Skip to content

Search

19th May 2022

 In this week’s edition:

  • Grenfell: Call for action over government’s ‘deplorable’ decision on evacuation plans
  • ‘Severely neglected’ man found dead, three months after DWP assessment
  • Government brands DNS ‘vexatious’ for trying to obtain info on 90 DWP deaths
  • Government’s ‘milestone’ disability jobs stats ‘are meaningless when it comes to equality’
  • Concern over offensive LGBT+ comments at access awards event
  • Universal credit boss defends years of misleading information
  • Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week

 

Grenfell: Call for action over government’s ‘deplorable’ decision on evacuation plans

The government has caused outrage after announcing that it would not implement measures – recommended by the Grenfell Tower Inquiry – that would have ensured disabled people could safely evacuate high-rise blocks of flats in emergencies.

The inquiry had recommended that owners and managers of high-rise residential buildings should be legally required to prepare a personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP) for all residents who may find it difficult to “self-evacuate”.

But the Home Office said yesterday (Wednesday) that it had concluded that such laws would cost too much, and would not be safe or practical, even though some disabled people have already drawn up their own PEEPs.

One of its excuses is that attempting to evacuate disabled residents before firefighters arrive could “slow the evacuation of other residents”.

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, previously promised to implement all the recommendations of the first phase of the inquiry.

The Home Office announcement came nearly five years after the Grenfell Tower disaster, in which 72 people lost their lives, including 15 of its 37 disabled residents.

Appalled activists have now called for disabled-led organisations and allies to organise an urgent campaign of opposition to the government’s decision.

Sarah Rennie, co-founder of the disabled-led leaseholder action group Claddag, said: “We are outraged by the government’s U-turn on evacuation plans for disabled people.

“The government is wholly out of step with public opinion on this – even the professional sector seem shocked.

“This policy position is unethical and our community will not accept it.”

Jumoke Abdullahi, communications and media officer for Inclusion London, said: “It is truly deplorable that, coming up to the five-year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, the government has decided not to require high-rise buildings to prepare evacuation arrangements for disabled residents to escape.

“Deciding that PEEPs would not be ‘practical’ and that they would cost too much speaks volumes to the government’s attitudes towards disabled people in the UK.

“The government must do better. Disabled people’s lives and safety cannot be seen as a fair trade-off in order to save money.”

The Home Office has also published its response to a consultation on the PEEP proposal, which ended last July.

The document shows that more than 83 per cent of those who responded supported the PEEP plan, even though many of those taking part in the consultation were building owners, property companies, construction companies and trade bodies.

Instead of implementing the PEEP proposal, the Home Office has decided instead to consult on its own “alternative package” of measures, which it calls Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing (EEIS).

But this will only apply to the minority of buildings that have been assessed as being “at higher risk”, while residents of other flats, including disabled residents, will have to continue with the current “stay put” policy, which means being told to “stay in their flats as long as the heat or smoke from the fire is not affecting them”.

EEIS will involve carrying out a fire risk assessment for disabled people who would need support to evacuate from their flat.

The Home Office has concluded that any fire safety measures suggested for inside a disabled person’s flat after this assessment “should remain largely for the resident to implement and finance”, while it will “also almost always be reasonable for the resident to pay for adjustments to common areas”.

These measures, it says, could include additional handrails, flame retardant bedding and fire safe ashtrays.

Although a PEEP could still be agreed if it was “practical, proportionate and safe”, the Home Office said it believed “these cases would be relatively rare”.

Details of any residents who still had “issues preventing them from self-evacuating in the event of a fire” would then be shared with the fire and rescue service, who would be able to access this information if an evacuation was needed.

It is now consulting on its EEIS plans, and is asking for evidence of any existing PEEPs that “support the full evacuation of mobility-impaired residents, and that satisfy the principles of practicality, proportionality and safety”.

Peter Apps, deputy editor of Inside Housing, which has led coverage of the inquiry, was highly critical of the Home Office’s decision, and analysed its many flaws in a long series of posts on Twitter, describing the announcement as “miserable, miserable news”.

Dennis Queen, a spokesperson for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said: “GMCDP is really disappointed and angry at the government’s rejection of the recommendations of the Grenfell investigation and those of Claddag.

“Requiring personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) for people living in high rise is really quite a minimal ask of landlords, and GMCDP has joined in with campaigning for PEEPs.

“This decision means landlords will continue to ignore best practice methods, lawfully.

“The government’s alternative suggestions do not go far enough. We will continue to support Claddag with their campaign.”

Disabled artist-activist Jess Thom called yesterday for disabled-led organisations and allies across the country to act “urgently” and make it clear that “this decision is unacceptable and will be challenged”.

She has been particularly involved in the issues around evacuation of high-rise blocks and fire safety since witnessing the 2009 Lakanal House fire, in Camberwell, south London.

Thom knew two of the children who died in the fire, and their mother, because they had attended a local children’s play project she ran.

Just as with residents of Grenfell, eight years later, they died after being told by the emergency services to stay in their flat and wait to be rescued.

Thom wrote to home secretary Priti Patel earlier this year, telling her about her connection to the Lakanal House fire, and the “indescribable” horror she felt in 2017 when she saw reports of the Grenfell fire and realised that “the warnings from Lakanal had not been heeded”.

She raised concerns in the letter about the Home Office’s decision to award a crucial fire safety contract to consultants who had repeatedly argued against introducing PEEPs for disabled residents of tower blocks.

She said this week that the Home Office’s decision on PEEPs “makes it brutally clear that the government views disabled lives as less valuable”.

Thom said the government’s decision to ignore the “clear” recommendation from the Grenfell inquiry on PEEPs, “the campaigning of Grenfell families and the powerful testimony of disabled residents trapped in buildings wrapped in dangerous cladding” was “outrageous”.

She added: “It should not be acceptable to ask disabled people to stay in burning buildings and to prioritise commercial interests over life safety.

“While this decision makes it brutally clear that the government views disabled lives as less valuable, we need individuals and organisations to urgently act in solidarity and allyship, and make it equally clear that this decision is unacceptable and will be challenged.”

Thom said: “It feels to me like they are making policy decisions based on industry’s assumptions about disability and not utilising any specialist and deeply held knowledge within disabled communities.”

She said it was “deeply troubling” that disabled people appeared to be getting “less protection and less progressive fire policies post-Grenfell than before”.

She added: “Ultimately you couldn’t get a clearer example of everything about us without us.

“Disabled lives and those of our families are on the line. Are disabled parents expected to sit with their children in burning buildings?”

19 May 2022

 

 

‘Severely neglected’ man found dead, three months after DWP assessment

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failed to alert GPs and social services to the “very extensive” difficulties a disabled man was facing, three months before he died in conditions of severe self-neglect.

A safeguarding review of the death of Mr A, from Leeds, concluded that a healthcare assessor working for a DWP contractor was probably the last person to see him alive, other than his disabled wife.

The face-to-face benefits assessment was carried out so Mr A could be transferred from long-term incapacity benefit to employment and support allowance (ESA).

The assessment report was passed on to DWP, and he was placed in the ESA support group, but no attempt was made to contact his local GP or Leeds City Council, to inform them about the substantial problems he was facing.

It is just the latest evidence of years of failings by DWP to prioritise the safety of benefit claimants, with ministers repeatedly declaring that the department does not have a legal duty to “safeguard” its claimants.

When Mr A’s death was reported by his wife, his body was found in his bed “surrounded by piles of household waste, his body severely neglected, emaciated and decomposed”.

Paramedics who attended the property in the early hours of 12 March 2017 found “hoarded materials, accumulated waste, evidence of rodent infestation and animal faeces” from the couple’s dogs and chinchillas.

Mr A had died sometime in the previous 48 hours, having spoken to a friend on the phone two days earlier.

The face-to-face assessment in November 2016 is believed to have taken place in an assessment centre in Leeds and the review said it revealed that Mr A “stayed in bed all day and every day because of severe pain, leg swelling and mobility difficulties, had dizziness and poor balance and muscle wasting in his upper and lower limbs”.

But neither DWP nor its assessment contractor* alerted his GP or Leeds City Council’s adult social care department to his substantial and urgent support needs.

The safeguarding review described the face-to-face assessment, and DWP’s failure to alert other agencies, as a “significant factor”.

It says the assessment “appears to be the last time anyone saw Mr A before his death three-and-a-half months later”.

Mr A and his wife lived in an adapted bungalow. He had been in severe pain and poor health for many years, and the couple’s relationship had become increasingly difficult, with each of them occupying different rooms and communicating by mobile phone.

She brought food to his room, as well as bottles and puppy pads for toileting, which he placed in plastic bags by his bed after using them.

The squalid conditions in the adapted bungalow, and the “chaos” she was living in, impacted the health of his wife, who herself had obsessive compulsive disorder and other impairments.

She later described her husband as “manipulative, argumentative and violent” but she also made excuses for him.

The safeguarding adults review was not published until January 2020, and this is believed to be the first time its contents have been reported publicly.

The review made a series of recommendations, including a call for DWP to strengthen information-sharing with GPs “and referral pathways to other agencies such as Adult Social Care when DWP or their agents identify potential care and support needs and/or circumstances in which safeguarding action may be necessary”.

Other public bodies were criticised by the review for failing to take action to safeguard the couple, including the city council, the local NHS, police and fire and rescue service, Leeds Safeguarding Adults Board, and Leeds Federated Housing Association.

But the review said the housing association was the only organisation that had identified significant potential risk in Mr and Mrs A’s situation, and “made persistent efforts to engage others in supporting Mr and Mrs A but appeared to meet an impasse at every turn”.

The review pointed out that Mr and Mrs A made “very clear and successful attempts” to “remain off the radar”.

But it also said: “It is hard not to conclude overall that agencies simply did not worry enough to prompt them seeking to learn more about Mr and Mrs A and the conditions in which they were living or to take timely action.”

It added: “The absence of Adult Social Care involvement was a major factor in this situation remaining under the radar.

“It must be questioned why there were no referrals to Adult Social Care from health agencies, in the light of their knowledge of the Mr and Mrs A’s health conditions and the difficulties they posed.

“Equally, why there was no referral to Adult Social Care from either [the assessment company] or DWP in the light of the medical assessment in November 2016, which identified the circumstances in which Mr A in particular was living.”

Five organisations told the review that they had brought in changes as a result of the case, but there was no mention in the report of any such changes made by DWP.

Leeds City Council refused to comment on its own failings and how DWP had responded to the recommendation made by the review, and it also refused to answer questions about the face-to-face assessment and DWP’s role in Mr A’s death.

DWP declined to answer questions about the safeguarding review, its own failings, what action it had taken in response to the review’s recommendation, and whether it had carried out its own review into the death of Mr A.

It claimed that because “safeguarding adult reviews are anonymised to protect the individuals involved” it would “not be appropriate to divulge any further detail on this specific case”.

But a DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “While the department does not have a statutory duty of care or safeguarding duty, we can help direct our claimants to the most appropriate body to meet their needs.

“More than 30 advanced customer support senior leaders (ACSSLs) have been appointed across Great Britain… to reach across local communities, underpinning our relationships with other organisations that provide support to our customers.

“We are always looking to maximise our opportunities in our interactions with customers to signpost vulnerable claimants towards support.

“We want to ensure that chances to flag concerns to agencies with statutory safeguarding responsibilities are not missed.

“The department frequently collaborates with these agencies.

“For individual claimants, we can liaise with health and social services to consider next steps, contact GPs for evidence for disability benefits decisions, or access HMRC salary records to calculate child maintenance.”

The US outsourcing giant Maximus*, which is believed to have carried out the WCA, had not responded to requests to comment by noon today (Thursday).

*Although the review says the WCA was carried out by Atos, the assessment took place nearly two years after the contract was taken over by Maximus, which delivers its WCA contract through the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments. It is therefore likely that the WCA was carried out by Maximus, although neither Maximus nor DWP had confirmed that by noon today (Thursday)

19 May 2022

 

 

Government brands DNS ‘vexatious’ for trying to obtain info on 90 DWP deaths

The government has branded Disability News Service (DNS) “vexatious” for attempting to use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain key details from more than 90 secret reviews into deaths and other serious incidents involving benefit claimants.

DNS asked the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) last month for copies of all the internal process reviews carried out between 1 September 2020 and 28 April 2022.

But DWP is refusing to release the documents, claiming that to do so would place an “undue burden and pressure” on the department, despite its £7 billion budget.

Senior MPs yesterday (Wednesday) described DWP’s move as “highly ill-advised” and “deeply concerning”.

DNS has been using freedom of information laws to obtain key information about deaths linked to the department’s failings since it first uncovered the existence of the secret reviews nearly eight years ago.

Time and again, recommendations made by the reviews – usually the only section that is not completely redacted when they are released – have revealed key safety failings by the department.

The first batch of reviews, finally released in 2016 following a protracted legal battle, showed how at least 13 of the reports explicitly raised concerns about the way that “vulnerable” benefit claimants were being treated by DWP.

Another review obtained by DNS, in 2018, helped show how DWP had been forced to soften the “threatening” tone of the agreement that claimants of universal credit are forced to sign to receive their benefits.

And in December 2020, a freedom of information request allowed DNS to show that DWP staff had had to be repeatedly reminded what to do when claimants say they may take their own lives, following reviews into as many as six suicides linked to the benefits system.

Those reviews suggested that a series of suicides between 2014 and 2019 were linked to the failure of DWP staff to follow basic rules that had been introduced in 2009.

But more recently, DWP has resorted to increasingly desperate tactics to keep all content from the reviews – now known as internal process reviews (IPRs) – secret.

It has argued that releasing any of the recommendations made in IPRs could interfere with the development of government policy, even though DWP’s own guidance states that an IPR is “a factual account of events without opinion or judgement” and that “policy is outside scope” of the reviews.

But DWP is now arguing that reviewing each of the IPRs to work out which parts of the Freedom of Information Act it can use to prevent them being released to DNS is so “time consuming” that it has “reached a point where it is placing undue burden and pressure on the Department”.

DWP’s expenditure on departmental operating costs in 2020-21 was more than £7.1 billion.

It is the first time DNS has requested the release of a new batch of IPRs since the autumn of 2020.

DWP’s central freedom of information team told DNS this week: “The effort required to meet the request will be so grossly oppressive in terms of the strain on time and resources, that the authority cannot reasonably be expected to comply, no matter how legitimate the subject matter or valid the intentions of the requester.”

It argues that the information it could release would be “likely to offer little readable information”, despite the information rights tribunal ruling six years ago that key parts of its secret reviews can and should be released.

The information commissioner is currently investigating a complaint lodged by DNS against the refusal of DWP to release any of the key information from IPRs completed between April 2019 and September 2020.

This week’s DWP response added: “A request may be treated as vexatious, if it causes distress or irritation without justification; or if it is aimed at disrupting the work of an authority, including if the amount of time required to review and prepare the information for disclosure would impose a grossly oppressive burden on the organisation.”

John McArdle, co-founder of the grassroots group Black Triangle, who has played a key role over the last decade in exposing links between DWP and the deaths of claimants, said it was “no surprise that the government is doing everything possible to prevent this information from seeing the light of day”.

He said: “The DWP must release this information sooner or later. Legally, they haven’t got a leg to stand on.”

He said the claim that DNS was being “vexatious” was “not only fictitious: it is highly offensive”.

He added: “Countless premature deaths of disabled people have occurred as a consequence of DWP’s disability assessment regime.

“To call any efforts to establish all the facts surrounding these tragic deaths ‘vexatious’ is an appalling insult to all those who have perished and their bereaved loved ones whom they have left behind.”

Debbie Abrahams, a Labour MP and former shadow work and pensions secretary, who has led parliamentary calls for an inquiry into deaths linked to DWP, said: “It is deeply concerning that the DWP are seeking to avoid scrutiny of their internal process reviews by deeming the FOI request submitted by the editor of Disability News Service vexatious.

“John Pring has assiduously researched this issue for over a decade.

“It is clear that there are significant issues at the DWP in properly safeguarding claimants which I have raised repeatedly with the secretary of state and her ministers at the work and pensions select committee.

“I would urge the department to think again and provide the information requested and not label legitimate requests vexatious to avoid proper scrutiny.”

Stephen Timms, the Labour MP who chairs the work and pensions committee, added: “This approach to a reasonable request seems to me highly ill-advised on the department’s part.”

It is the second time in little over a year that DWP has branded DNS “vexatious” for seeking documents through freedom of information requests.

Last month, the information commissioner ruled that DWP was wrong the previous year to use the “vexatious” argument to prevent DNS from finding out how many disabled people were expected to lose out in the move to universal credit.

19 May 2022

 

 

Government’s ‘milestone’ disability jobs stats ‘are meaningless when it comes to equality’

New government figures that show an increase of 1.3 million in the number of disabled people in work since 2017 are “meaningless” when it comes to the inequality disabled people face in the jobs market, ministers have been warned.

The minister for disabled people, Chloe Smith, had described the figure as an “important milestone” which showed the government’s “commitment to supporting disabled people to lead independent lives and reach their full potential”.

She said this delivered on a Conservative manifesto commitment to see one million more disabled people in work between 2017 and 2027.

The Office for National Statistics figures do show there were about 4.8 million disabled people in employment in the UK in the first quarter of 2022, compared with about 3.5 million in the first quarter of 2017.

But analysis of the new figures by Professor Vicki Wass, from Cardiff Business School, a member of the Disability@Work group of researchers, has shown that the disadvantage faced by disabled people in the jobs market has not reduced since 2017.

She said that what has driven the increase in disabled people in employment since 2017 has been the level of overall employment – which is determined by the economic cycle – and the number of people describing themselves as disabled.

Both of these have risen since 2017, with the proportion of the working-age population reporting to ONS that they are disabled rising from 17 per cent to 22 per cent in just five years.

She said the 1.3 million increase “looks less impressive” in the context of the 1.9 million rise in the number of working-age people who report that they are disabled.

Before the pandemic, she said, this rise of 1.9 million people would have been mostly people with lower support needs.

This meant that employment and employment rates for disabled people naturally increased.

In a briefing document published this week, Wass said: “This obviously makes the ‘one-million’ target a meaningless indicator as far as disability employment disadvantage is concerned.”

Wass pointed out that, in 2017, the government had abandoned the “more ambitious” target of halving the disability employment gap in five years, and instead used a new target of one million more disabled people in jobs.

She said: “Without any real policy initiative or investment in support for employers and disabled individuals, this first commitment was unachievable.”

She pointed out that the National Audit Office and the Commons work and pensions committee – in both 2017 and 2021 – had raised concerns about the one million target, and recommended that ministers also select a target which would show disabled people’s employment compared with the employment of non-disabled people.

Her calculations show that, once account is taken of the increasing disability prevalence rate, there has been no improvement in the disadvantage faced by disabled people in the employment market since 2013.

She concluded that Smith was “justified in celebrating the employment expansion and the increase in disability reporting, to the extent that the latter reflects greater social awareness and acceptance that has occurred since disability targets were set in 2015 and 2017”.

But she added: “The evidence suggests that there is much less to celebrate if the aim of either commitment was to address disability employment disadvantage.

“Disability prevalence has increased during the pandemic, including for ‘functional’ reasons – meaning an increase in the number of people with higher support needs – and the message from looking at the trends in disability employment is that real effort and investment on disability employment disadvantage is increasingly urgent.”

DWP refused to comment on Professor Wass’s analysis, instead pointing to a DWP press release about the figures.

Fazilet Hadi, head of policy for Disability Rights UK, said: “Having more disabled people in the workforce is extremely positive; however, the government is well aware that the gap between the employment of disabled people and non-disabled people has been unchanging at around 30 percentage points for many years.

“The figures show an increase in the number of disabled people at work, as more people already in work are identifying as disabled.

“Closing the disability employment gap would be a much better indicator of progress, as it would track whether more disabled people are entering employment.”

She added: “Over the last decade, the government has slashed the money spent on targeted support to get disabled people into work and to help people who become disabled, stay in work.

“New job schemes introduced during the pandemic included no specific measures to support disabled people.

“The National Disability Strategy was extremely thin in relation to supporting disabled people into work.

“We need the government to come forward with a plan to halve the disability employment gap, which is a previous commitment that it scrapped.”

Meanwhile, new figures show a significant increase in the number of complaints about DWP received by the Independent Case Examiner (ICE).

In 2021-22, ICE received 4,740 complaints about DWP, compared with 4,205 in 2020-21, an increase of 13 per cent in just one year.

In 2019-20, the last year before the pandemic, ICE received 3,835 complaints.

The number of complaints accepted by ICE for investigation has also risen sharply, from 1,132 in 2019-20 to 1,642 in 2021-22.

The number of complaints recorded by DWP – the earlier stage of the complaints process –dropped slightly in the last year, from 20,167 in 2020-21 to 19,186 in 2021-22.

19 May 2022

 

 

Concern over offensive LGBT+ comments at access awards event

The future of a high-profile annual access awards event has been thrown into doubt after a complaint that two of its team made offensive comments about the LGBT+ movement.

At least three comments were made before and during the Blue Badge Access Awards (BBAA) ceremony at the upmarket Hotel Brooklyn in Manchester on 28 April.

The awards claim to “celebrate exceptional venues that welcome everyone through their doors” and are supported by well-known organisations such as Microsoft, Historic England, Conran + Partners, the Institute of Hospitality, and disability charity Leonard Cheshire.

But concerns about comments made at the event have now been raised in a blog by Toby Mildon, a leading diversity and inclusion consultant, who himself is disabled and gay.

He described how, before the ceremony, organiser Fiona Jarvis introduced another wheelchair-user, awards nominee Alex Vasquez, as “a disability advocate, well-known on TikTok, and a campaigner for LBG… whatever the letters are these days”.

Mildon said Jarvis, herself a wheelchair-user, “rolled her eyes” as she searched for the correct term.

Despite being corrected by Mildon, she then repeated the same “LBG… whatever” comment when she introduced Vasquez’s nomination for the access champion of the year award on stage.

A few minutes before introducing Vasquez’s nomination, another of the team involved with the event mocked the efforts of service-provider organisations like British Airways and Transport for London to introduce more inclusive, gender-neutral language.

He told guests that “if we were British Airways, I wouldn’t be allowed to say ladies and gentlemen, would I! But since we are not British Airways, I will address you as ladies and gentlemen, if you don’t mind”.

When Mildon raised his concerns with Jarvis several days after the event, she told him in an email that she had been “surprised, depressed and upset to hear that my comments were taken to be homophobic” and that the comments had been “said in jest”.

She added: “I would consider myself an ally to all groups who feel excluded, particularly as a woman who is disabled and considered too old to be employable yet never have I wanted to be a ‘victim’.”

She said in a statement that she apologised “wholeheartedly for any offence caused” and that her team would now be “re-evaluating the existence” of the awards.

She later told DNS that she wanted to “reiterate my heartfelt apology to Alex and Toby”, that she was “an ally of the LGBTIA + community”, and that neither she nor the others involved with the event were homophobic or transphobic, and that they were “committed to accessibility for all”.

Jarvis told DNS that one of the organising committee had now resigned, following the complaint, but she did not say why or who.

Vasquez, who is from Costa Rica and is in the UK on a Chevening scholarship from the UK government while he studies for a masters degree, told DNS that the event had been important to him, as it was one of the first times he had been nominated for an award.

His main focus in his campaigning is on sexuality and disability, and the other intersectional aspects of disability.

But he said he had not been made to “feel very welcome” by Jarvis, both when she introduced him to Mildon and when she announced his nomination as access champion of the year, and that he felt he was treated as less worthy than the other nominees in his category.

He was also unhappy with how Jarvis treated Mildon’s blog and complaint after the event.

He said: “She perceives the comments she made as not harmful, but they were harmful, they were harmful to me, the person who those comments were directed at, but also to Toby.”

He added: “I think this is a great call out, not only for Fiona but for disability activists in the UK, to catch up on intersectionality, to make sure that whatever they do they do it from a place of understanding of not only their own experience but also everyone else’s.”

Mildon said that he had still not received a proper apology from Jarvis “for her words or subsequent actions”.

He said he had taken advice from trusted colleagues on whether to publish the blog, but he had decided to do so to show the “lack of understanding of the intersectional nature of disability” and to “raise awareness that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable”.

He said: “The main point I wanted to make is that in all events that are supposed to be inclusive, this kind of behaviour goes on and it has to be tackled.

“I felt I would not be doing my job properly as a diversity and inclusion advocate if I just let these things slide.”

Disabled broadcaster, campaigner and access consultant Mik Scarlet, who was one of the judges and one of the presenters during the event – but did not make the remark about British Airways – said the various comments “should never have been made”.

He said: “If anything it shows how much work there is to do around equality and inclusion.

“Just because you’re disabled, doesn’t mean you understand what it is like to be [part of] another group.”

He said he would not continue his lengthy relationship with the awards unless Jarvis and her colleagues developed a code of conduct and “embed best practice”.

He said what happened needed to become a “learning experience” for the awards.

Robin Sheppard, co-founder of the awards and the disabled chair and founder of Bespoke Hotels – which hosted the event – is a former government access champion. He also did not make the offensive remark.

He declined to comment to DNS, other than saying that he had spoken to Mildon and “underlined my apologies for any sleight or offence that was caused” during the event, and that he also planned to apologise to Vasquez.

A Leonard Cheshire spokesperson said: “We believe an intersectional approach is absolutely vital in addressing the wide inequalities disabled people face in the UK and around the world.

“We were very sad to hear about what happened at this year’s [awards].

“Leonard Cheshire is one of many organisations that have supported and sponsored the awards, which offer an important opportunity to showcase accessible, innovative approaches within the hospitality sector.

“We will be discussing the recent awards event as part of ongoing conversations with organisers about our continued support.”

BBAA was formed by the merger of the Bespoke Access Awards and the Blue Badge Style Awards.

Disability News Service reported in 2017 how the Blue Badge Style Awards had presented one of its awards to 10 Downing Street, even though it has one of the most iconically-inaccessible front doors on the planet.

19 May 2022

 

 

Universal credit boss defends years of misleading information

The senior civil servant in charge of universal credit has repeatedly refused to explain why ministers have spent years using misleading information to try to persuade disabled people to transfer onto the government’s new working-age benefit system.

Neil Couling spent three days on social media this week attempting to persuade Disability News Service (DNS) to run a news story that would show many disabled people “how much better off they’d be on UC”.

Couling, a DWP director general and in charge of the implementation of universal credit (UC), had initially responded to a DNS news story which reported how DWP had bowed to pressure from a regulator and finally published figures that proved at least one million disabled people would eventually be left worse off through the rollout of UC.

Couling insisted that DWP had always planned to publish this “gainer analysis” and blamed the delay in doing so on “years of unfounded negative publicity” which was preventing “so many people seeing how much better off they’d be on UC”.

Over the three days, DNS repeatedly asked Couling to explain why he and ministers only ever stated publicly how many disabled people would gain from moving onto UC, but never balanced that with how many would lose out.

Couling even defended a minister, Justin Tomlinson, who – when asked in 2017 what assessment DWP had made of the financial impact of UC on disabled claimants – told parliament that “around one million disabled households will gain, on average, £100 a month”.

Couling had earlier suggested that ministers were only “responding to false claims that all people with disabilities lose out from UC” when they made such claims, but Tomlinson had simply been asked for figures showing the overall financial impact of UC on disabled claimants.

Couling continued to insist that hundreds of thousands of disabled people would be better off on UC, and he highlighted the 600,000 employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants who would gain if they moved voluntarily to UC.

But he failed to point out that DWP’s own figures also showed that about 500,000 ESA claimants would eventually be worse off under UC, despite any transitional protection* they received.

This is because those among the 500,000 who would initially benefit from transitional protection would eventually lose all that extra support, and all of this group would be left worse off under UC within the first year, because of inflation.

Any subsequent increase in UC, apart from the childcare element – including at the start of every financial year in April, when a claimant’s benefits would otherwise have increased by the rate of inflation – will lead to a reduction in this transitional protection by the same amount.

When Couling asked again for a positive story about the migration of ESA claimants from legacy benefits onto UC, DNS pointed to concerns about serious safeguarding issues with the new system.

These include those described earlier this year by a DWP whistleblower, who warned that work coaches are being “bullied and harassed” into forcing claimants with significant mental distress into attending work-related meetings while they are waiting months for a work capability assessment.

Couling had not responded to this post by noon today (Thursday).

*Those who are “managed” onto UC by DWP, rather than moving voluntarily or due to a change in circumstances, will receive transitional protection, which means they will receive the same cash amount they previously received under legacy benefits, if they would otherwise have lost out financially

19 May 2022

 

 

Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week

The number of adults waiting for social care in England has risen sharply to more than 500,000, according to estimates by social work bosses. Similar research last year put the figure at about 294,000, says the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS). “We’re seeing a devastating impact on people’s lives,” said ADASS president Sarah McClinton. ADASS blames a growing shortage of care workers, made worse by low pay rates and the cost-of-living crisis: Read the BBC article

DWP staff will be given the power to arrest Brits in a hardline universal credit crackdown. Two million claimants will have their cases dredged up and face fines for fraud under sweeping laws – even if they’re not convicted of a crime. Department for Work and Pensions officers will be allowed to mass-request bank data more easily to spot-check if people are cheating the jobcentre. DWP staff will then make arrests, execute warrants, conduct searches and seize evidence themselves instead of leaving the work to police: Read The Mirror article 

A mother with a terminal illness is scared that she, and others like her, will run out of money to power the equipment that keeps them alive due to rising energy costs. She relies on a life support machine and other electrical equipment. “Our lives are being put at risk because of the increase in costs of living,” she said. A year ago she was paying £171 a month for gas and electricity, but this has now gone up to £469 a month, which is a third of her family’s income: Read The BBC article

People are in care homes because there were too few staff to support them in their own homes, Senedd members have been told. Social services directors warned that they were unable to recruit and retain home care workers. Dave Street, from the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru, called the situation “very sad”: read The BBC article 

Most of the Jamaicans facing deportation next week on a government flight live with a disability or health problem and came to Britain as children, according to analysis shared with The Independent. The Home Office has not disclosed how many are scheduled to be on Wednesday’s flight, but about 20 have been detained at Brook House, Colnbrook and Harmondsworth detention centres in preparation. Thirteen of them came to the UK under the age of 18, according to a study by campaigners Movement for Justice: Read The Independent article 

Disabled people have been left on empty planes due to staffing issues at airports in scenes one activist has branded “absolutely unacceptable”. BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner found himself stuck on an empty jet after it landed back in the UK at Heathrow Airport from Estonia on Sunday night. The veteran disabled journalist said it was the fourth time this had happened to him: read The Mirror article

19 May 2022

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com