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24 March 2022

In this week’s edition:

  • Disbelief at chancellor’s “appalling” refusal to target support on disabled people
  • UN to hear how disabled people feel ‘expendable’ after rights regression since 2017
  • DAN returns to London streets with message that ‘disabled people are not disposable’
  • Progress on UN rights convention ‘has regressed and stagnated across UK’
  • EHRC decision to scrap committee ‘shows it is unaware of threat to disabled people’
  • Fresh concerns over BSL bill despite huge London rally
  • Government launches long-awaited consultation on new deprivation of liberty system
  • Social care system must enable ‘an ordinary life’, peers are told
  • Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week

 

Disbelief at chancellor’s “appalling” refusal to target support on disabled people

Disabled people have reacted with disbelief to the chancellor’s “cruel” decision to all-but-ignore those who rely on benefits in yesterday’s spring statement, despite the cost-of-living crisis.

In his 3,500-word speech, Rishi Sunak announced a rise in the starting threshold of national insurance and a temporary 5p per litre cut in fuel duty, as well as an extra £500 million for the Household Support Fund*, following an initial £500 million announced last September.

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

His refusal to help those on the lowest incomes came as the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) said inflation was set to reach a 40-year high of almost nine per cent, while the real value of benefits was set to fall by five per cent in 2022-23.

Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said yesterday: “In the face of what the OBR calls the biggest hit to household finances since comparable records began in 1956-57 he has done nothing more for those dependent on benefits, the very poorest, besides a small amount of extra cash for local authorities to dispense at their discretion.

“Their benefits will rise by just 3.1 per cent for the coming financial year. Their cost of living could well rise by 10 per cent.”

Meanwhile, the Treasury is failing to publish figures (PDF) showing the overall impact of the spring statement on lower, middle and higher income households, instead publishing only figures that show the impact of all spending decisions since 2019.

Disabled poverty campaigner Louisa Britain said she was in “disbelief” when she realised that Sunak had failed to help those like her in poverty in his speech.

She said: “I just kept looking at it, thinking, ‘how have you managed to completely and utterly not address any of the cost-of-living crises, whilst talking about it as though you have?’

“It feels like he has deliberately avoided doing anything that would actually help.

“Nobody on lower incomes is going to benefit from this. I’m not going to benefit from this.

“The cost-of-living crisis is horrific. There is no need for this much suffering.”

She has a small monthly sum of self-employed income, and the only measure in the statement that will help her is the temporary 5p per litre cut in fuel duty, despite steep rises in the price of food, petrol and utilities, and a continuing freeze in local housing allowance rates.

She says that even the Household Support Fund announcement will not help her, as she has decided that the “humiliating” process of applying for a grant – in which councils can trawl through the applicant’s bank statements, demanding explanations for individual spending decisions – would be too much of a risk to her mental health.

Britain, who is compiling One In Five, an anthology of essays by people living in poverty, said: “There’s a terrifying rise in everything. We are so pressed at the moment, with everything going up and up.

“Everyone I know who is disabled and raising children, or who isn’t disabled and is raising children who are, is not coping.

“More than half of my friends in similar circumstances, single parenting families where disability is a massive factor, are now relying on food banks to some degree.

“Everybody has at least one bill they are not paying.”

She is now resorting to selling some of her clothes to try to survive financially.

Britain added: “I feel genuinely frightened about how I am going to sustain these children’s futures.”

Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said the spring statement left disabled people “living on bare bones benefits such as employment and support allowance (ESA) and universal credit with nothing to cover the shortfall produced by rocketing costs of living.

“These benefits are there to cover the most basic of bills. ESA is just £74.70 per week for over 25-year-olds. That falls to £59.20 for under-25s. People on universal credit are just 26p per week better off.

“The impacts of mental and physical health from living on such meagre sums of money is high.

“Being forced to survive on these sums is not living. It is punitive and unsustainable. The social security safety net is riven with gaping holes.

“It is implausible that the chancellor truly, deeply understands the living hell which is a life lived in poverty.

“On £70 a week, or less, disabled people live with not just empty bank balances, but our very souls are depleted down to the dregs.”

Jumoke Abdullahi, communications and media officer for Inclusion London, said: “Rishi Sunak failing to announce any specific support for disabled people during the statement is truly appalling.

“Especially given that the cost-of-living crisis will greatly impact a group of people that are already financially worse off.

“Even prior to the recent rising costs of energy and other living essentials, disabled people already faced financial constraints, known as a ‘disability tax’.

“The very people that have to make the impossible choices of heating or eating having their specific needs effectively left out of such an important announcement is simply not good enough.

“While the money for the Household Support Fund is certainly welcome, disabled people need more.”

Ellen Morrison, co-chair of the Commission on Social Security, which called in January for a “transformational” reboot of the social security system, said the spring statement was “a series of woefully inadequate sticking plasters, completely ignoring people reliant on social security”.

She said: “They won’t fix a decade of austerity, an ongoing pandemic and now a cost-of-living crisis. Too many are already at breaking point, we needed real solutions today.

“The rising cost of fuel, heating, food, bills, national insurance contributions and social care charging cannot be borne by those of us already ‘living’ on a pittance.

“You can’t pay out more when you’ve already got nothing.”

She added: “We recently published our plan for a decent social security system.

“We’ve got a set of ideas that would treat people with the dignity and respect they deserve, and ensure everyone has enough to live on.

“This is the kind of transformational change we need to see.”

Philip Wayland, one of the four claimants who brought a high court case against the Department for Work and Pensions for failing to offer recipients of legacy benefits the same £20-a-week increase given to people on universal credit during the pandemic, said a Conservative chancellor had yet again chosen to “compound” the economic hardship that already hits sick and disabled people the hardest.

He said: “Not only is this incredibly cruel, but it is a false economy.

“As people will have less disposable income to spend into the economy, and because of the unprecedented increase in energy costs, many people will simply not be able to pay their bills.”

Michelle Maher, from the WOWcampaign, said it was “desperate and devastating today to receive nothing” in the spring statement.

She said that benefits will rise by 3.1 per cent next month, whereas energy bills are due to rise by 54 per cent.

She said disabled people had been “written out of the discourse on societal problems”.

Maher said: “We need energy for wheelchairs, hospital beds, ventilators, dialysis machines, extra washing, and warmth to ease pain.

“For 11 years we’ve been treated as worthless second-class citizens.

“As a disabled person I count myself amongst the lucky ones. I’ve not got a child on a ventilator, or a dialysis machine.

“But for pain I need heat, and I have more washing [than other people]. Basic, basic needs.

“With [the price of] food, energy and goods rising, disabled people will be paying increased taxes through VAT and getting nothing.

“It’s terrifying to think how this will impact the disabled community as a whole.”

The Treasury had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday) on why the chancellor had ignored those disabled people struggling with the cost-of-living crisis who are not in work.

*The Housing Support Fund is distributed by councils in England through small payments to help “vulnerable households” meet costs such as food, clothing, and utilities

24 March 2022

 

 

UN to hear how disabled people feel ‘expendable’ after rights regression since 2017

There has been “continued regression” in disabled people’s rights in the five years since a UN committee told the UK government that its cuts and reforms had caused a “human catastrophe”, according to a new report by disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).

DPOs across England spent six months collecting evidence for the “shadow report” on how the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is being implemented by the UK government.

Of more than 350 people who responded to an online survey, 91 per cent agreed there had been continued regression to disabled people’s rights under the convention since 2017, with just one per cent disagreeing.

The report, which focuses on England, also says that the UK government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic discriminated against disabled people and “violated our equal right to life”.

It warns that disability equality and human rights approaches towards disability have been “further undermined” since 2017, and that the government has been carrying out “insufficient monitoring and promotion” of the convention.

Although it says the UK government has adopted “progressive initiatives” in some areas, it says it has failed to address the “fundamental issues” affecting disabled people’s lives.

The work on the report was led by Inclusion London, which said that many of those who responded to its call for evidence said their experiences during the pandemic had left them feeling that society viewed their lives as “expendable” or as “collateral damage”.

One said: “Being a disabled person feels dangerous on a daily basis. I feel expendable.”

Among the concerns raised, the report says that real terms spending on social care by local authorities was £700 million below its 2010-11 level, and it points to research that found that cuts to social care funding caused nearly 24,000 extra deaths in the five years from 2010.

It concludes that charging for social care is having “an increasingly detrimental impact” on the incomes of disabled people, “forcing some to go without support while others are trapped in debt”.

And, it says, the government has missed successive targets for de-institutionalisation, while increasing numbers of patients with learning difficulties are being physically restrained in mental health units, “despite ministers telling NHS trusts to use such techniques less often”.

Of those surveyed, 84 per cent agreed that institutionalisation of disabled people had been a growing problem since 2017, with just five per cent disagreeing,

The report also raises significant concerns about the rise in foodbank use and homelessness among disabled people, the impact of the pandemic on disability poverty, continuing concerns about the disability benefit assessment system, and the continuing refusal of the Department for Work and Pensions to order an inquiry into deaths linked to its failings.

It also points to “severe and deliberate” regression in disabled people’s right to inclusive education.

The report devotes significant space to the “disproportionate” impact on disabled people of the government’s failure to prepare adequately for the pandemic.

It highlights how disabled people were much more likely to die from COVID-19, even after taking into account factors such as age, underlying health conditions, poverty and whether they lived in a care home.

The report says: “The pandemic starkly highlighted attitudes towards [disabled people] whereby our lives are held to have less value than other people’s.

“Almost no attention has been paid to the discrimination that appears to have led to disabled people dying in disproportionate numbers from COVID-19.”

The findings will be submitted to the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, along with parallel reports by DPOs in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (see separate story), and a UK-wide report.

The UN committee will use the shadow reports – and other evidence – to help it draw up a list of questions to put to the UK government, and the three devolved governments, which will have a year to respond in writing, before being examined by the committee.

Svetlana Kotova, director of campaigns and justice at Inclusion London, said: “There has been a marked absence of public and political debate concerning the disproportionate deaths of Deaf and disabled people which have been written off as linked to underlying health conditions.

“The pervasive attitude is that our deaths don’t count the same as those of non-disabled people – that the deaths of so-called fit and healthy people are the real tragedy.”

She added: “Our research shows discrimination persists in many areas of our lives and there are no signs that things will change in the future.”

Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, which was on the shadow report’s steering group, said: “The findings of this report highlight just how important it is that the independent inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic fully investigates the impact on Deaf and disabled people.

“We need to know how our needs were factored into key political decisions, including when and how to lockdown, what monitoring went on into the impacts of those decisions and what if any emergency planning was in place pre-pandemic.

“Lessons can only be learned for the future through an inquiry that is based on an accurate understanding of who Deaf and disabled people are and what our needs are.”

24 March 2022

 

 

DAN returns to London streets with message that ‘disabled people are not disposable’

Members of the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) were back on the streets on Friday, delivering demands to the government and protesting at the ongoing “hostile environment” facing disabled people, more than 10 years after their last demonstration.

At one stage, they were blocking all three entrances to the Department of Health and Social Care in central London as they called for a meeting with health and social care secretary Sajid Javid.

They laid a wreath in memory of the estimated 100,000-plus disabled people who died due to COVID-19, and the tens of thousands more they say lost their lives during the pandemic because of failings in the health and social care systems.

One of DAN’s demands, included in a letter handed to a member of DHSC staff, was for an independent inquiry into the deaths of people in care settings during the pandemic, as well as for a statement instructing all clinical commissioning groups not to impose “do not attempt resuscitation” notices on people without consent.

One DANNER, Simone Aspis, called outside the building for the government to “take responsibility for the deaths of disabled people”.

She said: “For all those people who are dying in these institutions, dying in assessment and treatment units, dying in psychiatric hospitals, dying in their own homes because they have not got enough support – we need to demand that inquiry, we need action right now.”

Among the key messages – and chants – was that disabled people “are not disposable”.

Other chants included “Do Not Resuscitate This Government” and standards from DAN’s 1990s heyday, such as “Free Our People Now” and “Rights Not Charity”.

Those taking part in the action included veteran DAN activists, younger disabled activists, including members of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and WinVisible, and allies.

They included DANNERS Alan Holdsworth, Sue Elsegood, Kate Brown and Nick Saunders.

Elsegood said the countless needless deaths during the pandemic, particularly those in residential institutions, were “giving out the message that the government thinks we are disposable, but we are here to say loud and proud that our lives are not disposable”.

She said: “They should be ashamed of how they have treated our community with such disregard. It’s shocking.”

And she said that, because those disabled people who lived in the community fared much better in the pandemic than those in institutions, it provided fuel for the call for “properly funded independent living in the community”.

Among DAN’s other demands to DHSC were for an end to all care charges; an action plan on independent living that sees an end to “mass care”; and a promise that “no local authority will force people into residential care”.

Holdsworth, who moved to the USA in 2004, told Disability News Service (DNS) on Friday that holding such actions was “a call to arms” and that DAN was likely to continue to work with DPAC on future demonstrations.

He said: “It’s about time we started organising again and getting out on the streets and kicking some arse.

“I am always optimistic when we get on the streets; when we aren’t on the streets, I am very pessimistic.

“We used to have a saying 20 years ago that the only bad action is no action.

“By having actions, even if like this one they are not going to result in anything, it’s a call to arms. It is saying we are not going to go away.”

Brown, who was a member of both DAN and the earlier Campaign for Accessible Transport, said the protest had “made us feel we can get somewhere again”.

She said she had “felt so sick” when she learned that 60 per cent of those who died COVID-related deaths in England had been disabled people.

She said: “We have all actually lost friends, fellow DANNERS, loved ones, people I have spoken to today have lost their partners.”

But she also told DNS that she was protesting at how the government had gradually taken away disabled people’s “ability to pay for our own care and employ who we want to”, including through the decision to close the Independent Living Fund.

She said: “They took it away bit by bit. I used to get 168 hours a week of care, and now it’s down to 32 hours a week.”

The action took place just three days before the long-awaited broadcast of Then Barbara Met Alan, a BBC2 fact-based drama which focuses on the relationship between Holdsworth and DAN co-founder Barbara Lisicki, and how they and fellow DANNERS fought for disability rights through direct action.

Among those at Friday’s action was Lisicki and Holdsworth’s daughter Jasia, who attended many DAN actions as a child and brought along her own daughter.

She said: “I am so happy to bring my daughter. I grew up on demos.

“I hope the film can get some momentum because it’s a call to action. Now more than ever there needs to be some action.”

Saunders said: “We are here to make a difference and to say as disabled people that we are not disposable, our lives do matter.

“We have been campaigning for years and years and years and it has got far worse in every area really – in education, in social care, and in employment.”

Like Holdsworth, he focused much of his anger on the fight for a right to independent living.

He said he pays £100 a week in care charges, but only receives 12 hours of care.

Aspis said it was “like heaven” to be demonstrating again after the restrictions of the pandemic.

She said she was there to “show solidarity, get back out, get back to the activism. I am a disabled activist.

“It’s just really important for us to get back out there as a group.”

Among the allies who attended the action was 91-year-old writer, feminist and social activist Selma James, co-founder of the International Wages for Housework Campaign, which this year is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

She told DNS that “remembrance” was “an important part of our movement” and that “winning is power”, and “not only what you win then but what you point to as what you accomplished”.

“The people who started it, who had to make a breakthrough… that’s who we have to thank and remember.

“We don’t have much, but we would have had a lot less without what they did.”

Asked for her message to the government, she said: “I have no message that they will hear because their ears are full of money.”

Among the younger disabled activists who joined the action was Martha Foulds, who told DNS: “I am here because as a young disabled person I learned about DAN as I grew up and saw videos and pictures of people like Liz Carr chaining themselves to buses.

“I always felt pretty gutted that I didn’t get to be part of that.”

Her social care direct payments were cut “massively” during the pandemic “as a reminder that disabled people’s equality is tied to profit in every way possible and I have had enough of it”.

And she said it was “really important” that disabled and trans activists worked together, adding: “We are all fighting for bodily autonomy, against medicalisation and for freedom from discrimination.”

Another young disabled activist, Julia Robbins, said she had studied history at university and had learned about both DAN and DPAC, and was “just so excited that DAN is reviving itself”.

She said the pandemic had shown disabled people like her that “your life seems to be disposable to everybody else”, while calls for “herd immunity” and “living with the virus” were just “eugenics” by another name.

Asked for her message to the government, she said: “It isn’t that hard to give disabled people human rights and a proper living wage.”

Another young disabled activist, blogger, writer and film-maker Matthew Goodsell, said he had come to the demonstration out of curiosity as it was “the first DAN action in quite some time and I was interested to see how the movement is developing”.

But he said he was also driven by loathing of the current government.

He said: “Care charges [are] rising and their cuts are undoing the small progress we had made towards equality.”

DHSC had failed to comment on the demonstration and DAN’s list of demands by noon today (Thursday).

Aspis said she believed her last DAN action had been a protest in October 2002 at the Renaissance Hotel in Manchester, where the charity Leonard Cheshire had been hosting a ball to raise funds to build a new institution.

She and others had thrown stink bombs that caused the event to be abandoned.

Saunders said it was “surreal but lovely” to see that disabled people were “still here, still campaigning and still protesting about disabled people’s rights”, although many DANNERS had sadly died in the last 20 years.

He spoke about why DAN had been founded.

He said: “For years and years and years we had been going to council meetings and talking to politicians and [organising] petitions and [this led to] absolutely nothing, and we decided as a group that we were going to go out and kick some arse – non-violent civil disobedience. And we did.”

24 March 2022

 

 

Progress on UN rights convention ‘has regressed and stagnated across UK’

Progress on disability rights in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has stalled in many areas in the last five years, and in some parts has even regressed, according to reports by national disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).

The three DPOs told a parliamentary meeting that the impact of the pandemic and a decade of austerity had delayed progress towards implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Inclusion Scotland, Disability Wales and Disability Action in Northern Ireland have each been working with other DPOs to prepare “shadow reports” on how the convention has been implemented since 2017.

The all-party parliamentary group on disability heard that their reports showed that disabled people were struggling with poverty, discrimination and the “devastating impact” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nuala Toman, head of policy for Disability Action Northern Ireland, said that rights had regressed in Northern Ireland since 2017, with the continuing political instability, a decade of austerity, welfare reform and the pandemic all playing a part.

She pointed to issues including the continued use of restraint and seclusion in health and educational settings, segregated education, significant evidence of abuse and degrading treatment in institutions, increasing levels of disability hate crime, and disabled people living in poverty and having to rely on foodbanks.

And she said there was a “continuing disparity” between the lesser legal protection from discrimination available to disabled people in Northern Ireland compared with the rest of the UK, an issue that was exposed by the pandemic.

Toman told the meeting: “We require the legal incorporation of the UNCRPD into law if we are to advance the rights of Deaf and disabled people.”

Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, said it was impossible to escape the impact of more than 10 years of austerity on disabled people in Wales.

Although the Welsh government had attempted some “mitigation” for the policies of the UK government, the day-to-day reality of life for many disabled people in Wales was a “sense of weariness and the daily grind of living”, she said.

She said the Welsh government had published its Action on Disability framework on independent living, which was under-pinned by the UNCRPD, and had introduced the Access to Elected Office Fund Wales, as well as committing to incorporating the convention into Welsh law.

But she said the pandemic had exposed the “deep inequality” in Wales, with “widespread breaches of disabled people’s human rights”, such as the suspension of social care assessments and the imposition of “do not attempt resuscitation” notices.

Davies told the online meeting that she was “sad and shocked” that disabled people had made up 68 per cent of all COVID-related deaths in Wales.

She said: “What we saw was the very right to life of disabled people impacted in the most fundamental way.

“[There was] very much the sense of the lives of disabled people being devalued and disregarded.”

She said: “What is clear from the engagement we did with disabled people in Wales around the UNCRPD report is the implementation gap between often very good intentions in terms of Welsh government policy and legislation and the actual delivery on the ground.”

Davies said there was a “sense of disabled people just feeling worn down by the system, literally ground down, having to fight every single day for the right to basic entitlements.

“Poverty levels among disabled people remain high in Wales and while most of this has been imposed by the UK government’s austerity measures, and they hold most of the levers of power and control around things like benefits, tax and pensions, there are areas where the Welsh government does have control, does have some levers, and those need to be used much more effectively.”

Rebecca McGregor, policy and research officer for Inclusion Scotland, said the situation in Scotland since 2017 had been one of “stagnation”, despite some “small improvements”.

She said the danger is that “things can look better” in Scotland when compared to England, but that “disabled people in Scotland are still experiencing worse outcomes [than non-disabled people] in pretty much every area”.

She said there was an “implementation gap” in Scotland, with “a lot of good rhetoric from the Scottish government” which “doesn’t always result in real change”, which was why it was “so essential” to incorporate the UNCRPD into Scottish law, as the Scottish government has promised.

McGregor said the shadow report showed that disabled people’s rights in Scotland “still aren’t met through all areas of life and throughout the life course”, with breaches of their rights in education, employment, housing, transport, health, social care, and in social protection, as well as the “devastating impact” of the pandemic.

She said public attitudes towards disabled people had worsened during the pandemic, following years of austerity in which disabled people had been “portrayed as scroungers and second-class citizens by the structures and institutions that are supposed to be there to protect them”.

But she said there was “cause for optimism”, with the planned incorporation of the UNCRPD into Scottish law and the devolution of disability benefits, both of which have been welcomed by disabled people in Scotland.

The three shadow reports – along with a report focusing on England (see separate story) – will be submitted to the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, along with a UK-wide report.

The UN committee will use the shadow reports – and other evidence – to help it draw up a list of questions to put to the UK government, and the three devolved governments, which will have a year to respond in writing, before being examined by the committee.

24 March 2022

  

 

EHRC decision to scrap committee ‘shows it is unaware of threat to disabled people’

Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and disabled activists have written to the equality and human rights watchdog to express their deep concern over its decision to scrap its disability advisory committee.

In the letter to the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Baroness Falkner, they raise concerns about the watchdog’s ability to continue protecting the human rights of disabled people.

They say the committee is “needed now more than ever”, at a time when the violations of disabled people’s human rights “have continued and increased” since a UN committee found “grave and systematic violations” of those rights in 2016, and after a pandemic response which “deliberately discriminated against Deaf and Disabled people and where we died disproportionately”.

The letter says that that Deaf and disabled people are now facing “a very real existential threat”, which EHRC “doesn’t even seem aware of, let alone concerned to address”.

The letter came after Disability News Service (DNS) revealed earlier this month that EHRC had decided to scrap its disability advisory committee without any attempt to consult disabled people and DPOs.

Following that story, the commission released a statement – although it did not share it with DNS – which praised the committee’s “invaluable” influence and “dedicated input”.

But the statement made no reference to why the decision to end the committee was kept so quiet, and why the commission had failed to discuss the move with DPOs and disabled people outside the committee.

Marcial Boo, EHRC’s chief executive, said in the statement that a half-day workshop in July would “seek expert views from disabled people’s organisations, academics and others on our new strategic priorities” and would consider “the best way to engage a range of stakeholders on disability issues on an ongoing basis”.

Rachel Perkins, the committee’s chair, who had previously declined to comment on the commission’s decision, said its members were now “pulling together our learning, achievements and thoughts for the future, to share publicly” and were looking forward “to detailed discussions with the commission on how they plan to engage disabled people effectively”.

She said: “There is encouraging early thinking on a panel and wider network and we want to advise on shaping firm and effective plans for the future.”

But the letter – so far signed by 20 DPOs, including Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, Disabled People Against Cuts, Inclusion London, West of England Centre for Independent Living, Shaping Our Lives, and Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, as well as several leading disabled activists – says the EHRC statement failed to address its concerns.

It says the statement said nothing about the original intentions behind having a disability advisory committee and whether that role was now no longer needed.

And it suggests that the statement “places insufficient weight” on the expertise provided by DPOs as opposed to organisations not run and controlled by disabled people.

The letter also expressed solidarity with disabled people in the trans community who feel “let down and betrayed” by the commission over issues such as conversion therapy, gender recognition processes and EHRC meetings with “gender critical” activists.

An EHRC spokesperson said: “We can confirm we’ve received this letter and will respond in due course.”

The spokesperson had said earlier in a statement, without mentioning the letter: “Protecting and advancing the rights of disabled people has been, and continues to be, a key element of our work.

“We have a strong track record of action to protect and promote the rights of disabled people.

“We’re proud of the work we do to prevent and challenge all discrimination and to promote the rights of everyone in Britain.

“We are impartial and act without fear or favour.”

The disability advisory committee has been scrapped at a time when the UN is preparing for a public examination of the UK government’s progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (see separate stories).

At their meeting last July, members of the committee made it clear that there had been “significant regression” in disabled people’s rights under the UN convention.

24 March 2022

 

 

Fresh concerns over BSL bill despite huge London rally

Deaf activists have raised serious concerns about a new government-backed British Sign Language (BSL) bill that could be about to become law.

BSL-users have been warned repeatedly that the new bill, put forward by Labour MP Rosie Cooper, will provide them with no new rights.

But there was still huge support for the bill at a rally in Trafalgar Square in London on Friday, on the day that it passed its last hurdle in the House of Commons.

There was significant support for the bill from backbench Tories, with nine Conservative MPs making speeches welcoming the legislation, with – other than Cooper – only the shadow minister for disabled people, Vicky Foxcroft, making a speech from the Labour benches.

The bill now needs to be passed by the House of Lords, with its second Lords reading due to take place tomorrow (Friday).

Although the bill would recognise BSL as a language in England, Scotland and Wales if it became law, it would not provide BSL-users with any new rights.

The rally took place on 18 March, 19 years after the government formally recognised BSL as a language, although not in legislation.

The bill would require the work and pensions secretary to produce regular reports on what 20 government departments have done to “promote or facilitate” the use of BSL in their “communications with the public”.

And it would require the work and pensions secretary to secure guidance for government departments and other public bodies on the “promotion and facilitation” of BSL.

Lee Starr-Elliott, a Deaf trade unionist and disability activist, said it was a “token bill that the government are using to look good without costing anything” while “those involved in the bill have sold it to the Deaf community as a step forward”.

He said: “While I agree with the idealism of the bill, I believe it does not go far enough, nor is it strong enough to make a real difference.

“I believe it is short-sighted and naive for the Deaf community and those involved in the bill to trust this government, which has a poor track record and regularly attacks and targets disabled people and weakens their voice.

“Why should we have to wait to make further improvements and hope that over time things will get better?

“Deaf people have waited for too long; we should be given what we are asking for in full now, not pin our hopes on a promise that is most likely to be broken once this bill passes.”

Kirsty Jade, a Deaf activist, educator and content creator, said: “I support the idea of Deaf people getting rights. The BSL bill is not going to do that.

“For every Deaf person to be protected under legislation, stakeholders must contribute and collaborate in every aspect of social justice, especially with Deaf youth.

“The reality is that while we have a shared sense of being Deaf, every Deaf person lives a very different life in this country.

“By not recognising that in this bill, we are putting many Deaf people on the sidelines, and prioritising privileged ones.”

Kerena Marchant, a Deaf film-maker and activist, said she was “delighted” that BSL had been recognised as a language but had concerns about the bill and “the way it has come about”.

She said that “recognition without provision doesn’t lead to change.

“To have provision to ensure rights and access to society for BSL users you need funding. BSL access costs money.”

She said: “I’m afraid the government have craftily used the Deaf community to gain brownie points at zero cost, using the increased public awareness of BSL, and kicked BSL rights and provision into the long grass, putting the battle for BSL rights and provision back for another decade at least.”

Marchant said she was also concerned about the lack of information in BSL given to the Deaf community about the bill before it received its first reading in the House of Commons.

She added: “Given the government’s failure to consult with the disabled community over its disability strategy, it is a pipe dream that they will continue to consult and engage with the Deaf community on provisions and funding to change this bill from a piece of paper to reality.”

David Buxton, chair of the British Deaf Association, who has led attempts to secure a BSL Act, claimed that the bill presented “a real opportunity for change, to finally break down avoidable communication barriers and to give Deaf people and their language – BSL – the recognition, inclusion, and equality that they deserve.

“If the BSL bill passes into law, we are ready to work hand-in-hand with the UK government to redesign public services that meet the unique needs of the 151,000 people who have British Sign Language as their first or preferred language.

“We also hope that the legal recognition of BSL will encourage many more people across the UK to learn BSL and go on to become interpreters, bilingual professionals and allies of the Deaf community. BSL can bring us all together as a society.”

Another supporter of the bill, Mark Atkinson, chief executive of the charity RNID, said: “We at RNID, our supporters and the wider Deaf community are delighted that the British Sign Language bill has cleared the final stage of its passage through the House of Commons.

“We hope it receives the same support from peers in the House of Lords as it has from MPs and ministers.

“We welcome the mechanisms within the bill and commitment from government to working with a proposed advisory board of Deaf people to put the bill into practice.

“Giving the Deaf community a seat at the table will mean government policies and public services will… meet the needs of Deaf people for fully inclusive and accessible services.

“We mustn’t miss the vital opportunity the bill gives us to win legal recognition of BSL and expand Deaf people’s rights.

“On behalf of the Deaf community and alongside other charities, we will continue pushing to make sure the bill is passed into law before the end of this session of parliament.”

Dr Gearóidín McEvoy, a research fellow at the University of Birmingham on the legal recognition of sign languages internationally, has previously said that the bill would provide Deaf people with no new rights as individuals, and would offer only a “symbolic step forward”.

Chloe Smith, the minister for disabled people, told fellow MPs during the bill’s third reading that the scope of the bill was “limited” but that it would “make real improvements to the communication options, and the lives, of Deaf people”.

She said the government would establish a non-statutory advisory board of BSL-users to advise the work and pensions secretary on BSL issues; examine how the government might increase the number of BSL interpreters; and review how DWP might improve how the Access to Work fund works for BSL-users.

She said she was also working with the Department for Education to “see what more can be done to accelerate” the introduction of a GCSE in BSL.

24 March 2022

 

 

Government launches long-awaited consultation on new deprivation of liberty system

The government has launched a long-awaited consultation on a new system of safeguards that aim to protect service-users who are considered unable to consent to restrictions placed on their liberty through their care and support.

The new Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS) will replace the current “bureaucratic” and “too complex” Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards, and they will apply in any setting in England and Wales.

The 16-week consultation – launched by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Ministry of Justice – will seek views on the LPS regulations, and on changes to the Mental Capacity Act code of practice.

It is the first revision of the code of practice since it was published in 2007.

In the consultation document, care minister Gillian Keegan says LPS is “designed to be a simpler, more streamlined system which puts the person being deprived of liberty at the heart of the decision-making process”.

Among the protections provided by the new LPS system, ministers say, will be an “explicit duty” to consult with the disabled person and those interested in their welfare to discover their wishes and feelings about proposed restrictions.

LPS will also extend protection to 16 and 17-year-olds and to service-users in any care setting, and they will reduce the number of assessments needed to make decisions on restrictions on liberty.

In a draft equalities impact assessment of the introduction of LPS, DHSC says LPS “aims to ensure that the process is fairer and more consistently applied so that everyone who is entitled to safeguards can access them”.

“This should improve equality in the way that everyone is processed within the system, limiting victimisation, harassment, and discrimination,” it says.

Under the current DoLS system, many people are not having their right to liberty safeguarded – under article five of the European Convention on Human Rights – for “significant periods of time, or in some cases at all” because of the backlog of cases awaiting authorisation, says DHSC.

The impact assessment also argues that LPS will increase the equality of opportunity for disabled people receiving support in the community, because their rights will now be upheld via LPS rather than having to face the “potential burden of process and stress” of having to go through the Court of Protection, as they do under the current system.

The LPS system was originally introduced through the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Act 2019, but its implementation has twice been delayed by ministers.

DHSC was criticised throughout the act’s progress through parliament for its failure to consult with disabled people and their organisations over its contents.

The government had originally planned to implement LPS in October 2020, and then delayed implementation until 1 April 2022 because of the pandemic, but Keegan told MPs that a new date would now be set after the consultation, which ends on 7 July.

24 March 2022

 

 

Social care system must enable ‘an ordinary life’, peers are told

Disabled people have told a House of Lords committee that the social care system needs to enable those who need support to “live an ordinary life”.

Sue Bott, Andy McCabe and Tricia Nicoll were giving evidence to the Lords social care committee as part of its inquiry into adult social care.

Bott, a former deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, told members of the committee on Monday: “I just want to get on and live my life like other people and so I need that assistance to be able to do that and I think that’s what social care should really be about.

“It’s about enabling us all to fulfil our ambitions and what we want to do in everyday life.”

She said that what stood in the way of that was the “tick box” approach to social care, “rather than starting with you as a person and what is it you want to achieve in your everyday life”.

Bott spoke of her time running Shropshire Centre for Inclusive Living, which had demonstrated the importance of involving disabled people in designing services right from the start.

She said: “We set those services up ourselves… it is such a dynamic process to involve the people who are going to use services, benefit from services, throughout the process right from beginning to end, and it was really helpful because then we got the services that we really wanted.

“Disabled people, we really are our best problem-solvers, we are excellent at it, because we are living the life, and we know what works for us.”

McCabe told the committee that he was always concerned about contacting his council’s social care department because of a fear that it would cut his support package.

He said that the care charges he needs to pay limit his life, and that if he was earning more money than he does, and was in full-time work, he would be paying less in care charges.

He said: “So that financially limits my life as well and takes away choice and control, which to me feels fundamentally wrong.”

He said that the financial pressures facing local authorities act to pull power away from service-users.

He said: “If there was much more money, I think… the people that need support would be listened to far more and I think that is probably the fundamental limiting issue.”

Nicoll told peers that the social care system needed to start by focusing on a person’s “aspiration and ambition”.

She said: “That’s where all of us start from in ordinary lives and yet it’s the last place that social care starts from. It’s actually the opposite to where social care starts from.

“We have got to stop thinking about services and support and [start] thinking about the tools that we need to get whatever a good life would look like.

“Everybody now coming out of a pandemic can really understand that idea of just wanting life to be a bit ordinary, and most of us just want a really, really ordinary life.”

24 March 2022

 

 

Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week

A pensioner with leukaemia has trained herself to withstand the cold and only eats one meal a day over fears she won’t survive the rising cost of living: Read The Mirror article 

A brilliant new BBC drama about disability activism in the 90s is a game-changer but, as its star Ruth Madeley reveals, the fight is far from over: Read The Guardian article 

Disabled people in Scotland with serious lifelong conditions will no longer have to attend reassessments to continue receiving their benefits, BBC Scotland has learned. The Scottish government will begin taking over adult disability benefits from the UK government next week… The pilot for the new payment will begin in Dundee, the Western Isles and Perth and Kinross from 21 March: Read The BBC article 

24 March 2022

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com