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21st July 2022

In this week’s edition:

  • MPs who refused to quiz minister on benefit deaths ‘have failed disabled people’
  • DWP contractors carry out secret tricks on disabled claimants, Tory MP has been told
  • It’s just too much effort to produce universal credit WCA stats, says minister
  • Treasury won’t reveal equality impact because it could be ‘too complex’ for the public
  • Ministers ignore funding call as progress on institutional care grinds to a halt
  • New £3 million justice fund ‘is a radical step’ for London’s disability movement
  • Greens call for end to discriminatory ban on online council meetings
  • Research shows widespread access barriers… and costly workarounds
  • Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week

 

MPs who refused to quiz minister on benefit deaths ‘have failed disabled people’

MPs have refused to quiz the disability minister about new research that brings together more than 30 years of evidence linking her department with the deaths of countless disabled benefit claimants.

The draft version of the Deaths by Welfare timeline 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.

Members of the Commons work and pensions committee – which is trusted to hold DWP to account – had the chance to question Chloe Smith about those links yesterday (Wednesday) when she gave evidence on the department’s disability benefits assessment system.

She was questioned for nearly two hours, but none of the committee members even mentioned the research, which was published on 4 July.

Each of them had been alerted to the timeline by Disability News Service (DNS), although they should already have been aware of its existence.

The committee’s chair, Labour’s Stephen Timms, had suggested that DNS contact each member individually, after DNS emailed him about the research.

Timms also suggested that the research would be circulated to committee members ahead of the meeting.

The committee’s failure to mention the timeline comes days after both Labour and the Liberal Democrats offered only half-hearted support for the research last week.

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

Disabled activist Rick Burgess, who played a key role in preparing the timeline, said the committee “simply does not deserve the confidence of disabled people until it raises this issue forcefully, not just with the minister but with the secretary of state and whoever the prime minister turns out to be”.

He added: “When human rights defenders in the UK clearly evidence a link between government policy and a great many deaths, you can judge the health of our democracy by how the oversight systems of parliament bring this evidence to government and take them to task.

“What this tells us is we are in a failing state. This leaves disabled people at great risk of ongoing, massive state-sponsored harm.”

He said the committee’s actions demonstrated how disabled people were “increasingly isolated and adrift of help” and illustrated the community’s need to organise “for its own defence”.

He called on disabled people to join their nearest disabled people’s organisation or even start one themselves.

Timms had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday) on the committee’s refusal to question the minister about the timeline.

The draft timeline 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 18 months 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 it also demonstrates 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.

The timeline is part of the Deaths by Welfare project, headed by Dr China Mills and supported by Healing Justice Ldn, which works with marginalised and oppressed communities.

Mills has led the work on the timeline alongside DNS editor John Pring, with key input from Burgess, disabled activist Ellen Clifford, author of The War On Disabled People, welfare rights expert and researcher Nick Dilworth, and disabled artist-activist Dolly Sen.

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

21 July 2022

 

 

DWP contractors carry out secret tricks on disabled claimants, Tory MP has been told

Private sector contractors are deliberately putting lifts out of order and removing cups from beside water coolers as part of “covert” attempts to trick disabled people waiting to be assessed for their benefits, MPs have been told.

Conservative MP Dr Ben Spencer said he had been told that staff working for government contractors were setting traps at assessment centres to try to test claimants’ mobility.

Chloe Smith, the minister for disabled people, who was giving evidence to the Commons work and pensions select committee yesterday (Wednesday), has promised to carry out an urgent investigation into his claims.

Spencer, a member of the committee, said he had been at an event that was taking evidence from disabled people who had been through the assessment process when he was told of “their perception that they were being covertly assessed”.

He said one claimant described to him how there had been water available at the assessment centre, but the water cooler did not have any cups, although the cooler at the end of the corridor did have cups, which Spencer said was a test “to see if the person was able to walk beyond the first water cooler to get some water”.

Another claimant said the lifts at the assessment centre had been “deliberately” broken, to assess whether claimants were able to use the stairs.

A third claimant described the healthcare professional who was assessing them dropping a pen to see if they would pick it up “as part of a covert assessment, effectively, of their mobility”.

It is not clear which private sector contractors were carrying out these assessments.

But Smith confirmed that she did not recognise these tactics as legitimate parts of the assessment process and said she was “concerned” to hear of the examples Spencer had provided.

Katie Farrington, director general for disability, health and pensions in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), said she was also concerned at what the committee had heard.

She said the DWP contractors that had previously given evidence to the committee, as part of its inquiry into disability benefits assessments – Maximus, Atos and Capita – had said that their individual assessors “would look at the customer and how they present, how they walk, but would also be expected to ask more general open questions”.

But she added: “I certainly do not think we should be in a place where people are going away feeling that the lift is deliberately broken, nor the water cooler is deliberately broken.

“I do think what you’re raising is an important issue, is about whether people have the right confidence in the process.”

Smith said she was also concerned that all assessment centre facilities should be “properly accessible”.

She said: “It would be unacceptable to have a deliberately broken lift, so yes, we will look into those.”

21 July 2022

 

 

It’s just too much effort to produce universal credit WCA stats, says minister

The minister for disabled people has told MPs it is too expensive and too much effort to produce statistics about key parts of an assessment system linked to hundreds, and probably thousands, of deaths over the last decade.

Chloe Smith told the Commons work and pensions committee yesterday (Wednesday) that ministers had no intention of producing figures that would show what happened to claimants of universal credit who have been put through the work capability assessment (WCA) process.

Despite ministers launching universal credit in 2013, DWP has yet to provide any statistics to show how many claimants have been put through the WCA, how long they have had to wait for a WCA, and what level of benefit they received following their assessment.

Even though the WCA system has been closely linked by years of evidence to countless deaths of disabled people over the last decade, DWP only produces statistics relating to employment and support allowance (ESA) and the WCA.

Most non-working disabled people are now receiving universal credit rather than ESA, which is slowly being phased out.

Following an email from Disability News Service, the Office for Statistics Regulation, the UK’s statistics regulator, has written to DWP and is still waiting for it to explain why it has yet to provide these statistics.

SNP’s Chris Stephens asked Smith yesterday: “What’s preventing the department publishing data on the outcomes for universal credit and the work capability assessment?”

But Smith told him that work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey had written to the committee and “explained that there are no plans to develop the official statistics on universal credit claimants going through a WCA”.

She added: “We will be keeping that position under review but as she said very clearly, she anticipates there will be fewer resources available and is not going to be committing to developing new statistics at this stage.”

When Stephens pushed her for a “compelling reason” not to publish the figures, she said: “We do have to take a broad overview across all the effort and resources that needs to be deployed on the various functions, only one of which is the production of data.”

Smith also told the committee that DWP’s planned white paper on disability benefits was now expected to be published in September.

Stephen Timms, the Labour chair of the committee, told Smith that a survey carried out by the committee as part of its inquiry had received 8,500 responses from people who had been through the assessment system, with those responses “overwhelmingly negative about the experience”.

Smith said the most recent DWP customer experience survey showed 82 per cent of customers were fairly satisfied or very satisfied with the overall service they received.

Stephens also asked the minister why it had not yet implemented the promise it made to the committee in 2018 that it would introduce “default” recording of all personal independence payment (PIP) assessments.

He said that Capita and Atos, the outsourcing companies that carry out the assessments on behalf of DWP, had told the committee as part of its inquiry that they were waiting for the department to decide if there should be “opt-in” recordings – where claimants could choose in advance to have their assessment recorded – or an “opt-opt” system, where a PIP assessment would automatically be recorded unless the claimant asked for it not to be.

Smith said DWP was currently “running a model to give people the option of requesting in advance or record it themselves using whatever device they like”, which meant an opt-in model, and that it was “not intending to move to an opt-out model”.

Katie Farrington, DWP’s director general for disability, health and pensions, said there “may be a question” over whether DWP was notifying claimants “as clearly as possible” about the option to record their assessments and that it would continue to look at whether this could be improved.

Stephens also asked why the department did not automatically send claimants a copy of their assessment report, rather than only sending one on request.

He said: “It sounds like a case of DWP not wanting to send it. I’m struggling to find a reason why any claimant wouldn’t want their assessment report with their decision letter.”

But Smith said: “I’m endeavouring to run a system that gets the quickest decisions to the largest number of people at all times.”

She said that sending reports to all claimants “risked slowing the system down for everybody”, although she said the issue would be covered in the white paper.

21 July 2022

 

 

Treasury won’t reveal equality impact because it could be ‘too complex’ for the public

The Treasury is refusing to release information that would show the impact on disabled people of spending decisions in March’s spring statement because it could be too “complex” for the public to understand.

The Treasury has told Disability News Service (DNS) that it would not be in the public interest to release analysis that “could be misleading for a general audience”, a move that has been branded “a disgrace and an insult” by a leading disabled Labour activist.

The Treasury’s information rights unit said that while the information could be useful for the chancellor and his policy advisers to help develop their policies, it would probably be too complicated to help the public understand the impact of the government’s spending decisions.

Disabled people had reacted with disbelief in March to the “cruel” decision of the then chancellor Rishi Sunak to all-but-ignore those who rely on benefits in the spring statement, even as the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) was warning that the real value of benefits was set to fall by five per cent in 2022-23.

There was no mention in his speech of disabled people and how many of them were struggling to survive, and no attempt to increase benefits to match the sharply rising rate of inflation.

It was not until late May that Sunak – now replaced by Nadhim Zahawi – was forced to announce a “sticking plaster” injection of £15 billion in grants and other funding in an attempt to ease the cost-of-living crisis.

Following the spring statement, DNS had submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act to see any equality impact assessment (EIA) carried out by the Treasury on the spring statement measures.

DNS also asked to see an analysis of the overall impact of the spring statement on lower-, middle- and higher-income households.

When the Treasury refused to release those documents in May, claiming an exemption under freedom of information laws, DNS asked it to review its decision.

Now, after two months of internal discussions, the Treasury has told DNS that it stands by its decision not to release the information.

The Treasury’s information rights unit admitted that there was “an inherent public interest in government being transparent and accountable regarding the impact of policies that are announced”.

But it claimed that releasing the analysis would have a “chilling effect” on the future preparation of evidence to support policy-making, which would “reduce the quality of advice and deliberation” and would “lead to poorer decision making”.

It added: “Analysis considered in the policy making process that remains unpublished is of many types, and there are a variety of reasons that mean that publishing this analysis would not serve the public interest.

“Some of this analysis may be complex, or partial, or could be misleading for a general audience and be misinterpreted, which we do not believe would be in the public interest.

“Whilst this analysis may form a useful part of the evidence base for internal policy development, we judge that it would not be likely to further public understanding of the impact of government policy.”

DNS has now lodged a complaint about the Treasury’s decision with the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Ellen Morrison, Labour’s disabled members’ representative on its national executive committee, said: “Over a decade into this disgraced Tory government, it’s not surprising that they’ve chosen to discharge any attempt at demonstrating responsibility and regard to disabled people in their policy-making.

“But we must continue to call it out at every opportunity.

“Their response to justify this refusal to release the spring statement EIA only deepens what we already know – in the face of mounting evidence they continue to set policies that harm us.

“How they can have the brazenness to put in writing that releasing an equality analysis would lead to poor decision-making shows how far disabled people’s rights have been eroded.”

She said that for the Treasury to say that one of the reasons the analysis could not be shared was due to how complex it was “is a disgrace and an insult”.

Morrison said: “Disabled people have no trouble understanding our own lives and our own reality. The same can’t be said for out-of-touch Tory ministers.

“One argument would be to strengthen our equality legislation but ultimately this isn’t a government who feel constricted by the law anyway.”

21 July 2022

 

 

Ministers ignore funding call as progress on institutional care grinds to a halt

Ministers have ignored calls from their own consultants to invest more money in cutting the number of people with learning difficulties and autistic people in inpatient mental health settings, despite new figures showing progress has ground to a halt.

The figures show there were 2,010 inpatients at the end of May, compared with 2,005 at the end of March and 2,040 at the end of last August.

The consultancy report* was published alongside a new “action plan” for implementing the government’s Building the Right Support programme, which aims to ensure people with learning difficulties and autistic people have the right support in place to live an “ordinary life” in the community rather than being forced into mental health institutions.

The action plan brings together cross-government work and previous funding announcements, but it appears to offer no new action and no new funding.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) says in the action plan that while it has made “significant progress” in reducing the number of people with learning difficulties in mental health hospitals by 39 per cent from March 2017 to January 2022, the number of inpatients who are autistic but have no learning difficulty has increased by nearly one fifth over the same period.

The independent report for DHSC, by consultancy RedQuadrant, agrees that there has been some progress since 2015 in reducing the number of people in inpatient mental health settings.

And it says the “moral case” for change remains “overwhelming”.

But it points to the financial model behind Building the Right Support, which is based on using the savings from reducing inpatient care to fund accommodation and support in the community.

The report warns that the savings generated by inpatient bed reductions “are unlikely to be sufficient to meet the costs of many people still to be discharged from inpatient care”.

And it says that “the rate of reduction has not been fast enough to meet stated ambitions and it is acknowledged by most that more needs to be done”.

It also points to the need to address the “continued high admission rates” into inpatient mental health units, particularly of autistic people.

And it warns of “insufficient levels of local and flexible services [and] support available to families with autistic children that can be made available at times of crisis to avert the risk of hospital admission”.

The RedQuadrant report concludes that the government will need to set up a ring-fenced fund to ensure “appropriate levels of investment” in addition to any savings released from inpatient bed reductions.

The report adds: “It will be important that the fund can be demonstrably seen as leading to new and expanded preventative and crisis services by NHS and council partners and is not able to substitute for existing areas of spend.”

But although care minister Gillian Keegan briefly referenced the RedQuadrant report in a written statement to MPs, she failed to mention its call for increased funding.

The action plan also mentions the RedQuadrant report, but it too fails to mention the recommendation for more government funding.

DHSC denied that the figures showed that progress had ground to a halt, and it declined to explain why it had not announced any new funding, despite the call in the RedQuadrant report.

It also disputed that Keegan had misled MPs by failing to mention in her written statement the call for increased funding or RedQuadrant’s conclusion that “the rate of reduction has not been fast enough to meet stated ambitions”.

And it declined to explain why the action plan did not mention the RedQuadrant call for more funding and its conclusion about the rate of reduction.

DHSC has been unable this week to point to any new funding in the action plan.

But a DHSC spokesperson said: “In the Building the Right Support action plan, we have set out funding we are providing to strengthen community support, prevent avoidable admissions and support discharges.

“This includes a £40 million investment from the NHS Long Term Plan to continue to improve capacity and £30 million of funding to continue putting keyworkers in place for children and young people with the most complex needs.

“A £21 million Community Discharge Grant to local authorities will also help people with a learning disability and autistic people to be discharged appropriately.”

Two years ago, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) began legal action against DHSC – which is still ongoing – over its repeated failure to address the “distressing and horrific” treatment of people with learning difficulties and autistic people in mental health hospitals.

The commission said it had lost patience with DHSC’s failure to move people out of “inappropriate and unlawful” inpatient care and into homes in the community.

Yesterday, an EHRC spokesperson said: “It is unacceptable that, more than a decade after action was first promised, hundreds of people with autism and learning disabilities are still being detained in hospitals when they could be receiving community care.

“We are now carefully considering the DHSC’s action plan and will announce next steps as soon as this is complete.”

Less than three years ago, Disability News Service pointed out that measures introduced by the then health and social secretary, Matt Hancock, to address the treatment of autistic people and people with learning difficulties in mental health hospitals were strikingly similar to failed government measures announced in 2012.

*Building the Right Support: An analysis of funding flows

21 July 2022

 

 

New £3 million justice fund ‘is a radical step’ for London’s disability movement

A new £3 million fund is set to provide a “really exciting” and “radical” opportunity to transform the disability movement in London.

The new Disability Justice Fund aims to strengthen the foundations of the movement in the capital, strengthen the ability of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) to push for social change, and widen and diversify their membership base.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, which is supporting the fund, said it was a “really welcome investment in our movement” and a “radical” step for a disabled people’s movement that has gradually become “trapped in service delivery”.

She said: “What is really exciting about this fund is that it is absolutely focused on movement building and not service delivery.

“It’s an opportunity for DPOs in London to get funding to do all the things that we haven’t had any funding to do for at least 12 years.”

She said this could mean funding for DPOs to diversify and expand their membership, build the skills of their members, work in collaboration with other DPOs, or strengthen the voice and influence of their community.

Lazard said: “It’s all of the glue that has created the change we have brought about over the last 40 years, that nobody funds.”

The new funding has been provided by Trust for London, which tackles poverty and inequality in London, and the grant-making charity City Bridge Trust, which have each provided £1.5 million.

The programme is being run by Trust for London, which will continue to liaise with City Bridge Trust, and is now looking for London DPOs to apply for grants from the fund.

There are believed to be about 100 DPOs in the capital, with Inclusion London actively working with about 70 of them.

Lazard said: “We are just trying to get the word out there to make sure all our DPOs know about this and make the most of this opportunity.”

She said she hoped there would also be an opportunity for intersectional DPOs to secure funding for “collaborative working”.

The Disability Justice Fund could see DPOs funded to reach out to communities they currently do not reach, such as disabled people in institutions, or to groups of people who do not currently identify as disabled, and it might even mean funding for new DPOs to be set up to fill gaps in the movement in London.

It is also an opportunity for DPOs to be funded to engage with members to identify key policy issues and think through those issues, and then support their membership to start to co-produce policy positions.

Lazard said the launch of the fund recognised that the disability movement was “the engine of the change that we want to see” but also that it needed support because it had been “pretty decimated” in recent years.

Inclusion London will provide one-to-one advice for individual DPOs that are considering applying to the fund, and it is also hosting three round-table events that will discuss how the fund could help build the disability movement in the capital, the first of them taking place on Tuesday (26 July).

Lazard said: “It’s a chance to put service delivery aside and say, ‘what is a movement, and what do we want to achieve?’”

A big part of these discussions will be about “diversifying, extending, strengthening and deepening” membership, activism and leadership, she said, and they could also talk about possible new partnerships between DPOs that could seek joint funding for some of the “really big issues” they face.

Lazard said the new scheme showed how other funders could be working with DPOs and the disability movement to think “more strategically and long-term” for the sector.

She said many disabled activists and people working in the movement were “running on empty” and will need the support from the new fund just “to keep going”.

She said: “It’s a really welcome investment in our movement that has been decimated and has been operating in a hostile environment, and that’s not going to change any time soon, so it’s an absolutely critical intervention and hopefully will sustain the movement over the next period.”

James Lee, project manager at City Bridge Trust, said: “Beyond the contribution of much-needed funding for London’s Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations (DDPOs), we hope the principles of co-creation and transfer of power that have guided this fund will prove to be just as valuable, encouraging our peers in the funding sector to think about the design and delivery of their own programmes for DDPOs.

“Whilst it is fantastic that we can offer this support to organisations in London, we know there is a clear need for this kind of support across the UK, and our ambition is for this fund to encourage others into action.

“As a disabled person myself, I am so pleased to see funders recognising the value of our lived experiences in shaping the creation of programmes such as this.”

Joanna Wootten, grants manager at Trust for London, said: “We hope our fund will help to make tangible the words ‘nothing about us without us’.

“We have designed it in collaboration with experts by experience, with the ambition of empowering a vibrant and intersectional disability justice movement.

“We’re proud of our history of support for Deaf and disabled people’s organisations, and we’re excited to continue our ongoing journey of listening and learning with the Disability Justice Fund.”

The deadline for applications to the fund is 3 October.

21 July 2022

 

 

Greens call for end to discriminatory ban on online council meetings

Disabled politicians and allies are calling on the government to end the “discriminatory” laws that prevent local councillors from taking part in council meetings remotely.

The campaign is being led by Green party politicians, including the party’s only MP, Caroline Lucas, and disabled councillor Blossom Gottlieb.

Emergency regulations that allowed council meetings to be held online – or in a “hybrid” combination of in-person and online attendance – during the pandemic were only in place until 6 May 2021.

Since then, it has been illegal for councils in England to hold their meetings remotely, although the Welsh government passed legislation allowing remote meetings last year, while Scottish local authorities have had powers to do so for nearly 20 years.

A UK government consultation on how remote meetings worked during the pandemic ended on 17 June 2021, but the government has yet to respond to it.

Gottlieb, who was elected as a Green councillor for East Hampshire District Council in a by-election last October, said the current situation she and other disabled people faced was clear discrimination.

She stopped attending meetings in person when it was no longer mandatory for councillors and others to wear face coverings, while she also faces mobility barriers, which include being unable to afford a suitable wheelchair because she has twice had a personal independence payment (PIP) claim rejected.

Because she is unable to contribute at committee meetings, if she wants to propose a motion it has to be done by proxy through another councillor, and as she is the only Green member of the council she has to persuade a councillor from another party to propose it for her.

She said: “I suppose I am lucky in that East Hampshire District Council completely agree that it is discrimination and have been as supportive as possible, but it is ridiculous that central government isn’t letting local authorities support their disabled councillors.”

She said the government’s failure to respond to the consultation was “extremely disappointing but not surprising” and was “just another neglectful decision made by a government that has a reputation for actively harming disabled people”.

She said: “You don’t need a consultation response to show you that this is discrimination.”

She said that remote participation was “better for the environment, it’s more accessible, more inclusive, and it makes the role of being a councillor more achievable”.

She added: “Yes, it would make disabled councillors’ roles easier, but as always, accessible design benefits everyone, not just disabled people.

“This law would mean anyone with caring responsibilities, like single parents, could access being a councillor more easily, making the role more inclusive for a wider range of people.

“Ultimately, this will result in local policies that serve and represent more people.”

She said that much of her time as a councillor has been spent “battling against discrimination”, including trying unsuccessfully to claim PIP.

She added: “There is very little support available, and if you have an ‘invisible’ illness like I do, it’s often impossible to access any help.”

Mags Lewis, the Green party’s disability spokesperson, said remote working had been “a lifeline” for many disabled people, including those who must limit the number of face-to-face meetings they attend due to fatigue, as she does.

She said the hybrid working practices introduced during the pandemic had allowed her to “double or even triple my capacity and involvement in politics”.

Lewis said she would like to see reforms go even further than allowing remote council meetings, and extend to permitting and encouraging flexible working and job shares in politics.

She said the current rules meant parliament and councils were “missing out on a vast amount of expertise and a rich seam of experience” provided by disabled people and carers.

She hopes to stand as a local councillor at the next elections but says that remote working would make “an unbelievable difference”, allowing her to “conserve my energy, be able to be more effective, and see my family”.

Meanwhile, Lucas has submitted an early day motion (EDM) in the House of Commons, which raises concerns that the emergency regulations are no longer in place and calls on the government to reinstate councils’ ability to hold remote and hybrid meetings.

The EDM highlights calls by the Local Government Association (LGA), which said last month that virtual and hybrid meetings should be “an integral part of the future of local democracy”.

LGA said that allowing councillors and members of the public to take part in meetings remotely led to “an increase in participation from both elected members and residents” and can lead to councils working more “effectively and efficiently”.

Nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of councils who took part in an LGA survey (PDF) said they thought councillor attendance was lower since returning to in-person meetings, with a similar proportion (73 per cent) believing attendance by members of the public was lower.

In LGA’s response to the government consultation, it said that disabled people and carers, and those with work commitments, “can find virtual meetings easier to access” and that they “removed a barrier to participation for residents who previously found attending meetings challenging”.

In last year’s consultation document, the government said many councils had spoken of the cost savings they had made through remote meetings, although it also said that physical meetings provide opportunities for councillors to “speak with one another informally and build alliances” and to “encounter local residents in the flesh and listen to their concerns in person”.

It also suggested that remote meetings can stifle debate and could be used by a ruling party to “avoid effective scrutiny” or abuse their power.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) declined to explain why there had been such a long delay in publishing its response to the consultation.

But a DLUHC spokesperson said: “We recognise that some councils would like the choice to be able to meet remotely, and we’ll shortly publish our response to the call for evidence to set out next steps.”

21 July 2022

 

 

Research shows widespread access barriers… and costly workarounds

Disabled people have described the numerous access barriers they face in their daily lives when using private sector goods and services, and the improvements they would like to see in the future to make their lives easier.

The research* was carried out to try to fill in some of the gaps in data about the barriers disabled people face in accessing goods and services such as shopping, banking, restaurants, sports, entertainment and leisure.

Researchers conducted 56 in-depth interviews with disabled people across the UK, on behalf of the Office for National Statistics.

Those who took part described the problems they had with physical access, building layouts, inaccessible websites, provision of information and inflexible customer services.

They raised concerns about the design of buildings, online services, systems and processes.

One disabled woman said: “I’ve found the aisles are never wide enough for manual or electric [wheelchairs], even crutches.

“It’s almost impossible to navigate a clothing shop without taking out a rail of clothing.

“I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve nearly pulled an entire rail over.”

Another spoke of the difficulties caused by changes to a shop’s layout.

She said: “If you go into a supermarket and you’re used to things being in the same place all the time and then suddenly they move them, that completely throws me.”

The report found that many access barriers related to inflexible systems and processes.

Another participant spoke of her problems communicating with a service-provider.

She described how she told a service-provider “multiple times” that she prefers to communicate by email, but it was ignored each time until she eventually explained that she needed written communication because she had memory loss and a hearing impairment.

The report describes how disabled people often adapt and improvise to navigate the barriers they face.

Many have to carry out extensive preparations for a trip, such as researching options for travel, venue, seating, toilet access, and how to meet their own dietary requirements.

One woman said: “If I don’t have that information in advance, I don’t go.”

Another said: “Places that provide that information, it’s not only helpful in planning, and transitions, but also in the signalling.

“That does give a signal of, ‘We want you here and you being able to have equal access matters.’”

Some spoke of “workarounds”, such as travelling and shopping at the quietest times of the day.

But some disabled people said these workarounds and strategies for dealing with access barriers can be expensive, such as the increased cost of travel insurance, paying for taxis, and booking more costly home delivery slots.

The researchers also examined the impact of the pandemic on access to goods and services.

Some of those interviewed described their feelings of increased social isolation and restriction of freedom during the crisis, and its impact on their ability to access support.

Others said the move to online services had provided them with more opportunities to connect and communicate with others, while the move to working from home had helped some to “bypass access and engagement barriers”.

But some of those interviewed also described the abuse they received because of their inability to wear face coverings during the pandemic.

One woman said the pandemic had been “the worst thing I think to have ever happened to me in my life, because I have never faced so much discrimination, public embarrassment and shame.

“That face mask mandate was horrifying; I am exempt for five separate reasons from wearing the face mask and the amount of abuse that I faced in London from being unable to wear a face mask and having to stand up for myself in all those moments.”

Disabled people who took part in the research also suggested solutions to improve access.

Some called for goods and services “to be designed with disabled people in mind”, while others stressed the importance of involving disabled people in the design and provision of goods and services.

*Disabled People’s Experiences with Activities, Goods and Services in the UK                                                                                                                          

21 July 2022

 

 

Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week

Most directors of adult social services lack confidence they will meet their legal duties this year because of inadequate funds, a survey has found. Just 12 per cent said they were fully confident their budgets would be sufficient to meet their duties under the Care Act 2014 and other frameworks, such as the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards, found the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services’ annual spring survey. This was down from 21 per cent in 2021-22: Read The Community Care story

More low-income households in Wales will be offered £200 to cope with rising energy bills, under new plans. The Welsh government is running its fuel payment scheme for a second year and said it would now cover more people receiving benefits. This includes people who get child tax credit, pension credit, disability benefits and carer’s allowance. Ministers said 422,000 households are eligible for the scheme, around 200,000 more than were eligible last year: Read The BBC story 

Bereaved families and former employees of a failing mental health trust have met MPs to demand that the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Trust be disbanded. Campaigners say data shows more than 2,000 people have died while under the trust’s care, in less than a decade. The trust denies the figures, but the latest report by the health watchdog says during the pandemic 70 people died every month within six months of reaching out to the trust for help – or being referred there: Read the Channel 4 story 

Two disabled residents died alone in their living rooms in the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the inquiry has heard. The two residents – one with schizophrenia and one with dementia – were among those who died in their flats. A lawyer representing their families told the inquiry the two residents received no help from authorities on the night of the fire: Read The BBC story 

A disabled IT manager has won a discrimination claim after his boss moaned he was too “slow” in evacuating the office during a fire drill. Andrew Lawton was left “humiliated” when he reached the bottom of five flights of stairs and company owner Raj Singh complained he took too long. The computer expert, who has a condition which causes debilitating leg pain and regularly uses crutches, was also quizzed by Mr Singh why he spent so much time in the toilet: Read The Mirror story

The high court has handed down a judgement in the case of an autistic young man who had his support plan withdrawn by Oldham Council. Philip Milburn has an education, health and care plan, but in September 2018 the council notified him that the plan would be withdrawn. Philip, who was 19 at the time, and his mother lodged an appeal through the Special Educational Needs and Disability tribunal, which was successful. They also complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, raising concerns over the actions of Oldham Council during the appeal: Read the Oldham Times article

A track has been built on a beach to allow wheelchair and mobility scooter-users to get closer to the water. Nicky Dack came up with the idea when she had to stay on the promenade in Devon while her family enjoyed the beach. Ms Dack, disability champion at Seaton Town Council, was the first to use the newly-laid 85 metre (280 feet) platform. She said it was “amazing” to be back on the beach at Seaton for the first time in 15 years: Read The BBC article 

21 July 2022

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com