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26th May 2022

 In this week’s edition:

  • Fears over impact of DWP’s ‘horrific’ and ‘sinister’ anti-fraud plan
  • Ministerial duo dismiss concerns over social care funding crisis
  • Company linked to death of PIP claimant gives itself ‘seven or eight out of 10’
  • Public order bill will criminalise disabled protesters, says MP
  • Disabled woman pays hundreds in fines, after council refuses reasonable adjustments
  • Councils frequently fail to make reasonable adjustments, says ombudsman
  • Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week

 

Fears over impact of DWP’s ‘horrific’ and ‘sinister’ anti-fraud plan

“Horrific” and “sinister” plans to give the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) sweeping new powers to investigate benefit claimants could have a serious impact on disabled people’s physical and mental health, activists have warned.

Just as the social security cuts and reforms, and hostile rhetoric about claimants, of successive post-2010 Conservative-led governments led to countless deaths, physical harm and years of mental distress, disabled-led grassroots groups fear the new proposals – and the associated publicity defending them – could mirror that impact.

The plans would see DWP civil servants given the power to carry out arrests and search people’s homes, while work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey also announced reviews into more than two million existing universal credit claims over the next five years.

Many disabled claimants with fluctuating or invisible impairments say they already feel as if they live under suspicion, and fear being investigated by DWP or reported by neighbours to DWP’s benefit fraud hotline.

Disabled campaigners, many of whom have spent years highlighting and fighting against efforts by government ministers to paint disabled people as benefit cheats, said this week that they believe DWP’s proposals will only worsen this fear.

A spokesperson for Disabled People Against Cuts said: “This has really sinister implications and is deeply worrying.

“It has caused a lot of people to be anxious about being arrested and having their house searched when they have done nothing wrong.”

She said the “terrifying” proposals were “an overreach in terms of extending powers and lowering the evidence requirements to fall under these powers”, and “could well result in a massive rise in heart attacks or suicides.”

And she said the idea of DWP officers being given the power to enter disabled people’s homes was “just too horrific to contemplate”.

John McArdle, co-founder of the grassroots group Black Triangle, said many claimants would be “plunged into abject poverty” by a finding of fraud that – if the new proposals become law – DWP would only have had to prove to itself on a balance of probabilities, which “could be life and death for a lot of people”.

Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) is already involved in a legal challenge that questions whether DWP is “over-picking disabled people” for fraud investigations by using a secret algorithm.

GMCDP fears DWP’s latest plans – which include making greater use of “enhanced data analytics” to detect and prevent fraud – could subject millions more to discriminatory investigations.

Rick Burgess, a GMCDP spokesperson, said: “The new ‘anti-fraud crackdown’ is an obvious political initiative to excite a reactionary anti-benefits voter base.

“They mention using ‘targeted new tools’ and ‘data sharing’ to monitor people; this means our algorithm legal challenge just became even more crucial as millions more will be subjected to potentially discriminatory computer processes unless we can scrutinise and correct them.”

Details in the new policy paper released by DWP alongside Coffey’s announcement show parliament will be asked to approve new powers that would allow DWP officers to carry out arrests, execute search warrants and seize evidence.

Ministers will also seek powers to access data from banks and other organisations “on a larger scale”; and to allow DWP to access information from a wider range of organisations.

DWP will appoint an extra 1,400 staff to counter-fraud teams, who will carry out interviews and investigations, as well as “enhanced checking of high-risk claims before they enter payment”, while aiming to disrupt “criminal activity from serious and organised crime”.

Coffey also announced “targeted” case reviews of more than two million universal credit claims over the next five years – including “suspicious cases” that entered the system during the pandemic – through a new “2,000-strong team”.

And she wants parliament to approve new civil fines that DWP will be able to “impose” for cases of fraud that it decides not to prosecute “for whatever reason”, although the department will only have to prove these cases on a balance of probabilities, rather than having to prove them beyond reasonable doubt if it took them through the criminal courts.

Disabled researcher Stef Benstead, author of a “definitive” account of the harm caused to disabled people by a decade of cuts and reforms, said the government “already has all the powers it needs to investigate fraud within the social security system”.

She said: “What it is asking for is the right to be given private information on people who aren’t suspected of fraud, and then evade a fair criminal investigation following due procedure, and finally to fine someone for whom they don’t have good enough evidence to win a CPS case.

“They want to turn people’s lives upside down and put them through immense stress, strain and intrusion, just to save the government the money, time and effort required to go through due process.

“The government has to submit to the rule of law too, and not abuse its strength by evading the proper criminal justice system.

“If the government wants timelier and more thorough investigation of fraud, it should fund the criminal justice system properly.”

Activist and journalist Charlotte Hughes wrote in her blog that DWP’s proposals were “totally wrong and immoral”.

She said that giving DWP officers a power of arrest had the “potential to persecute innocent claimants” and was “extremely worrying”.

She wrote: “For many years now I’ve assisted claimants in supposed benefit fraud meetings, the majority of which showed absolutely no evidence of fraud being committed.

“I found these meetings to be yet another way for the DWP to intimidate and harass claimants and I have no doubt that if I hadn’t been able to represent these claimants they would have falsely been accused of fraud and would have faced their benefits being stopped or greatly reduced.”

Coffey claims that her £600 million plan will stop more than £4 billion in fraud over five years.

DWP’s own figures show that, last year, there was an estimated £6.3 billion in social security fraud, an increase from £2.8 billion the previous year.

Coffey said: “This plan outlines what we need to fight fraud in 2022 and into the future.

“Thousands of trained specialists, combined with targeted new tools and powers, will mean we can keep up with fraud in today’s digital age and prevent, detect and deter those who would try to cheat the system.”

McArdle said he feared that claimants targeted by DWP under its new plans would not be able to secure legal representation, and that the proposals would breach the government’s human rights obligations.

He said: “Is it OK to trawl through two million cases? I don’t believe so.

“It’s a complete violation of disabled people’s human rights.

“Hundreds of people will die as a result and that’s no exaggeration. At a time when people are suffering so much, the government wants to take even more from people.

“To have this administered by the people who have been carrying out DWP policy since 2010 is just horrific.

“They have a track record of concealment and dishonesty. They have acted in contempt of the rule of law all these years in so many different cases.

They have not listened to the UN and now they want a blank cheque to treat disabled people as if they were subject to a totalitarian regime.

“It’s giving them unprecedented powers to interfere in people’s private lives… to go in on a whim and rifle through their bank accounts and access everything about their lives.”

He added: “It is an unprecedented intrusion into the private lives of sick and disabled people and benefit claimants more generally.

“We will fight this all the way.”

26 May 2022

 

 

Ministerial duo dismiss concerns over social care funding crisis

Two ministers have dismissed mounting evidence of a care funding crisis and have repeatedly insisted that local councils have all the money they need to “effectively” deliver social care services.

Both social care minister Gillian Keegan and local government minister Kemi Badenoch told MPs on Tuesday that there was no need for an urgent funding increase for adult social care in England.

Boris Johnson repeated the message in prime minister’s questions yesterday (Wednesday) when he insisted that his government was “fixing” social care.

Keegan and Badenoch’s evidence to the Commons levelling up, housing and communities committee came just days after the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services warned that a survey had found more than half a million adults were waiting for social care in England.

In February, Disability News Service revealed how research had shown that tens of thousands of disabled people across the country were having debt collection action taken against them every year by their local authorities over unpaid care charges.

In the same month, an ombudsman ruled that a disabled woman took her own life after being wrongly sent a string of invoices demanding payment of care charges she did not owe.

But Keegan and Badenoch insisted on Tuesday that local councils had all the money they needed to provide adult social care.

Keegan told the committee that there was “more money going into the system than ever before”.

She added: “There is in our assessment sufficient funding to allow councils to continue to effectively deliver adult social care services, but there’s no doubt that what we are talking about is a system that needs to be reformed.”

Badenoch told the committee: “We think the funding is at the right amount.”

And she added: “As far as we can see, we are providing enough money to the sector.”

She admitted later: “The demand for adult social care in particular is really outstripping the rate at which we can fund it.”

But she then added: “Given the growth that we have at the moment in the country… I think we are doing relatively well in terms of funding adult social care.”

Keegan continually stressed the importance of the much-criticised government reforms that will introduce a new £86,000 cap on care charges in England but will not count financial contributions made by local authorities to people’s care and support.

The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who has led parliamentary attempts to ease the burden of care charges on working-age disabled people, has described those reforms as “criminal” and warned that they “will continue to push disabled people of all ages into greater poverty and dependency”.

But Keegan said the government’s funding reforms, and work to integrate the health and social care systems, would make a crucial difference to the adult social care system.

When asked whether ministers would be asked the same questions again about the social care funding crisis after the government’s next announcement of departmental spending allocations, Keegan said such questions were “just a normal part of the discussions about how you allocate resources”.

She said later: “Of course we recognise that the quality of care, the sustainability of care, the investment in the workforce, all of that needs to change, which is why we’ve put these reforms in place.

“These reforms, plus the integration reforms, which I think are a very important foundational pillar as well, to make sure that the system works for better for people, I do believe if we get those right then it will transform our social care system.”

26 May 2022

 

 

Company linked to death of PIP claimant gives itself ‘seven or eight out of 10’

The boss of a private sector contractor has told MPs that he gives his company a mark of seven or eight out of ten for its performance in carrying out disability benefit assessments, despite it being closely linked to the death of a young disabled mother.

The outsourcing giant Capita declared that its performance had improved dramatically since the last time its senior executives gave evidence to the Commons work and pensions committee in December 2017.

Antony King, managing director for Capita Health and Welfare, told the committee this week – as part of its inquiry into benefit assessments – that there had been “huge improvements” since the committee’s subsequent report in February 2018.

Asked to give Capita a mark out of 10 for its performance on the assessment contract for personal independence payment (PIP), he said: “I think maybe it was a four last time, I would say we are probably around a seven or eight now.”

Only last year, a coroner highlighted 28 separate “problems” with the administration of the PIP system that helped cause the death of 27-year-old Philippa Day, from Nottingham.

It took more than two hours for the coroner to read out his conclusions and findings, after a nine-day inquest that uncovered multiple failings by both the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Capita in the 11 months that led up to Philippa’s death in October 2019.

Later in yesterday’s (Wednesday’s) evidence session, King apologised to the Day family for the errors that contributed to Philippa’s death.

But Capita also suggested that it would like to see more “transparency” from DWP around deaths linked to the PIP system.

Labour’s Debbie Abrahams had asked about figures that showed more than 60 people a month died within three months of being found ineligible for PIP, which she said suggested there was “something completely and utterly flawed in the process”.

She then asked how many of DWP’s secret reviews into suicides and other deaths of claimants – so-called internal process reviews – Capita had been told about.

Laura Erskine, Capita Health and Welfare’s clinical director, said it was a “very small number”.

But she said her company would “welcome more transparency around claimants who do die during or after the PIP process” so it could investigate the cases and “understand if there are any further lessons that could be learned”.

Atos*, the other PIP assessment contractor, admitted that the number of disabled people waiting for it to deliver a PIP assessment had risen to 188,000 by the end of last year, although it had now fallen to 167,000.

Stuart Paterson, Atos’s client executive partner, said demand for PIP assessments had “increased quite significantly” in the last 12 months.

DWP has told its contractors that the number of new PIP claims has risen by about 20 per cent.

King suggested that some of this was due to claimants reporting having long Covid, an increase in the number of people with mental health conditions, and an ageing population.

But he also suggested that some of the increase could be “linked to the current cost-of-living crisis, as people are looking for further ways to augment their income”.

Asked how many of its assessors have to be retrained or dismissed every year because the quality of their work is unacceptable, Capita said that about one in 10 of its staff “leave for performance-related issues” every year, while Atos said that 61 of its health professionals left in 2021 for performance-related issues.

*Atos delivers its PIP assessment contracts through Independent Assessment Services, a trading name of Atos IT Services UK

26 May 2022

 

 

Public order bill will criminalise disabled protesters, says MP

A disabled MP has accused the government of “playing with people’s lives” and warned that its new public order bill will criminalise disabled people and other minority groups.

Marsha de Cordova, a former shadow minister for disabled people, told fellow MPs that the bill would “criminalise protest tactics” and drag disabled people and others into the criminal justice system.

The Labour MP for Battersea praised the disabled activists who locked their wheelchairs to traffic lights in protest at the 2010 coalition government’s welfare reforms, a tactic that is set to be criminalised under the bill.

She was speaking during the second reading of the bill, which includes a new criminal offence that would see protesters potentially imprisoned for attaching themselves to an object, person or land, just as disabled activists did during a major action at Oxford Circus in London’s West End in January 2012.

That action by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) and UK Uncut saw about 20 wheelchair-users lock themselves to a chain across Regent Street, in protest at the government’s welfare reform bill.

De Cordova said the public order bill was unlikely to comply with the UK’s international human rights obligations, and that campaigners had warned it would “give the police carte blanche to target protestors”.

She told the House of Commons this week: “My freedoms today are directly linked to the organising and protests that happened on our streets, from the suffragettes who chained themselves to parliament to secure votes for women, to disabled people who locked their wheelchairs to traffic lights to fight the discriminatory cuts to social security, and the Black Lives Matter protests.”

She said that protesting was “one of the most effective ways for people from under-served and under-represented groups to organise and deliver change for our communities.

“Clamping down on protest will not only have an impact on the types of issues that our communities will be able to voice their concerns about but shut down key avenues of mobilising the public to support and preserve our rights.”

She urged ministers to watch Then Barbara Met Alan, the BBC drama which aired for the first time in March, and which highlighted how members of DAN fought for disability rights through direct action.

The public order bill will also allow police officers to stop-and-search suspected protesters for “articles related to protest-related offences”.

De Cordova said these powers were “a form of structural oppression that will continue to hurt and harm our black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.

“Their expansion will only entrench racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system and further erode trust in public institutions.”

She said the bill will “not solve the problems that it seeks to address.

“All it will do is increase the criminalisation of people from our under-represented and under-served communities.”

She added: “The government are not interested in protecting people or serving those who need them most; they want only to protect themselves, to hold on to power by playing with people’s lives, and to manipulate the public to deflect from their failures.”

She told Disability News Service later: “Protests have been a great vehicle for us to come together and advocate for our civil and human rights.”

She said direction action in the 1990s had helped to pave the way for the passing of the “important but woefully inadequate Disability Discrimination Act”.

De Cordova said: “That’s why the struggle still goes on for our civil and human rights.”

She said that protests were about more than seeking legislative change and that “direct public action helped our movement to change the narrative of how we are represented”.

She said: “People from our community chaining themselves, blocking streets and protesting loudly helped push back against the then popular narrative that we are passive and in need of help.

“They showed we have agency and that we can determine our own future.”

The bill, which will affect England and Wales, also introduces a new criminal offence of interfering with “key national infrastructure”, and it will give the courts the power to impose serious disruption prevention orders on people with protest-related convictions or a history of causing serious disruption at protests.

Home secretary Priti Patel, introducing the bill, said it was designed to address the rise in “criminal, disruptive and self-defeating tactics from a supremely selfish minority”.

She particularly focused on protests around the HS2 high-speed railway line, and those by supporters of Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil.

She said direct action protests had seen “parts of the country grind to a halt”, while “transport networks have been stopped, printing presses blocked and fuel supplies disrupted”.

Patel said the new offence of “locking on and going equipped to lock on” would criminalise the “protest tactic of people intentionally causing pandemonium by locking themselves on to busy roads, a building or scaffolding”.

Earlier this month, disabled activists pledged that the government’s plans would not stop them taking to the streets to fight oppression.

Grassroots groups like by DPAC have used direct action as a key tool in bringing the public’s attention to government policy they have considered unfair, discriminatory, or even lethal, over the last decade.

DAN and the Campaign for Accessible Transport began using such tactics in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

26 May 2022

 

 

Disabled woman pays hundreds in fines, after council refuses reasonable adjustments

A disabled artist is being forced to pay hundreds of pounds in clean air zone fines every month because of her council’s refusal to make reasonable adjustments for her fluctuating health conditions.

Shiva Page fears she will have to give up her part-time job as a support worker, and her self-employed creative work restoring and recycling furniture, because of what she says is Bath and North East Somerset Council’s discriminatory behaviour.

Although she has an exemption from Bath’s clean air zone (CAZ) scheme, which means she should not have to pay a fine every time she drives her van in the zone, she still has to log each journey within six days to avoid being fined.

Each time she forgets, it costs her £69, and if she fails to pay within 14 days, the fine is increased to £129.

But because one of the symptoms of one of her health conditions is “brain fog”, she often forgets to log her journeys. She is also often restricted to bed for days at a time with severe pain.

Her concerns emerged in the week that an ombudsman warned in a new report that local authorities were frequently failing to make reasonable adjustments for disabled service-users, particularly those with invisible impairments, like Page.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King, called on local councils in England to be “proactive” in asking every person who approaches one of their services if they need changes to be made in the way they are dealt with (see separate story).

Page has a van because she used to provide science and art workshops in schools and in community projects, which meant she needed to carry bulky resources, while she also works as an artist, restoring and recycling furniture from landfill.

Since the CAZ scheme was introduced last year, she believes she has had to pay more than £800 in fines, and she is appealing another two fines of £129 each.

This is because the council refuses to waive the duty to log each visit online, or even text her a reminder each time she drives in the CAZ in her van.

She managed to get some of the fines reduced to £9 each when she took the council to a tribunal, but the local authority then used her ability to take the case to tribunal as proof that she could keep track of her journeys.

Page has a blue badge and receives both personal independence payment and employment and support allowance (ESA), but she can only work 16 hours a week under the permitted work scheme.

She has provided evidence about her health conditions, but the council refuses to stop fining her.

Because her impairments are fluctuating and invisible, she has even been accused by a council worker of lying about being disabled.

She said: “I work part-time with the deaf community, but if this continues, I fear it will cause me to become even more unwell and lose my job.

“It’s causing me so much anxiety and sleepless nights that I’ve been avoiding going to visit friends or going to town for leisure or shopping as I’m so worried about more fines.

“This is increasing my social isolation and worsening my mental health.

“As a blue badge holder, I shouldn’t be put in the position of worrying about going out in my van in case I forget to log the journey and get a fine.”

She added: “I wish I could afford a ‘compliant’ van and have been considering buying a car instead but that would mean emptying my workshop and giving up my creative self-employment which honestly keeps me going and is my sanctuary, both mentally and emotionally.

“It would limit my work choices in the future, too.”

Page has complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman about how the council has treated her, and she has sought advice from the Equality Advisory and Support Service.

Even though she provided the council with written permission to discuss her case with Disability News Service (DNS), it refused to do so.

Instead, it produced the following statement: “In Bath, we don’t charge cars, so charges only apply to higher emission taxis, vans (including some campers), coaches, buses and HGVs.

“So the majority of blue badge holders can drive freely in Bath, without having to pay or log an exempt journey.

“However, during our public consultation on introducing the zone we talked to a range of groups representing disabled people in Bath and took the decision not to charge blue badge holders driving higher emission chargeable vehicles, such as vans, in recognition of the challenges they face.

“Instead, they can log their journey within a period of 13 days (six days before the date of travel, the date of travel itself, and six days following the date of travel) to be equitable with those that need to pay an entry charge.

“Other local authorities have not taken this approach.

“Our team of advisors have worked very closely, by phone and email, with local businesses and individuals to help people manage exemptions and also to access funding to replace polluting vehicles.

“The requirement to register a trip in a clean air zone – by paying or logging an exemption – is a national requirement and will be common across all clean air zone schemes.

“To be issued with and use a driving licence, drivers must be able to undertake all requirements to use a vehicle on the highway, such as making payment for the London congestion charge or the Dartford crossing, understanding signage indicating restrictions, and even making a payment for parking.”

26 May 2022

 

 

Councils frequently fail to make reasonable adjustments, says ombudsman

An ombudsman has warned that local authorities are frequently failing to make reasonable adjustments for disabled service-users, particularly those with invisible impairments.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King, called on local councils in England to be “proactive” in asking every person who approaches one of their services if they need changes to be made in the way they are dealt with.

He also called on councils to read his report and consider if any of their services are putting disabled people at a disadvantage.

He said service-providers must put disabled people’s needs “at the heart of everything the service does, designing services with them in mind, so that their needs can be met before they even come through the door, pick up the phone or write a letter”.

King’s report was published as Disability News Service reported how a disabled woman is being forced to pay hundreds of pounds in clean air zone fines because of her council’s refusal to make reasonable adjustments for her fluctuating health conditions (see separate story).

The ombudsman – which examines complaints about councils, all adult social care providers and some other organisations providing local public services – received 122 complaints in 2021-22 in which Equality Act failures were recorded as a factor, most of them relating to disabled people.

Among the cases described in the report was that of an autistic man who had asked his local council for support with his care needs.

The council arranged a telephone call to assess his needs, and it told him this would last 20 minutes.

Even though he had told the council he could not manage a longer call, it lasted an hour.

He had asked for a face-to-face meeting, but the council had refused.

The ombudsman found the council had failed to meet its obligations under the Equality Act.

Another case involved a council that refused to allow a dyslexic man to appeal a parking fine verbally.

The ombudsman said that dealing with complaints was a “key frontline service” and so local services “should pay particular attention to ensuring complaints processes are accessible for everyone who might use their services”.

  • It also called on councils, care providers and other public bodies to review the training needs of all their public-facing staff to ensure they are aware of their duties under the Equality Act, and that there is way to record reasonable adjustments provided for service-users that ensures “continuity of service”.
  • It also said they should retain an alternative way for the public to contact them when moving to automated or online-only service delivery, and ensure their contractors also meet their Equality Act duties.
  • King said it was “vital” that local service-providers put disabled people’s needs “at the heart of any decisions about how services are designed and delivered”.
  • He said: “It is not enough for them to leave this as an add-on or an afterthought – and enabling people with different needs to access their services shouldn’t be seen as an inconvenience.
  • “If people feel they have not had their reasonable adjustments met, they need to tell their local authority, and then come to us if they do not put things right.”

Five years ago, in a case reported by Disability News Service, the ombudsman was itself found to have discriminated against a disabled woman by failing to provide the reasonable adjustments she needed to lodge a complaint against a local authority.

The ombudsman says it has since made “significant changes” to the way it works, including “asking people at every stage of our process whether they need us to make changes to the way we communicate with them”.

It has also increased the range of reasonable adjustments it can make for disabled people who want to lodge a complaint against a public body.

It agreed to make reasonable adjustments on 1,398 of its cases in 2020-21, covering about eight per cent of the total number of people who lodged a complaint.

26 May 2022

 

 

Campaigners celebrate their Crossrail access win as line finally opens, eight years on

Disabled campaigners were this week marking the long-awaited opening of London’s new Crossrail scheme by celebrating their historic success in forcing the authorities to provide step-free access to all 41 of its stations.

But they have also warned that a proposed new government crackdown on protesters could restrict the options available to disabled activists who want to protest legally in the future.

Transport for All (TfA) launched its Crossrail campaign in 2013 after it emerged that seven of the stations of the new high-profile rail route – now rebranded as the Elizabeth line – would not be accessible to wheelchair-users and others with mobility impairments.

TfA began its campaign with a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, after transport bosses repeatedly described Crossrail as an “accessible railway”.

During the campaign, TfA also lobbied MPs and held protests.

The following year, first the mayor of London, and then the Department for Transport, announced further funding – £33 million in total – to ensure that all seven stations would be step-free from street to platform level.

The much-delayed scheme will connect Reading and Heathrow Airport to the west of London with central London stations and Shenfield and Abbey Wood to the east of the capital.

This week, the first section of the Elizabeth line opened to the public, and by the time the whole line is open, all 41 stations along the line will have some form of step-free access, either through level boarding or the use of manual boarding ramps.

Paula Peters, a TfA member who campaigned outside Crossrail’s Canary Wharf headquarters in August 2013, said: “It was a well-attended demonstration and we made a lot of noise.

“We weren’t going to give up until we could ride the line with the same freedom as everyone else.

“Supporting campaigns like this is vitally important because we are not campaigning for fully accessible public transport for disabled people today, but for the future generations who come after us.

“Each campaign win means we come one step closer to fully accessible step-free public transport across the network and across the country – each win brings the dream closer to reality.”

But she pointed out that the government was now trying to clamp down on protest, through measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which became law in April, and the new public order bill, which was debated in parliament this week (see separate story).

She told Disability News Service (DNS): “It’s incredibly important for disabled people today to highlight campaign wins like the fight for accessible stations on the Crossrail line.”

She said the victory meant that disabled people would be able “to turn up and travel and go about our lives”.

But she added: “The public order bill (and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act) will mean that we won’t be able to turn up outside rail offices to protest about lack of access and have a noisy protest as we will be classed a nuisance and face the risk of arrest.

“Now the government want to silence our voice and stop us from highlighting and fighting the discrimination and marginalisation we face in every area of our lives.

“We must find ways to counteract this bill and continue to highlight injustice and exclusion and continue the fight for social change. It’s important now more than ever.”

Caroline Stickland, TfA’s newly-appointed chief executive, added: “For Transport for All, the original plans for the seven Crossrail stations were unacceptable.

“Such a flagship infrastructure project simply could not be designed to be inaccessible to wheelchair-users and many other disabled people.

“Today we are celebrating and paying tribute to the brilliant campaigners who tirelessly fought to make the line more accessible for everyone.

“Beyond the celebrations today, we still have a long way to go to achieving a fully accessible transport system in the UK.”

26 May 2022

 

 

Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week

The service provided to thousands of children in Birmingham with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is chaotic, deeply worrying and still failing them, a government-appointed commissioner has ruled. The disturbing findings of an independent seven-month-long review reveal the service is still under “tremendous duress” and, if anything, has deteriorated. It will take “years” to achieve excellence in the city’s SEND provision, said commissioner John Coughlan. He equated the state of the service with a property that is meant to shelter and protect the most vulnerable but that is in a “dangerous state of disrepair after a period of neglect and mismanagement”: read the Birmingham Mail article 

A specialist hospital for autistic people and people with learning difficulties has been rated as inadequate by a watchdog. The Care Quality Commission said Cedar House in Barham, near Canterbury, Kent, would be placed in special measures for six months. The latest inspection found wards were dirty and damaged, with some areas described as “not fit for purpose”. Inspectors found one person’s discharge had been delayed for more than 10 years due to a lack of available accommodation with safe staffing in the community: Read the BBC article

A senior executive at the charity Guide Dogs said he felt “publicly humiliated” when he and his guide dog were illegally told to leave a Marks & Spencer store in west London. Dave Kent, a corporate engagement executive at the charity who has been totally blind since he was 18, said he was “curtly” asked to take his golden retriever out of the Mortlake department store three times by a security guard. He said the incident felt like a “kick in the nuts” and that it highlighted a continuing problem of blind and partially-sighted people being refused entry or ejected from shops because of their guide dogs: Read The Guardian article 

The family of a student who took her own life have been awarded £50,000 in damages after winning a landmark civil case against a university for failing to make adjustments for her social anxiety disorder. A senior judge has found Bristol University liable for “multiple breaches” of its legal duties towards Natasha Abrahart, 20. Her body was found in her flat in April 2018, on the day she was due to give a presentation to fellow students and staff in a 329-seat lecture theatre: read The Independent article

Wheelchair-users in the Highlands are calling for an increase in the availability of accessible taxis. Just 32 taxis in the Highland Council area – which covers a third of Scotland’s land – can be used by wheelchair-users. In Glasgow, every black cab is capable of taking passengers in wheelchairs: Read the BBC article 

26 May 2022

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com