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14th July 2022

In this week’s edition: 

  • City’s co-produced climate action plan ‘is a world first’
  • Secret reviews into DWP deaths have more than doubled in three years
  • Labour and Lib Dems give half-hearted welcome to DWP deaths evidence
  • Passenger assistance at Heathrow is ‘an absolute shambles’, say cabin crew
  • We changed the way we operate due to Covid, disabled people’s organisations reveal
  • Recruitment of PAs is growing ever harder, survey finds
  • Widespread rail access failings revealed in regulator’s new report
  • Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week

 

City’s co-produced climate action plan ‘is a world first’

Disabled people have called for action to open up their access to green jobs, public transport, affordable food and clean energy across their city, as part of a pioneering, user-led climate action plan.

The plan also calls for blue badge holders in Bristol to be allowed to use bus lanes, for action to remove pavement obstacles, free window boxes for disabled people without a garden, and a “library of things” that would allow disabled people to borrow mobility equipment.

And it wants to see improved access for disabled people to carbon neutral personal transport and the natural environment.

The action plan – funded by the National Lottery-financed Climate Action Fund – was led by the disabled people’s organisation Bristol Disability Equality Forum (BDEF), which co-produced the plan with 300 disabled people who live or work in Bristol.

It is believed to be the first time anywhere in the world that so many disabled people have been involved in co-producing a plan to take action to address climate change.

The aim of BDEF’s Community Climate Action Plan is to find ways of acting on climate change that do not create new barriers for disabled people.

Laura Welti, the forum’s manager, said she was “completely gobsmacked” when she was told that the forum’s work was so ground-breaking.

The forum’s work has already sparked interest from other organisations in the UK and abroad, with the possibility of a visit to the US to share its work, and contact from the UK government, Disability Rights UK, the Centre For Sustainable Energy (CSE), climate action researchers, and the Feminist Green New Deal.

Five other disadvantaged communities took part in the Bristol Community Climate Action project, each of them co-producing a climate action plan for their own community.

The project, which aims to identify priorities that will help to deliver the city’s plan to become carbon neutral by 2030, was set up by Bristol Green Capital Partnership, whose members include Bristol City Council, the union Unite and CSE.

Welti said BDEF applied to be one of the project partners because it saw “an opportunity to get in before any work gets undertaken, so we get it right first time, rather than us having to react when they get it wrong”.

Part of BDEF’s role now will be to ensure that local projects that receive government funding for climate action work – for example on clean air zones, pedestrianisation schemes and public transport – pay close attention to disabled people’s needs.

The 65 recommendations in BDEF’s action plan are split between those actions it could implement itself, and those it now hopes to lobby councils, other public bodies and Bristol’s private sector to implement.

It has already had support in principle for the idea of setting up a group of disabled people that would oversee all of Bristol City Council’s climate action work.

And it is seeking funds to set up a new disabled-led social enterprise that would fix and sell affordable mobility equipment that has been reclaimed from the city council’s waste services, as well as running mobility equipment maintenance workshops.

Welti said she was “absolutely delighted” that BDEF had been involved in such pioneering work.

She said: “It’s giving a platform to the voices of disabled people in an area where they have been especially excluded to date.

“They have been largely ignored by the climate action movement and they had not really been considered at all by central government in terms of what happens with the sorts of work that they fund.

“I was completely stunned to discover that this was something so pioneering and radical.

“I just feel that it highlights how far disabled people still are from being considered as part of these larger movements.”

Welti said the work on the action plan had involved many disabled people – particularly those aged between 20 and 40 – who would not normally be so involved in its work.

This has allowed them to “get their voice heard through a disabled people’s organisation rather than struggling against the barriers they have experienced” with mainstream climate action groups.

The forum has already applied for funding to employ a new transport champion, a disabled person who would lobby transport organisations, and offer advice and support on climate-related plans, in areas such as pedestrianisation, access to green spaces, and public transport.

It also hopes for funding to employ a new energy champion, who again would be a disabled person, and would run workshops, provide assistance and advice on energy efficiency for disabled people, and lobby other organisations.

Among other recommendations in the action plan are for disabled people to be given grants that allow them to buy vehicles that use cleaner fuels; for all buses to have at least two wheelchair spaces; and for grants that make it easier for disabled people to buy accessible bicycles.

Other ideas include ensuring all new homes are at least partly accessible; running workshops to help disabled people grow their own food, and to help them cook the food they’ve grown; and ensuring that 10 per cent of the city’s allotments are accessible.

The action plan also says that disabled people should not have to pay charges for driving in the city’s clean air zone – which is being introduced later this year – if driving their vehicle is an access need.

And it calls on the city to build an “example home” that is “fully accessible and has energy that is good for the planet”, which can be used to inspire developers to build other such properties.

14 July 2022

 

 

Secret reviews into DWP deaths have more than doubled in three years

New figures show how the number of secret reviews into deaths of benefit claimants that have been linked to the failings of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has more than doubled over the last three years.

They show how DWP started 43 internal process reviews (IPRs) into deaths between July 2019 and June 2020, 59 from July 2020 to June 2021, and 38 in the last year, a total of 140 in three years.

A previous freedom of information request by Disability News Service (DNS) shows this compares with 17 reviews carried out in 2016, 29 in 2017 and 18 in 2018, a total of only 64.

The new figures were released by the minister for disabled people, Chloe Smith, in response to a written parliamentary question from Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, who has pushed repeatedly for a public inquiry into deaths linked to DWP’s actions.

DWP suggested this week that the rise was because it had “broadened the range of circumstances where a review is carried out”, but it has so far declined to say when it made this change, or exactly what changes were made to its guidance.

This week, Abrahams asked the speaker of the House of Commons if he could suggest why work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey was refusing to order a public inquiry.

She told him: “It is a scandal that the bereaved families are not made aware of or involved in these investigations, and that we are denied data on the true scale of the deaths.”

The speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, said he was “not responsible for the actions of the secretary of state”, but that he hoped government ministers had taken her comments “on board”.

The IPR figures were released following the publication of new research which shows how decades of welfare reform and DWP failings are linked to hundreds – and probably thousands – of suicides and other deaths of disabled people.

The draft version of the Deaths by Welfare timeline* exposes how DWP was alerted more than 40 times over the past 30 years to life-threatening systemic flaws in its disability benefits systems, by academics, coroners and its own researchers.

IPRs are not released publicly, and grieving families are not even told that they are taking place.

They were initially called peer reviews, and DWP only started collecting them in February 2012.

Imogen Day, the sister of 27-year-old Philippa Day, one of the claimants whose death was caused by DWP’s failings, said the new figures showed a “collective and systemic tragedy”.

She said it was accepted by families, disabled activists and politicians that only a small minority of deaths linked to DWP deaths were investigated through an IPR, but she said the number of IPRs being carried out was still “far too many”.

She said: “It is still showing that there were 140 disabled people who have been failed by a government department and lost their lives in just three years.”

And she said it was “infuriating and heart-breaking that we will never know how many disabled people are really dying”.

Philippa – known to her family as Pip – died in October 2019.

Her unconscious body had been found by Imogen and her father two months earlier, days after she had been told she would need to attend an assessment centre for a face-to-face appointment to decide her claim for personal independence payment.

In January last year, the coroner who heard the inquest into her death concluded that flaws in the personal independence payment system were “the predominant factor and the only acute factor” that led to her taking her own life.

Gordon Clow, assistant coroner for Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, highlighted 28 separate “problems” with the administration of the system that helped cause her death.

The Days are still believed to be the only family that has managed to obtain a full IPR, although the family of Errol Graham – who starved to death, months after DWP wrongly stopped his out-of-work disability benefits – have seen a summary version of the IPR into his death.

Both families had to use the legal system to obtain the IPRs.

The draft IPR into Pip’s death stated: “The purpose of the IPR is to consider the Department’s handling of the most serious cases where there is a suggestion/allegation that the Department’s actions or omissions may have negatively contributed to the customer’s circumstances.”

Imogen said seeing a draft version of the IPR had provided “so much clarity” for the family, and that it had shown them how DWP had failed Pip.

She said: “We needed it to know that there was nothing else that we could have done.

“It was necessary, we needed it, and my heart breaks for every family that hasn’t had access to that peace of mind.”

She said it was “disappointing” that DWP had put protecting its own reputation and that of its ministers above the needs of the families and loved ones of those who have died.

DWP had previously been forced by a tribunal to release the recommendations made by IPRs, but work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey is now preventing the release of even that limited information.

Previous redacted IPRs released under the Freedom of Information Act have shown how DWP staff had to be repeatedly reminded what to do when claimants disclosed suicidal thoughts, following reviews into the suicides of as many as six claimants.

Imogen said it was “absolutely enraging” that DWP was now attempting to prevent the public release of even the recommendations made by IPRs.

Dr China Mills, who is leading the Deaths by Welfare project, said: “Given that the recommendations suggested by IPRs could likely prevent future deaths, we need transparency and accountability, where instead the DWP maintains secrecy.”

She added: “Given mounting evidence of harm, evident in the Deaths by Welfare timeline, IPRs likely represent only a small proportion of the number of deaths linked to welfare reform, even though the number of reviews has risen so sharply in the last few years.

“And IPRs are just one part of a much longer history, documented in the Deaths by Welfare timeline, of the DWP ignoring evidence of harm and withholding evidence of deaths (for example failing to share evidence of deaths linked to the work capability assessment, during the independent reviews of the WCA), all the while demonising people who claim benefit.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We take these cases extremely seriously, which is why we have broadened the range of circumstances where a review is carried out to improve the outcomes for our customers with changes made including better support for vulnerable customers, and the introduction of a mental health training package for staff.”

The DWP press office has passed on the DNS request for further information about changes to the IPR process to its freedom of information department.

*To provide feedback or suggest additions to the timeline, visit the Deaths by Welfare timeline home page

14 July 2022

 

 

Labour and Lib Dems give half-hearted welcome to DWP deaths evidence

Political parties implicated in decades of government failings that have led to the deaths of countless disabled benefit claimants have given a half-hearted welcome to new research that brings together more than 30 years of evidence proving those links.

The draft version of the Deaths by Welfare timeline* currently features more than 300 pages of evidence linking the systemic failings of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) with hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths.

Despite a high-profile launch of the timeline last week, there was no mention of the research when work and pensions ministers answered questions in the House of Commons on Monday.

And no high-profile political figures have yet welcomed the timeline’s publication, despite it being featured in the Daily Mirror.

The only MP who appears to have raised the timeline in parliament or supported it publicly is Labour backbencher Debbie Abrahams, a member of the work and pensions select committee, who has led parliamentary efforts to secure a public inquiry into deaths linked to DWP.

Although the most damning evidence is linked to decisions made by post-2010 Conservative-led governments, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are also implicated in many of DWP’s failings over the last 30 years.

It was a Labour government that introduced the work capability assessment, which has since been linked to hundreds, and probably thousands, of deaths.

And the Liberal Democrats were in coalition with the Conservatives between 2010 and 2015, during a period when many of the harshest policies on disability benefits were introduced, albeit by Tory ministers.

Coalition policies included the introduction of personal independence payment, which the Treasury stated in June 2010 (PDF) was aimed at producing “a 20 per cent reduction in caseload and expenditure once fully rolled out”.

This week, a spokesperson for Vicky Foxcroft, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, initially said that her office was “currently understaffed so won’t be able to provide a quote” about the timeline.

When challenged by DNS, she produced the following statement: “This report makes for troubling reading.

“Each of these cases is harrowing – our sympathies are with their families and loved ones.

“Lessons need to be learnt. We must ensure that we have a benefits system that provides people with security whilst treating them with dignity and respect.”

The Liberal Democrats produced a statement which also made no reference to the historical and systemic nature of the timeline and the decades of failings.

It criticised only the “humiliating and stressful” current system of “capability assessments”, calling for a “dignified and accurate assessment of a person’s ability to work and not just to hit targets” and for work capability assessments to be brought back in-house.

The Conservative government has so far refused to say whether it views the timeline as useful, or whether it accepts that the evidence shows links between social security policy and the deaths of claimants.

Instead, in a statement that mirrors Labour’s, it has spoken of “tragic, complex cases” and expressed sympathy with the families.

It said last week: “We support millions of people each year and in the vast majority of cases we deliver a supportive and compassionate service.

“We continually improve our services and have new teams to focus on our most vulnerable customers, ensuring we make the right decisions and people get support as quickly as possible.”

The draft timeline is already more than 300 pages long, even before evidence from the last eight months has been included.

It is based on more than a decade of investigations by disabled people’s grassroots groups, journalists, academics and other organisations and campaigners, and has taken more than a year to put together.

The evidence includes government reports, academic research, disabled people’s activism, letters to DWP from coroners, media reports of deaths linked to DWP’s failings, freedom of information responses and political speeches.

It shows how years of warning signs of the harm to come were ignored, while also demonstrating systemic negligence by DWP, a culture of cover-up and denial, and a refusal to accept that the department has a duty of care to those disabled people claiming support through the social security system.

*To provide feedback or suggest additions to the timeline, visit the Deaths by Welfare timeline home page

14 July 2022

 

 

Passenger assistance at Heathrow is ‘an absolute shambles’, say cabin crew

British Airways cabin crew who work on flights in and out of Heathrow say that passenger assistance services at the airport are an “absolute shambles”, with waits of up to 90 minutes for disabled passengers left waiting to leave their planes.

Disability News Service (DNS) has this week spoken to two members of cabin crew who work for British Airways (BA), and both say there are delays with providing assistance for nearly every BA flight that arrives at Heathrow Airport with a disabled passenger on board.

They say the delays have particularly worsened in the last few months.

The company that provides passenger assistance services at Heathrow is Wilson James, which has also been criticised for its performance at Gatwick airport.

Only last week, DNS reported how Mike Smith, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s former disability commissioner, was twice failed by Wilson James at Gatwick, despite confirming his assistance needs in advance.

There have been a series of publicised failings this year at both Gatwick and Heathrow, and other UK airports.

One of the BA cabin crew told DNS this week: “It’s just an absolute shambles. Almost every single flight, you wait anything from half an hour to an-hour-and-a-half.

“People are missing their connections.”

Before the pandemic, he said, disabled passengers arriving at Heathrow with BA might have waited 20 minutes or half an hour “now and again”.

But he said he believed that – since air travel returned to more usual levels of activity as pandemic restrictions have eased – there have not been enough staff working for Wilson James.

He said: “It’s extremely uncommon to see the door of the aircraft open and to have someone there waiting to provide assistance.”

Another cabin crew member said disabled passengers were missing their connecting flights “all the time” because of the delays.

She said: “In nine cases out of 10 you will open the door and there will be no-one there and you will be chasing them. I’m sure it’s just a staffing issue.”

She said the last three or four months had been “really bad”, with the service provided to disabled passengers “pretty disgraceful”.

Both cabin crew members spoke this week of how frustrating and embarrassing it was having to deal with the delays when there was nothing they could do about it.

A spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates the industry, told DNS this week: “We’re committed to helping make aviation… accessible for everyone and we know such incidents can be very distressing for the individual concerned.

“Significant service failings are unacceptable and airlines and airports have rightly apologised.

“We recently wrote to the whole industry outlining our concerns as we continue to work with the aviation sector to improve accessibility, using our framework to help improve and monitoring access for air travel for disabled people which saw millions of pounds being spent by airports to improve passenger access.

“We know that airports and airlines share our commitment to helping to ensure fair access to air travel.

“We will continue to closely monitor the quality of service provided and if these significant service failures continue, we will consider whether further action is needed, including using enforcement powers.”

An Equality and Human Rights Commission spokesperson repeated a statement given last week, warning that transport operators have “clear responsibilities in law to ensure travel is just as possible for disabled people as it is for every other passenger”, which includes “a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for disabled passengers”.

The commission says it is “monitoring reports of disabled passengers not having access to the support or facilities they required” and has “approached transport regulators and offered to work with them to address the risk of discrimination against disabled people and ensure fair access”.

A commission spokesperson also pointed to the advice guide it publishes for disabled air passengers, which includes details on their legal rights.

A Wilson James spokesperson declined to say if it believed the concerns raised by the two cabin crew were an accurate representation of its service at Heathrow, if it accepted that its own staffing shortages were partly causing the problems, and if it accepted that disabled passengers were being discriminated against.

She also declined to say if Wilson James believed that 90-minute waits for assistance were acceptable.

But she said the company had begun a recruitment campaign last August, and had recruited more than 500 new employees, which she claimed met the “required number of staff to meet the demand of assistance we are experiencing following the pandemic”.

She admitted that “many passengers have experienced longer wait times on arrival than normally expected”, but she claimed that provision of its services was “impacted by multiple, external influences beyond the control of Wilson James”, while there had been a “significant increase in the number of passengers requesting assistance”, accompanied by “lower notification rates for assistance from airlines”.

She added: “Our agents remain with their passengers from start to finish of their airport journey, which can be affected by several compounding incidents throughout the global aviation ecosystem.

“Well-documented examples range from delays in security or immigration queues to baggage collection.”

A Heathrow Airport spokesperson said delays “could be because of an issue with our service provider, or as is more often the case, it is because the airline did not pass on passenger pre-booking information to our service provider in advance of arrival”.

She said this was “one of the biggest causes of a misconnect and delay in providing the service on arrival”.

She said: “It isn’t acceptable and we are in constant dialogue with airlines to try and rectify this.”

She also said Heathrow did not accept that significant staffing shortages with Wilson James were at least partly responsible for the delays.

But she accepted that 90-minute waits for assistance were not acceptable.

She added: “At Heathrow we are determined to provide a welcoming and accessible airport that enables all passengers to travel with the dignity and care they expect.

“We apologise if any experiences at the airport have fallen short of the service level passengers deserve, and we will continue to work closely with our service provider, airlines and their ground handlers to improve upon this.

“As the airport rebuilds post-pandemic, all parts of the ecosystem are scaling-up resource to better match demand and we will continue to challenge ourselves and partners to ensure that all passengers can have a smooth and reliable journey through the airport.”

14 July 2022

 

 

We changed the way we operate due to Covid, disabled people’s organisations reveal

Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have made “significant” changes to the way they operate because of the coronavirus pandemic, a new survey has found.

Nearly all the English DPOs that took part in the survey, carried out by disAbility Cornwall & Isles of Scilly, said they were using their offices differently now compared with before the pandemic.

The survey was part of the National Lottery-funded Disabled People’s Organisations Sharing Experiences During Covid 19 project.

A previous report produced as part of the project found earlier this year that DPOs across the UK were “constantly threatened” by a lack of core funding, despite the “crucial” services they provide.

Now the new survey has shown how many of the same DPOs have had to make major changes to how they are run, so they can protect both staff and service-users from the risk of infection from Covid.

Nearly 30 DPOs took part in the survey and provided detailed information about how they had changed.

Before the pandemic, just two of them said they operated under a “hybrid” model, with some staff working from home and others using office space rented or owned by the DPO. But this has now risen to 13 of the DPOs using a hybrid model.

The number of DPOs operating from a building solely rented by that organisation has fallen from 10 before the pandemic to just four now.

The survey also revealed that nearly all the DPOs were using their office space differently now, compared with pre-pandemic.

Six said they were now operating with social distancing and more space.

One DPO said: “We are renting larger premises for meetings and groups which results in higher costs but alleviates anxiety from members around not having enough space.”

Another spoke of creating more space by moving a wall in the office and stopping drop-in sessions.

Only one DPO said it had implemented no changes post-pandemic.

Of precautions being taken in their offices to guard against the virus, 19 have hand sanitising, 13 have introduced social distancing, and seven ask staff to wear face masks when moving around the office, with seven DPOs also mentioning the use of screens on desks to further protect staff and visitors.

Only two weeks ago, another DPO, Buckinghamshire Disability Service (BuDS), delivered a stark warning about the continuing seriousness of the Covid pandemic, and its impact on disabled people and DPOs.

Andrew Clark, chair of BuDS, told an online conference organised by disAbility Cornwall, that disabled people should ignore those who downplayed the risks posed by the latest Covid mutations.

He said BuDS had adopted a “Covid Careful” strategy, taking scientifically-proven precautions that allow a “Covid-safe” office, with equipment to clean the air of the virus, while all its staff and volunteers have to wear FFP2 masks in risky situations.

Dr Theo Blackmore, who conducted the new research for disAbility Cornwall, said: “I feel this is a very important piece of research at this time.

“DPOs work incredibly hard, for very little reward, and often feel very isolated and alone in what they are doing.

“This research shows that – once again – these organisations are making good decisions to ensure that disabled people will continue to receive the services they need in safe and Covid-secure ways.

“Although we can see everywhere the Covid restrictions being relaxed – in shops, supermarkets, and other public spaces – many disabled people still feel very uncertain about the new strains that are very prevalent right now.

“Knowing that we can turn to DPOs for help, advice and information, and that these organisations are still following Covid guidance, is very reassuring.”

14 July 2022

 

 

Recruitment of PAs is growing ever harder, survey finds

Recruiting a personal assistant (PA) has become harder since the start of the pandemic, with many disabled people giving up hope of ever finding someone suitable to provide their care and support, according to a new survey.

The survey, which was co-produced with disabled people, found there were “severe shortages” of PAs in England.

Many disabled people are being left with no support for long periods of time, because of council restrictions on how much they are allowed to pay their PAs.

A report on the survey, The Forgotten Workforce, found that low pay “outstripped every other factor” that users of PAs said was making recruitment more difficult.

Of nearly 1,000 users of PAs who took part in the survey, most of whom use direct payments or personal health budgets to pay their staff, 662 of them said action on pay was urgently needed.

One disabled person who took part in the survey said: “All my available income goes on PA wages.

“No visits to cinema or theatre or dining out with friends or family for same reason.

“If their wages need to increase again, I despair of surviving and may have to go to a care home as a last resort.”

The report concludes that the direct payments and personal health budgets system was “not working as set out in the Care Act for many people”, with few of those surveyed seeing themselves as having the choice and control they wanted.

The report adds: “People who have been recruiting PAs for many years said it was more difficult now than it has ever been.”

The online survey asked about people’s experiences between the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and January this year.

An estimated 70,000 people in England receive care and support and employ a PA.

The survey was designed by the Local Government Association and Think Local Act Personal*, in co-production with people supported by a PA.

Of those surveyed who needed to recruit a new PA between March 2020 and January 2022 (776 people), 600 of them (77 per cent) said they had found it harder to do so than pre-pandemic.

One of those who responded to the survey said: “By far the most difficult issue is that Direct Payments do not pay an hourly rate remotely in line with the skill set required of a typical PA – which simply means it’s impossible to employ anyone unless they are willing to take a significant cut in their hourly rate!

“This makes no sense whatsoever since Direct Payments is willing to pay substantially more per hour to ‘care provider companies’ who then pay their staff minimum wage.

“Typical PA rate £16 per hour. Maximum Direct Payments will pay: £13. Typical hourly rate of care company: £21.”

Another said: “I feel the main thing is pay. I started with a direct payment five years ago and the pay hasn’t gone up by one penny since then.”

More than 120 people who responded to the survey wanted councils to develop a local pool of vetted PAs, while 128 people wanted more support from councils, government and NHS funders.

Some of those who took part in the survey said they had taken on PAs they knew were “not right for the job” and were having to “compromise on their support” because of PA shortages.

Others said that PA shortages and the pandemic had combined to leave them – and the unpaid carers who helped fill the gaps in their support – “exhausted”.

The report makes it clear that the pandemic is not the only explanation for the problems with PA recruitment.

It says: “We find that PA recruitment has got harder, both in terms of a shortage of applicants and their suitability for the work.

“Low pay, poor terms and conditions, and restrictions by funders on what people can pay PAs are the primary drivers for this, alongside the impact of the Covid pandemic.”

*TLAP is a partnership of central and local government, social care providers, the NHS, the voluntary and community sector, and disabled people and others with lived experience

14 July 2022

 

 

Widespread rail access failings revealed in regulator’s new report

An audit for the rail regulator has found failings in the accessibility information provided by a train operator in all but one of 32 stations that were inspected, according to a new report.

The audit, commissioned by the Office of Rail and Road, found multiple failings by rail operators in the information they provided about station accessibility on their own websites and the information provided by National Rail Enquiries.

The Office of Rail and Road audited 32 stations run by one train operator and found incomplete or inaccurate information about step-free access for 13 of the stations, with no information about meeting points* at all but one of the stations, and problems in five other areas across “multiple” stations.

Other train operators had “gaps” in the information provided about station staffing hours (with 16 operators failing in this area) and the availability of seating in the station (17 operators failing).

In its annual rail consumer report, ORR says that most rail operators “provided timely responses that gave us confidence that the issues we identified had been, or would be, addressed”.

In a separate report published by ORR alongside its rail consumer report, disabled auditors found “inconsistencies” between the access information about a station they found on the National Rail Enquiries website, and the accessibility they found when they visited that station.

About one in three auditors (30 per cent) recorded inconsistencies after visiting unstaffed or partially staffed stations, while almost one in four (23 per cent) found inconsistencies at staffed stations.

Among the issues they recorded were a failure to provide an assistance meeting point at the station, the failure to provide a clear information point at larger stations, and problems with obtaining assistance at unstaffed or partially staffed stations through the station’s Help Point.

The report says the audits suggested that “the provision of accurate and accessible information about accessible rail travel was inconsistent” across staffed, unstaffed and partially staffed stations.

The audits – carried out by the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (RIDC) – found problems with “communications, signage, information and support” around accessibility.

The RIDC report says the audits suggested that many stations were giving prominence to adverts and offers rather than displaying information and advice for disabled passengers, although it warned that some of the failings it found could have been linked to Covid-related precautions.

Another report published by ORR (PDF), and carried out by the market research agency 2CV, found that 87 per cent of disabled passengers they surveyed said they were satisfied with the overall Passenger Assist service, an increase from 86 per cent in 2020-21, although the proportion who said they were dissatisfied also rose, from six to eight per cent.

And almost a quarter (24 per cent) of those who use Passenger Assist – which provides assistance to disabled rail passengers – did not receive all the assistance they had booked at the station they were asked about, an increase from 20 per cent in 2020-21.

Booking by telephone also took longer than in previous years, with an average of 11 minutes and 36 seconds on average compared with nine minutes and 41 seconds in 2020-21.

The report also says there is “still a concern” that 28 per cent of passengers do not feel confident that all parts of the assistance they book will be delivered on the day they travel.

Some passengers still want to be able to use the Passenger Assist mobile phone app to book their ticket at the same time they book their assistance, the report says, while some passengers “report having issues” when using the app, which it says “need to be rectified before raising awareness and promoting use of the app further”.

The much-delayed app was finally launched last year, nearly three years after originally planned, but the industry was warned at the time that it was not fit for purpose.

ORR also said that train operators can now take bookings for assisted travel with just two hours’ notice, a requirement introduced by the regulator to “progressively reduce” the notice period from 24 hours down to two hours over the last two years.

A third report published by ORR (PDF), carried out by RIDC, found the accessibility of 24 train companies’ websites had “significantly improved” in the two years since 2020, although there was “still some room for improvement to ensure that assistive technology works correctly”.

*The part of the station where disabled passengers who have booked assistance are collected by a staff member

14 July 2022

 

 

Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week

A landmark reform to the UK’s benefits system has led to a rise in home repossessions, burglaries and vehicle crimes, costing society almost half a billion pounds, research suggests. The introduction of universal credit “has imposed large societal costs” through a rise in evictions and crime in England and Wales, according to findings from the University of Sussex Business School. Researchers say it has resulted in a 2.5 per cent increase on average in economically-motivated crime: Read The Independent article 

A scathing report has revealed that Devon’s services for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have not improved. Four areas of “significant concern” were identified in December 2018 following a joint visit by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission. Inspectors returning in May found “progress has not been made” in fixing any of the issues. The government is now threatening to intervene: Read The BBC article 

A schoolgirl left restricted to bed by a long-standing illness was reduced to tears after being “banned” from her prom. Alisha Hoy, 16, was told her poor attendance didn’t warrant her being allowed to attend. The year 11 student at Airedale Academy in Castleford, West Yorkshire, has had a bowel illness since she was a child and had to miss many of her lessons, but was still able to sit her GCSE exams. She spent much of the year in pain and in bed: read The Mirror article 

14 July 2022

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com