

Baroness Campbell told fellow peers on Monday that this combination would deny younger working-age disabled adults “the right to equal life chances”.

Baroness [Sal] Brinton, the disabled Liberal Democrat peer, said the government’s proposals were “deeply unfair” and “divisive”.

Peers voted by 198 to 158 in favour of removing clause 155 from the bill, although this could still be overturned by MPs.

Baroness Campbell also attempted to secure support for an amendment that would have meant that no-one in England who entered the social care system with eligible care needs before the age of 40 would ever have to pay for their support.

She said the government’s proposals denied younger working-age disabled adults “the right to equal life chances”.

She said: “It is necessary to treat some people differently in order to give them equal life chances – to work, to travel and to be free; in other words, to improve one’s lot.

“Social care is an investment; it makes economic sense for a thriving, healthy society.

“Keeping people in a state of dependency is infinitely more expensive than enabling them to live active, independent lives.”

Baroness Brinton, who supported the amendment, said it was a “deep injustice to those under 40 with personal care needs that they are treated the same [under the government’s plans] as those whose working years are behind them”.

The amendment – originally proposed by Baroness [Deborah] Bull, who was unwell this week – would have implemented a recommendation originally made by Andrew Dilnot, who chaired the commission on care funding which was set up by the coalition government and reported in 2011.

The junior health and social care minister Lord Kamall told peers that clause 155 “balances people’s personal responsibility for planning for their later years with a need to put in place a system to ensure that nobody faces unpredictable costs”.

He said that removing it, and instead allowing progress towards the cap to be based on both individual and council contributions to care costs, would be “unfair” and was “also considered unaffordable”.

He said that Baroness Campbell’s amendment would be “unfair” because of the “cliff edge” difference in the way people would be treated if they became eligible before the age of 40 and shortly afterwards.

Baroness Campbell did not ask fellow peers to vote on the under-40s amendment as she had calculated that there was not yet sufficient support among fellow peers.

The final day of the report stage will take place on Wednesday (16 March), before the bill returns to the House of Commons for MPs to consider amendments made in the Lords, including the removal of clause 155.

Baroness Campbell told Disability News Service that she hoped disabled people and disabled people’s organisations would now pressure MPs, and peers, to back the under-40s amendment, and ensure the government could not bring clause 155 back into the bill.

She said a key battle would be to persuade MPs in the next few weeks of the need for free social care for those who first acquire care and support needs before the age of 40.

She also praised the support she had received from Inclusion London in the lead-up to the debate, and she called for “loads of pressure” to be placed on Labour MPs and peers to back the under-40s proposal and show that they “believe in supporting the life chances of young working-age disabled people”.

Inclusion London has a template letter that disabled people and allies can send to their MPs to call on them for support on social care reform.

It also has a campaign page that features a series of people describing their experiences of care and support, as part of its #MakeCareFair campaign, and explaining why the government’s proposed reforms “will discriminate against Disabled people with the lowest income and wealth”.

Meanwhile, Baroness Campbell said she hopes to continue her push for change on independent living through her recent appointment to the Lords select committee on adult social care, which is carrying out an inquiry into adult social care.

Svetlana Kotova, Inclusion London’s director of campaigns and justice, said the government’s proposed reforms on charging would discriminate against young disabled people and poorer older people.

She said: “While those with huge assets will be able to keep them, those without will continue giving up 40 per cent of their income from means-tested and disability benefits and pensions to pay for a vital support they need to live a normal life.

“Treating all social care users the same and expecting them all to pay the same for their care is deeply unfair and unjust.

“This approach will cap aspirations of young disabled people to work, save and build their lives on one hand and on the other will trap many social care users who are unable to work and are paying for care out of benefits in poverty, forcing them to choose between heating and eating.

“We will all pay for this reform through an increase in national insurance. Surely we need to make sure reforms support those most in need.”

She added: “We urge all political parties to force the government to rethink this reform.

“We believe good social care support is vital to enable us to live a normal life.

“In the long term we believe social care must be free; in the short term the reforms should ensure those with the lowest incomes and assets are not trapped in poverty because of using social care.”

10 March 2022

 

 

Trio of disabled women shame DWP with parliamentary call for action on safety

Three disabled women whose relatives have died because of failings by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have told a parliamentary meeting of the need for urgent safety improvements to the social security system.

Imogen Day, Alison Burton and Joy Dove all contributed to a meeting on universal credit and mental health, hosted jointly by the all-party parliamentary groups on mental health and universal credit.

Imogen Day described to Tuesday’s meeting how a coroner found that 28 separate “problems” with the administration of the personal independence payment (PIP) system had helped cause her sister Philippa’s decision to take her own life.

She said she could not count the number of panic attacks she had coached her sister through because of the PIP assessment system, and how her sister’s last months were “filled with acute distress and anxiety”.

One of the key errors was to deny her sister a home assessment.

She told the meeting: “On the last day we spoke she called me in tears to tell me that she had received a letter to inform her that she would need to attend a face-to-face assessment and failing to attend would result in her application being cancelled.

“I cannot begin to describe the fear I felt in my stomach after that call, or the rage I felt when I learned that that letter did not need to be sent.

“When I found Philippa unconscious the next day, that same letter was by her head.

“In a room full of the disarray of someone in crisis, Philippa had taken the time to ensure that we were not to doubt ourselves.

“In my sister’s last conscious moments, she had tried to spare us pain.”

She called on those attending the meeting to remember the faces, names and families of those who had died, who were “the cost” of DWP’s failings.

She called for a thorough investigation into the impact of the benefits system on mental health.

She said that applying for benefits “should not be a risk to a disabled person, and yet it is”, but DWP continued to “refuse to acknowledge that there are significant systemic issues preventing disabled people from accessing a safety net that they are entitled to”.

She added: “Ensuring that the benefits system is cost-effective should not come at the cost of human lives.

“We cannot allow more to lose their lives or mental resilience to failures in the benefits system.”

And she said that campaigners needed to be pushing DWP to “adopt safeguarding practices in the same way that everybody within the mental health sector and the disability sector has to use safeguarding practices”.

Alison Burton, whose father-in law Errol Graham starved to death after DWP wrongly stopped his out-of-work benefits, told the meeting that there was a “major culture problem” within DWP, which repeatedly failed to make reasonable adjustments to support benefit claimants with mental distress.

She said: “The DWP is not doing enough to make those adjustments for those people.”

She also spoke of DWP’s refusal to accept that it has a duty of care to claimants.

She said: “It seems that the DWP, despite it being given the opportunity to fix the system and make it safer for people, still tries to keep itself at arm’s length where duty of care is concerned.”

She also said that she had been “bombarded” by DWP’s legal team when she attended the inquest into her father-in-law’s death, and that the department’s “absolutely disgusting” approach had caused her family further unnecessary distress.

Burton said the secrecy shown by DWP in inquests did not offer “transparency” to families.

She said: “There’s a lot that needs changing around all that because it gives DWP too much power.”

Joy Dove, whose daughter Jodey Whiting took her own life in 2017, told the meeting that the DWP civil servants who removed her daughter’s employment and support allowance because she had failed to attend a work capability assessment “never saw my daughter’s face”.

She said her daughter was essentially an “invisible woman” who had had everything taken from her, and that DWP had “pushed her to suicide”.

Dove said she had written two letters to the coroner that blamed DWP before the inquest into her daughter’s death.

But she said the inquest had lasted just 37 minutes and failed to investigate DWP’s role in the death.

Dove has been fighting in the courts for a second inquest. The high court refused her request, and she is now seeking permission to appeal from the Court of Appeal.

She told the meeting that she would continue her campaign for justice for her daughter.

*The following organisations are among those that could be able to offer support if you have been affected by the issues raised in this article: SamaritansPapyrusMindSOS Silence of Suicide and Rethink

10 March 2022

 

 

PIP backlog has more than trebled in five years

New figures have shown how the backlog of disabled people waiting for a personal independence payment (PIP) assessment has more than trebled in the last five years.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures, secured by Disability News Service (DNS) through a freedom of information (FOI) request, shows there are now more than 310,000 people waiting for an assessment.

The size of the queue was 88,500 in October 2016 but this had risen to nearly 312,000 by December 2021.

The unpublished figures, which DWP stressed had not been “quality assured” to official statistics publication standards, confirmed that the backlog had begun rising steeply far before the pandemic began in early 2020.

The number of cases held with PIP assessment providers Capita and Atos was about 89,000 in October 2017 but by October 2018 it had risen to nearly 134,000, before rising again to about 143,000 in October 2019.

After about six months of the pandemic, it had risen to 189,000, and by November 2021 it had reached 295,000.

Just a month later, the backlog had risen again, to 311,870.

Only last month, DNS reported how growing evidence suggested disabled people were facing significant and increasing delays and backlogs in the PIP system.

Chloe Smith, the minister for disabled people, told Labour’s Ian Lavery in September that the pandemic had caused “distortion” and that “work is ongoing to manage the recovery”.

Vicky Foxcroft, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “This government has long promised to fix the problematic assessment system; this FOI is yet more damning evidence of their failure to act.

“Disabled people deserve so much more than long waits for assessments, which we know lead to unnecessary stress and financial hardship.

“It’s about time ministers fixed the assessment system.

“A Labour government would put disabled people at the heart of the system and ensure they’re treated with respect and provided with security.”

A DWP spokesperson declined to say why Chloe Smith thinks the backlog has risen so steeply, whether she is concerned by the increase, and what steps she is taking to reduce it.

But the spokesperson said in a statement: “We closely monitor the progress of cases awaiting assessment and take all steps possible to ensure claimants are assessed in the most efficient way to ensure they get the support they are entitled to as quickly as possible.

“This includes the use of face-to-face, paper-based, telephone and video appointments.”

10 March 2022

 

 

Information commissioner orders DWP to release safeguarding review findings

The information commissioner has ordered the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to release the results of a review of its safeguarding procedures, which it has been trying to keep secret for the last two years.

The existence of the review was first revealed by Disability News Service (DNS) in February 2020, in a report on the death of Errol Graham, who starved to death after DWP wrongly stopped his out-of-work disability benefits, leaving him without any income.

It emerged that the coroner at Graham’s inquest had decided that she did not need to demand urgent improvements to DWP’s safeguarding procedures – through a prevention of future deaths (PFD) report – because the department had told her it was already carrying out a review of its safeguarding policy, which would be completed in the autumn of 2019.

But DWP later downplayed the importance of the review, insisted it was simply part of ongoing work, and denied that it would be producing a report, even though its chief psychologist David Carew had told the inquest that DWP was “looking to report by the autumn on this”.

Owen Stevens, from the Child Poverty Action Group charity, has been trying to obtain a copy of the review’s findings since January 2020.

Now the information commissioner has ordered DWP to release those findings.

The commissioner said DWP had claimed that the review was “not a formal review” and was only a “series of very broad conversations focussing on the subject”, and that it was a review only “in the very broadest sense”.

DWP also claimed that, because the review related to the “formulation or development of government policy”, it was exempt from being released under the Freedom of Information Act.

But the decision notice issued to Stevens by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) last week said the commissioner was “not persuaded” by this argument and ordered DWP to release the review findings.

In a previous decision notice, released in March 2021, ICO had been critical of DWP’s actions in relation to Stevens’ attempt to secure the information and for taking “a defensive position in which it attempted to explain why the information was not held despite having clearly identified that not only was it held but DWP considered it to be exempt from disclosure”.

Alison Burton, Errol Graham’s daughter-in law, told DNS that DWP now needed to hand over the review findings.

She said it would be crucial to read those findings to check whether they did address the systemic failings that had led to his death.

Burton said the review findings were important because DWP’s claim at the inquest that the department was already carrying out a review of its safeguarding was the reason the coroner did not order it to carry out improvements herself through a PFD report.

She said: “There was no PFD at the inquest because of the commitments DWP made.

“This review is something I believe I should have seen a long time ago.”

10 March 2022

 

 

Government bows to pressure over accessible versions of Human Rights Act consultation

Ministers have bowed to pressure from disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and allies to extend the deadline for those with certain access needs to respond to a consultation on the Human Rights Act.

There had been anger over the failure of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to produce an “easy read” version of the consultation document, and an audio version.

An initial version that MoJ claimed was in easy read format was criticised for being “insufficient to the point of being insulting”, and it was only published 12 days before the consultation was due to end.

MoJ finally published both a genuine easy read document and an audio version this week, on the day the consultation was due to end.

It announced that the consultation had been extended until 19 April, but only for those who needed the easy read or audio versions.

Those who want to take advantage of the new deadline will need to request permission for an extension.

More than 40 DPOs had signed a letter to justice secretary Dominic Raab to complain about the failure to produce an easy read version.

An open letter to Raab – coordinated by the human rights organisation Liberty – had warned that refusing to extend the deadline was “refusing to enable people to take part”.

Junior justice minister James Cartlidge finally announced on Tuesday – the day the consultation was due to end – that the deadline would be extended by six weeks, to 19 April, “for those with needs for an easy-read or audio version of the consultation document”.

Cartlidge said that MoJ officials would also be conducting “focused engagement sessions with disability organisations to explore the proposals outlined in the consultation further”.

Liberty described MoJ’s actions this week as “a discriminatory shambles”.

Bethany Bale, policy and campaigns officer for Disability Rights UK, one of the DPOs that signed the Liberty letter, said: “It is only right that the government has listened and acted on complaints that this important consultation was inaccessible and has increased the timeframe for responses accordingly.

“We welcome the extension.

“Going forward, we hope that government recognises its legal obligation under the Equality Act for parity of consultation time for all formats of information, and implements this.”

Disabled people have previously warned of the risk that the government’s bid to replace the Human Rights Act with a new bill of rights could be used to water down protections.

Yesterday (Wednesday), the Equality and Human Rights Commission warned in its response to the consultation that some of the government’s proposals risked reducing protections and lacked evidence.

Baroness Falkner, EHRC’s chair, said: “We welcome the government’s proposals to maintain human rights protections, including by remaining part of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“But we question other proposals where evidence for change is lacking, and will oppose any changes that risk reducing or weakening human rights in Britain.”

10 March 2022

 

 

Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week

More than a third of working-age people in the UK now have a long-term illness, with new figures showing a dramatic rise since the pandemic began. Post-Covid conditions, including long Covid, breathing difficulties and mental-health problems, are among the causes, according to disability charities and health campaigners: read The Guardian article on long-term illness 

Dying Brits will no longer have to show they have six months to live to access some benefits from April 4. Ministers today finally announce the date to scrap the cruel “six-month rule” – three years after saying it was not fit for purpose… but the change next month will only apply to people seeking universal credit, and employment and support allowance: Read The Mirror article on the six months rule 

The impact of the cost-of-living crisis on children in the UK already living in poverty would in some cases prove “fatal”, the food writer and campaigner Jack Monroe has told MPs, adding: “And that’s not a term that I use lightly.” Children and disabled people experiencing food insecurity risked being trapped in a “never-ending loop of difficulty”, including chronic health conditions, mental illness and depression, Monroe told the Commons work and pensions select committee: Read The Guardian article on the cost of living crisis 

A mental health charity worker has won £115,000 compensation after being wrongly sacked for whistleblowing on foul-mouthed colleagues calling disabled people “druggy bums” and “wastes of space”. Catriona Robinson, 51, was “bullied” by fellow workers at Mind Monmouthshire after she complained about their four-letter foul language. She told how she heard colleagues insulting people with mental distress and accusing them of lying about their illnesses, and was “ostracised and ignored” after blowing the whistle on a colleague doing an offensive impression of a disabled person while other workers laughed along: Read The South Wales Argus article on the case 

A woman with Down’s syndrome has been given the go-ahead to take her case against the government – over legislation which allows the abortion of babies with the condition up until birth – to the Court of Appeal. Heidi Crowter, from Coventry, is one of three claimants who brought a legal action against the Department of Health and Social Care in the hope of removing a section of the Abortion Act they believe to be an “instance of inequality”: Read The Independent article on the Abortion Act case 

Support for disabled students should be improved, the government has been urged, after analysis showed that fewer than a third receive the disabled students’ allowance meant to help them access and thrive in higher education: Read The Guardian article on support for Disabled students  

A disabled peer has said he “might as well have been dead” as he lambasted the lack of support he received from the House of Lords after undergoing major surgery. Lord Shinkwin said the pain of his leg operation had been compounded by the “appalling” treatment he had received from the upper chamber, and he stressed the need for change: read The Independent article on Lord Shinkwin 

A bill to strengthen support services for autistic young people and adults in Northern Ireland has been passed by MLAs: Read The BBC article on the Northern Ireland bill

 

10 March 2022

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com