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28th July 2022

In this week’s edition:

  • MPs’ silence on deaths evidence ‘shows they have abandoned benefit claimants’
  • Staff levels ‘completely inadequate’ for rail access, say government advisers
  • Watchdog threatens government with legal action over ‘unacceptable’ detentions
  • Benefit claimants back up MP’s claims of assessment secret tricks
  • Coffey’s minimal release of secret deaths info suggests key DWP failings
  • Commission’s report on care ‘is tangible demonstration of what DPOs can achieve’
  • Minister rejects most of advice on engagement from her own advisers
  • Booklet remembers ‘lasting legacy’ of Seán McGovern
  • Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week

 

MPs’ silence on deaths evidence ‘shows they have abandoned benefit claimants’

Campaigners who spent years exposing the deaths of countless benefit claimants have spoken this week of the “abysmal failure” of MPs who refused to question the minister for disabled people about research linking her government with those tragedies.

The draft version of the Deaths by Welfare timeline* has brought together more than 30 years of evidence linking the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) with the deaths of hundreds, and probably thousands, of disabled claimants.

But despite Disability News Service (DNS) alerting all members of the Commons work and pensions select committee to the timeline two days ahead of the evidence session with Chloe Smith, not one of them chose to ask her about it.

The committee’s chair, Labour’s Sir Stephen Timms, himself a former DWP welfare reform minister, had been alerted to the timeline five days before the evidence session, and at least one committee member – and probably more – had known about it for more than three weeks.

The timeline currently features more than 300 pages of evidence of systemic failings by DWP, but the committee kept silent on this evidence, despite questioning the minister for nearly two hours last Wednesday.

Dave Smith, whose brother James Oliver features in the timeline, said the committee’s failure to question the minister about the evidence “raises questions as to how reliable and trustworthy the Commons committees actually are”.

His terminally-ill brother was denied personal independence payment (PIP) following a face-to-face assessment that took place in his flat in Hastings.

Smith said that DWP “not only refused him for benefit but were quite happy knowing he was dying in the filthiest of basement flats where he wasn’t fit enough to clean it.

“He so desperately needed PIP but, like thousands of others, didn’t score a single point on the assessment.

“He intentionally ended his life early by upping his drinking to an intolerable level.

“His last words were: ‘I’m f*****g terminally ill and I still don’t qualify for personal independence payment.’

“These assessments are so ridiculous and biased they would be laughable if they didn’t result in death and distress.”

He questioned why, when the committee had access to the timeline, the minister was not asked about it.

He said: “Ministers now need to publicly answer for their death-causing actions.

“This isn’t going to happen unless the committee stops this apparent cover-up and seeks answers on the report.

“I need answers as to why my brother was treated as worthless scum whilst living in a cold, mouldy dump.

“I won’t get those answers if the committee don’t ask questions.”

Disabled campaigner Kaliya Franklin was a leading member of the grassroots Spartacus Network, which produced reports that feature prominently in the timeline.

She said there was now a “significant body of evidence” from numerous sources, including academics and grassroots groups, that link DWP’s actions with the deaths of claimants, and yet politicians were apparently unwilling to listen to that evidence.

She said: “Where are the voices to speak up for all these people who have lost their lives and where is the willingness among politicians not just to hold government to account for that but to ensure that it is not something that continues to happen for the next 30 years?

“Nobody wants to be seen as the party of welfare dependency.”

She said an entire “political class” appeared to have abandoned millions of people who rely on the social security safety net.

She added: “After all these years of campaigning, I think I feel more hopeless than I did in 2010.”

Carole Ford and Ian Jones, from the WOWCampaign, which features several times in the timeline, said: “MPs on this select committee that we trusted have failed to hold the DWP to account in this instance and have failed to explain themselves.

“This failure suggests that no politicians want to shine a light on policies that evidence suggests have killed thousands of disabled people.

“We believe government policies deliberately targeted disabled people.

“We ask that every single member of the work and pensions select committee explain why they personally don’t think that should have been properly investigated and why it was not worth even discussing?

“Perhaps some may have the courage to respond.”

Disabled activist Ellen Clifford, author of The War On Disabled People, who contributed to the timeline and is a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, which features repeatedly on the timeline, said it was clear that the “dominant narrative promoted by the Tories sadly holds strong”.

She said: “The idea that linking deaths of social security claimants to changes in their benefits is ‘radical’ seems to have silenced politicians from all parties.

“Since 2010, the government has become increasingly right wing and increasingly shameless in their disregard for the lives of Deaf and disabled people.

“The failure of anyone on the work and pensions committee last week to challenge the government’s narrative regarding the impacts of welfare reform is just further evidence of the limitations of our parliamentary system in standing up to social injustice and effectively fighting for and winning a fairer society.”

Sir Stephen did not apologise for his committee’s failure to question the minister about the timeline.

He claimed that the timeline was not discussed because “it doesn’t propose detailed changes to DWP procedures which we could have put to the minister”.

And he suggested that the committee’s main aim last week was “to discuss with the minister what our inquiry has established about health assessments for benefits, and ideas for improving them”.

Debbie Abrahams, who has called publicly and repeatedly for an inquiry into the deaths, and commented on the timeline in an article in the Daily Mirror more than three weeks ago, did apologise to DNS for her failure to question the minister about the timeline, although she has so far failed to offer any explanation.

She said the timeline was “hugely significant” and “adds to the growing weight of evidence that the government must grant a public inquiry”.

The SNP’s Chris Stephens said he had not seen the information DNS emailed by the time of the meeting, although it was received by his office two days before the committee meeting.

He said he hoped the committee would hold a standalone inquiry into deaths linked to DWP, and that he would be discussing this idea with his committee colleagues.

Other members of the committee who were present at last week’s meeting – Conservatives Nigel Mills, Dr Ben Spencer, Sir Desmond Swayne and Selaine Saxby, and Labour’s Neil Coyle and Steve McCabe – failed to respond to requests to comment.

John McArdle, co-founder of the Scottish-based grassroots network Black Triangle and himself an SNP member, said he believed his party should be doing more.

He said: “They want to lay out a vision for how things would be done differently in an independent Scotland.

“What are they giving the Scottish public to say they would put a stop to these avoidable deaths?

“If they intend to convince the ‘no’ voters or the undecideds that Scotland is promising a better future for disabled people then it has got to set out its stall.

“The first thing it can do is to highlight the catastrophic harm that has been done to disabled people which our campaigning has been exposing for the last 12 years along with our colleagues throughout the UK.

“The party has not mastered its brief, there is no joined-up thinking across the party at Westminster or Holyrood on how to fight for disabled people, and they should be listening to disabled people’s organisations who produced this painstaking work over the last 12 years that ought to be a catalyst for changing the system.”

He said it was an “abysmal failure” by the committee that “they had the minister right before them, they were party to damning evidence, and yet they never raised it.

“They have completely lost the confidence of disabled people in all parts of the UK.

“As our elected representatives, they have all failed us.”

*DNS editor John Pring was co-creator of the timeline

28 July 2022

 

 

Staff levels ‘completely inadequate’ for rail access, say government advisers

Staffing levels on a section of the rail network are “completely inadequate to deliver an accessible railway”, according to a report by the government’s own accessible transport advisers.

The Rail Workforce Reform report by the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) found that tens of millions of pounds of investment in lifts, ramps and accessible toilets, and billions of pounds spent on accessible trains and carriages, were being “undermined” by staff-related barriers to access.

The draft report for the Department for Transport says the lack of staff at many of the stations on the route and the running of trains with no staff apart from a driver is “perpetuating the exclusion of many disabled people from a vital public service”.

It says: “It is clear that the current staffing levels on this route are completely inadequate to deliver an accessible railway, and to ensure disabled people can use train services on the same terms as other passengers.”

But it also makes clear that the case study is a “microcosm” of the wider rail network, which is seeing moves towards greater use of technology in the industry, “reducing the need for many staff roles involved in station and train operation”.

The report (PDF) – obtained by The Association of British Commuters (ABC) through a freedom of information request – examines the 20 stations on the Thameslink service from London Blackfriars to Sutton in south London.

Of the 20 stations, 10 have no step-free access from the street to any platform, and two more only have step-free access in one direction, and of the other eight, only five have step-free access from street to platform to modern standards (using lifts).

Just two of four platforms at one station provide level access between the platform and the train, while all the other stations where there is access to platforms need a ramp – and therefore staff assistance – for passengers using wheelchairs to enter or leave the train.

All the trains that run on the route, as well as those run by Southern and Southeastern, operate without on-train staff, so all assistance depends on station-based staff, says the report.

But DPTAC found that, of the 20 stations, only eight are supposed to be fully staffed, while six are staffed part-time and six have no staff.

The report concludes that assistance for disabled passengers “cannot routinely be provided at all times trains are running”, even if booked in advance, at 14 of the 20 stations and “certainly not on a ‘turn up and go’ basis”.

The lack of staff means there will be problems providing assistance for station navigation, boarding and alighting trains, providing customer information, ensuring passenger safety, and offering face-to-face ticket sales.

The report says that ensuring there are staff at stations who can provide assistance is “the only effective way of mitigating the continued partial physical inaccessibility of many of the stations on the loop, which will take many years to address fully”.

This means, in the longer-term, the government and industry will need to invest in street-to-platform step-free access, and platform-to-train level access.

The report also argues that cutting staff potentially undermines the case for future investment in access improvements, if these improvements depend on having staff present, because “their benefit reduces as staffing reduces”.

The report concludes: “As things stand, the toxic combination of Driver Only Operated (DOO) trains and unstaffed stations means many disabled people are excluded from using the route to access employment, services, leisure and health facilities.

“It is clear that major improvement is needed, and DfT needs a change of strategic approach, if the route is to be made accessible to all people.”

The draft report, which was completed in February, added that “until radical improvements in physical accessibility can be implemented, staff will remain the key way of ensuring that accessibility is maximised”.

Emily Yates, co-founder of ABC, which has been campaigning for guaranteed “turn up and go” travel since 2016, said: “The Rail Workforce Reform report puts forward a whole new economic argument for railway staffing.

“It concludes that the provision of guaranteed ‘turn up and go’ assistance brings exponential benefits: increasing passenger numbers, as well as protecting the value of public investments.

“The report also highlights significant dangers to the long-term accessibility of the railway.

“It warns that de-staffing has created ‘perverse incentives’ for management, discouraging further investment in station accessibility and step-free access.

“DPTAC has been warning the government about the ‘toxic’ and ‘illegal’ combination of driver-only operation and unstaffed stations since 2016.”

She said that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has warned that the denial of disabled people’s “fundamental” right to “spontaneous travel” breaches the Equality Act 2010 and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

But she said the government “continues to ignore both economic and ethical arguments, pushing on with their secret cost-cutting and anti-trade union projects while treating the rollback of accessibility as collateral damage.

“Given the scale of the cuts they are trying to implement, this should be considered a state of emergency for rail accessibility.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) refused to answer questions about the DPTAC report.

But it said that moving staff out of underused ticket offices and into stations would mean they could provide help where it was most needed, while it was for train operators to decide how stations are staffed.

A DfT spokesperson said: “We are working closely with stakeholders and industry to build a railway that meets the needs of all passengers, having committed £383 million for accessibility improvements, delivering 100 step-free routes and other enhancements.

“As part of our work to improve accessibility, we are currently undertaking an accessibility audit at over 2,500 stations, including those in Sutton and Merton.”

28 July 2022

 

 

Watchdog threatens government with legal action over ‘unacceptable’ detentions

The human rights watchdog is threatening to take legal action against the government for failing to “go far enough” in its plan to cut the number of disabled people inappropriately detained in secure hospitals.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said yesterday (Wednesday) that it was “exploring how best to use its legal powers to help patients and their families” and that this could include “action in the courts”.

It spoke out after analysing the government’s long-awaited action plan to reduce the number of people with learning difficulties and autistic people in inpatient mental health settings in England.

Last week, Disability News Service revealed that government figures appeared to show that progress on the reductions had ground to a halt, while ministers had ignored calls from their own consultants to invest more money in cutting inpatient numbers.

The latest 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 government’s target is to cut the number of people with learning difficulties and autistic people in specialist inpatient care by 50 per cent by March 2024 compared with March 2015, when there were 2,900.

EHRC has previously called for a legally enforceable right to independent living for disabled people.

The commission said it was pleased the action plan drawn up by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for implementing its Building the Right Support programme, which was delayed by the pandemic, had finally been published, but it said the action plan “does not go far enough”.

Among its concerns are that some disabled people could be admitted to a hospital rated as inadequate by the Care Quality Commission, and that DHSC’s timescales “are not urgent enough, particularly in light of the apparent breaches of human rights in in-patient settings reported over years”.

It also said it was “not clear how or when the plan will help people who are ready to be discharged today” and “does not explain why earlier measures did not work, why targets have been missed, nor how the proposed actions will address previous failures”.

And it said the spending commitments were “unclear” and there was “no analysis of how each of the measures will reduce admissions”.

Marcial Boo, EHRC’s chief executive, said: “Every day a person is detained in hospital unnecessarily is a day too many.

“It is therefore unacceptable, more than a decade after action was first promised, that hundreds of people with autism and learning disabilities are still being kept as in-patients when they could be receiving community care.

“In too many cases, patients are also subject to restraint and segregation, which can worsen their conditions and make it increasingly hard for them to go home.

“In extreme cases, there could be significant violations of human rights.”

He said the commission welcomed the government’s draft Mental Health Act reform bill, which aims to reduce the number of inappropriately detained patients in the long term, but that action “must be taken immediately to move people out of unnecessary detention and into the community”.

He added: “The EHRC is exploring how best to use its legal powers to help patients and their families. This may include action in the courts.”

DHSC said the NHS was taking action to prevent admissions to hospitals rated inadequate but it admitted that such admissions did sometimes happen and that the number of new admissions into these settings was being monitored over the next six months.

It also said it was taking action to reduce the use of restrictive practices on people with learning difficulties and autistic people.

A DHSC spokesperson said: “We know more action is needed to reduce the number of people in mental health inpatient settings, which is why we have published a plan designed to help us go further and faster.

“Our focus is on strengthening community support to ensure there are high quality alternatives to mental health inpatient care.

“These measures will help us to hit our 50 per cent target of moving people with a learning disability and autistic people out of inpatient care by March 2024.”

28 July 2022

 

 

Benefit claimants back up MP’s claims of assessment secret tricks

Disabled people have backed up an MP’s claims that government contractors are deliberately putting lifts out of order and attempting other “covert” attempts to trick claimants waiting to be assessed for their disability benefits.

Last week, 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.

One claimant told him 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; and another said the lifts at the assessment centre had been “deliberately” broken, to assess whether claimants were able to use the stairs.

He told the Commons work and pensions committee last week that a third claimant had told him the healthcare professional who was assessing them had dropped a pen to see if they would pick it up “as part of a covert assessment”.

The minister for disabled people, Chloe Smith, promised to carry out an urgent investigation into the claims, and confirmed that she did not recognise these tactics as legitimate parts of the assessment process.

The three private sector contractors that carry out the work capability assessment and the assessments for personal independence payment – Atos, Capita and Maximus – this week strongly denied all claims that any of their staff practise the “covert” tricks described by Dr Spencer.

But following a Disability News Service (DNS) report on last week’s evidence, disabled people have come forward to back up the allegations.

One claimant, M, said they had twice been told on the day of their Atos PIP assessment that the lift was out of order, and had been asked if they wanted to attend anyway.

On both occasions, after being told there were no ground floor rooms available, M said no.

But M also said they were asked leading questions by a member of Atos staff who was leaving for a lunchtime sandwich, and then returned, including quizzing them on whether the weather was better than the previous day.

M told DNS that another assessment centre, run by Maximus, deliberately placed the chairs with armrests, for those who need more support when sitting down, further away from the entrance, which they believed was another trick.

Another claimant, L, told DNS they had been told by an Atos assessor in about 2018: “There’s no available offices on the ground floor, let’s just got up here.”

The assessor then began to walk up the stairs.

When L failed to follow them, the assessor returned and suddenly found an empty ground floor office.

Despite her not falling for what she believes was an attempt to trick her, the assessment still initially led to her enhanced rates of PIP for both mobility and daily living being reduced to standard rates, before she won easily at a tribunal, following an “exhausting” appeal process.

Another claimant said on social media that the chair in the room where the assessment took place was put deliberately in a position where it had to be moved before they could sit down.

Even though they had not claimed they could not move a chair, it was noted in their assessment report that they had moved the chair.

Other claimants pointed out on social media how assessment companies used tactics that they considered were underhand.

One spoke of how one assessment company always seemed to ensure that the room where they were assessed was at the end of a long corridor, while others reported centres with no accessible parking spaces, or that had steps at its entrance.

Asked about the allegations passed on by Dr Spencer at last week’s committee meeting, all three of the assessment contractors denied any such tricks were being used by their staff.

A Capita spokesperson said: “We wholly reject these unevidenced and anonymous characterisations of PIP assessments and assessors.

“These allegations run counter to our values as a business and would breach the legislation all providers work within.

“We are proud of our assessors, who are all qualified medical workers, such as nurses.

“They use their professional judgement to take hundreds of prospective claimants through assessments every day, enabling claimants to get the support they need.”

A spokesperson for the US outsourcing giant Maximus, which carries out WCAs as the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments, said: “Any suggestion that these types of practices take place during the work capability assessment process are completely inaccurate.

“We are committed to delivering a sensitive and respectful service to all of our customers, allowing them to share fully how their health condition or disability impacts their day-to-day life.

“Our highly trained doctors, nurses and physios uphold the highest clinical and customer service standards.”

A spokesperson for Atos, which carries out PIP assessments under the name Independent Assessment Services, said: “The practices described are unacceptable to us and not something we employ in our consultation centres.”

28 July 2022

 

 

Coffey’s minimal release of secret deaths info suggests key DWP failings

Information released by work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey suggests that failings within the universal credit, personal independence payment and employment and support allowance systems have all contributed to the deaths of benefit claimants in the last three years.

In a letter responding to a series of questions from the Commons work and pensions select committee, Coffey has released just a small proportion of the recommendations made in the last three years by secret internal reviews into the deaths of benefit claimants.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show there were 151 internal process reviews (IPRs) completed by the department between July 2019 and June 2022, and many of them will have made multiple recommendations for improvements to policies and procedures.

But Coffey has released just 20 recommendations to the committee, without any additional information suggesting when the reviews took place.

It appears that she has only released recommendations that are less likely to be embarrassing for her department, although they still suggest continuing systemic flaws within DWP’s benefits assessment systems.

Disability News Service (DNS) is waiting for the information commissioner to rule on a complaint about DWP’s refusal to release recommendations from IPRs completed in the last three years.

The 20 recommendations Coffey released to the committee provide only suggestions of the flaws that led to the deaths and incidents of serious harm that were being investigated.

But six of them mention DWP’s employment and support allowance (ESA) department, three mention universal credit, two mention personal independence payment, while seven mention DWP’s retirement services department.

Among the concerns that appear to have been raised are a failure to share information between different departments, a failure to follow rules on visits to claimants who have missed an assessment or interview, and failures related to closing claims after a claimant has died.

Another recommendation suggests that the work of DWP’s complaints department has not been “comprehensive and factually accurate”.

When asked a series of questions about the IPR recommendations she had released, including why she had released so few, and how many she was holding back, a DWP spokesperson refused to comment.

Instead, he told DNS to submit a freedom of information request, despite DWP previously telling DNS that its latest attempt to secure information about the latest IPRs was “vexatious” and the “effort required to meet the request will be so grossly oppressive in terms of the strain on time and resources, that the authority cannot reasonably be expected to comply, no matter how legitimate the subject matter or valid the intentions of the requester”.

In the letter to the committee, Coffey also confirmed that she would not release a report which would show which of DWP’s websites and other digital services are breaching its legal duties on accessibility.

DWP has released summary reports which show how few of its websites and other digital services comply with regulations.

One report showed that 36 of the 141 “live” digital services run by DWP – including websites, mobile phone apps and software – were said to be “very high risk”, with another 23 considered “high risk”.

But Coffey told the committee’s chair, Sir Stephen Timms, in the letter: “I understand why there may be public interest in the release of this information; however, in this case we believe the balance is weighted strongly in favour of withholding the information because releasing it would give a misleading picture of our progress.”

Among other reports that Coffey insisted she would not release were a 2016 evaluation of the impact of the reduction of the benefit cap, a report on the effectiveness of support for “vulnerable” claimants of universal credit, and a report on the evaluation of benefit sanctions.

She also confirmed that she had “no plans” to publish statistics that would show what happened to claimants of universal credit who have been put through the work capability assessment (WCA) process.

DNS is currently waiting for DWP to reply to a letter from the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) about what OSR describes as a “gap in the information”.

Coffey told Sir Stephen: “While we will keep this position under review, I anticipate there will be fewer resources available and I am not committing to developing new statistics at this time.”

28 July 2022

 

 

Commission’s report on care ‘is tangible demonstration of what DPOs can achieve’

Years of lobbying from disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), backed up by research and evidence, appears to have persuaded a local authority to adopt a new, rights-based approach to addressing the social care crisis.

A report by Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Future of Adult Social Care Commission (FASCC) includes a series of recommendations that – if agreed by the council and its partners – could transform provision of adult social care in the borough.

They include a call to embed co-production of policy across the council; to review adult social care charging, including the basis for those charges; to increase the number of disabled people receiving direct payments; and to provide disability, equality and inclusion training to all its staff.

Early this year, the council confirmed, in response to a freedom of information request, that it had charged nearly 2,500 individuals for non-residential social care in 2020-21, with the council receiving more than £5.4 million from charges.

The response also revealed that, by January 2022, 916 of the council’s service-users had had debt recovery action taken against them in 2021-22.

The figures had been obtained by Cheshire Disabled People Against Cuts (CDPAC) and Inclusion London, whose research showed that tens of thousands of disabled people across England were having debt collection action taken against them every year by their local authorities over unpaid care charges.

This information was passed by CDPAC and other members of Cheshire Disabled People’s Panel (CDPP) to the council.

Now the social care commission has recommended that the council takes an approach to debt recovery that is “responsible and responds to the financial and social vulnerability of residents”.

It also calls on the council to review how it applies the minimum income guarantee (MIG) and the personal expenses allowance (PEA), both key elements of the social care charging regime.

The commission included six cross-party councillors and representatives of the NHS and the voluntary sector.

Among those who gave oral evidence to the commission were disabled people from CDPP and a local DPO, Disability Positive, as well as Hammersmith and Fulham council, and Greater Manchester Disabled People’s Panel (GMDPP), which have both carried out pioneering work on coproduction of public sector policy by disabled people.

Cheshire West and Chester Council has already approved a motion – proposed by Labour councillor Val Armstrong, who chaired the commission – to “adopt” the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and to work with disabled people to implement its articles in the council’s work.

Now there are hopes that the council and its partners on Cheshire West and Chester Health and Wellbeing Board – which includes local NHS bodies, Cheshire Police, and Healthwatch Cheshire West and Chester – will implement the commission’s recommendations.

Cheshire DPAC said the council’s pledge to implement UNCRPD was “a really significant development” for its disabled residents.

A Cheshire DPAC spokesperson said: “We and our Cheshire Disabled People’s Panel colleagues are ready to work with the council to make ‘nothing about us, without us’ a reality.

“DPOs have lobbied the authority for the past two years, calling for a better deal for disabled people – in particular, for disabled residents on low incomes, especially those unable to earn income and those with statutory care needs.”

She said: “Central government has shamelessly allowed both statutory rates [MIG and PEA] to lose real terms value for years, and we call on all local authorities to get their acts together and do much more to uphold the well-being principle for local service-users.

“The report does not go far enough on these fronts, but CDPAC are pleased with the FASCC report’s strategic recommendations to undertake a review of adult social care charging, including the basis for charges, and of the MIG and PEA.”

And she said Cheshire DPAC “cautiously” welcomed the council’s pledge to take a “responsible” approach to care charge debt recovery.

Cllr Armstrong, the council’s cabinet member for adult social care and health, said the aim of the commission was “to bring together councillors, health and voluntary sector colleagues and those who draw on or provide care to ask how we can best enable people to live the lives they want.

“Understanding everyone’s perspective is key to creating the kind of sustainable and responsive support and care that we would want for ourselves, our families, friends and neighbours.

“The final report was warmly received by cabinet two weeks ago and since then we have moved quickly to adopt the [UNCRPD] at council.

“We have shared the report with our partners on the health and wellbeing board, who will all look at how it can be implemented within their organisations over the coming months.

“The next step is to create and implement an action plan that will bring the report’s recommendations to life for the real benefit of our residents.”

Lynne Turnbull, chief executive of Disability Positive, said: “As members of Cheshire Disabled People’s Panel, we provided the council with some key recommendations, and I’m really pleased to see that the report makes commitments to implementing some of these, including incorporating the social model of disability and signing up to the UNCRPD, as well as to work in co-production with disabled people across Cheshire.

“We’re looking forward to working with the council to help them deliver these commitments and drive further improvements, particularly around reviewing social care charging; disability-related expenditure guidance; thinking local; supporting Cheshire-based DPOs; and providing simple and clear information and communications.”

Rick Burgess, outreach and development lead for GMDPP, who gave evidence to the commission, said the panel welcomed the report and its “emphasis on a rights-based, coproduced social care”.

He said: “We supported the Cheshire Disabled People’s Panel in taking the message to the commission that the [UNCRPD] and social model must be the frameworks within which local authorities design, deliver and review social care and support services – and indeed all services used by disabled residents.

“This report is a tangible demonstration of what disabled people’s organisations can achieve through skills and knowledge-sharing practice.

“We look forward to further strategic collaborations on UNCRPD and the social model in our regions.

“Watch this space!”

28 July 2022

 

 

Minister rejects most of advice on engagement from her own advisers

The minister for disabled people has rejected most of the recommendations from a report from her department’s own advisers that called for “culture change” in the way it engages with disabled people.

The report by the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) was published 18 months ago, but Chloe Smith only responded this month.

The committee had argued that the level of trust between DWP and disabled people had clearly “deteriorated over a period of successive administrations”.

And it called for “greater consistency and ground rules” in how DWP engaged with disabled people, and said that much of its engagement was with large national charities “for” disabled people, rather than user-led organisations “of” disabled people.

But Smith has now rejected four of the report’s seven recommendations, and only partially-accepted another one, while accepting just two of the recommendations.

She rejected the idea of drawing up a co-produced protocol for how DWP should engage with disabled people because she said it was “likely to limit flexibility and increase bureaucracy”.

She also rejected the proposal to regularly publish information about DWP’s engagement with disabled people because it would not be “practical or productive”.

And she rejected the idea of recruiting a large panel of disabled people with experience of the social security system that DWP could consult with regularly, arguing that it would be “unlikely to offer value for money” and that “bespoke, targeted sample populations for each research project” are likely to be more effective.

She also rejected the idea of involving disabled people in the process of contracting out DWP’s services, such as evaluating bids.

But Smith did accept that DWP needed to do more to make its engagement more accessible to disabled people, such as making more use of tools such as video-conferencing.

And she accepted the recommendation that DWP should “rapidly assess” services in which it needs to improve accessibility and “make it a priority to implement solutions”, claiming that DWP had “already implemented a number of changes to improve the services we provide”.

She also partially accepted the recommendation that DWP should demonstrate that all people claiming social security are “central” to the way the department works.

Ken Butler, welfare rights and policy adviser for Disability Rights UK, said that DWP’s health and disability green paper had “repeatedly acknowledged the deep lack of trust disabled people have in its policies and procedures”.

He said: “The way to improve trust and ensure effective policies is to engage with and listen to disabled people constructively and consistently, both individually and via disabled people’s organisations.

“The four recommendations that the DWP has rejected would make the way it engages with disabled people much more and not less effective.”

Smith insisted that one of DWP’s “key values” was “to listen to its customers” and she said DWP “regularly seeks insight from disabled people, their representatives and organisations” through feedback on service design, surveys, events, forums and in-depth interviews.

She pointed to four stakeholder forums run by the department, including forums on assessment policy, personal independence payment policy, and Access to Work, two groups of advisers on its Disability Confident scheme, and the Regional Stakeholder Network of nine regional networks of 225 disabled people, their organisations, parents and carers across England.

She also highlighted the consultation and other engagement that has taken place both before and after the publication of DWP’s green paper.

Smith said: “I share the Committee’s view on the importance of keeping the voices of disabled people at the heart of health and disability policy development and delivery.

“However, I do not agree with several of the Committee’s recommendations because I believe that we can achieve the outcomes of sustained, meaningful engagement with disabled people in ways other than those identified in the report.”

28 July 2022

 

 

Booklet remembers ‘lasting legacy’ of Seán McGovern

A union has published a booklet filled with tributes to the life and work of the “unique and irreplaceable” disabled activist Seán McGovern, who died two years ago.

The booklet, Remembering Seán McGovern (PDF)*, by Mark Metcalf, is being launched today (Thursday) at a Unite disabled members’ meeting in Birmingham.

It includes tributes from his family, fellow trade unionists, disabled activists and Labour party members, as well as pieces he had written himself.

The booklet describes how McGovern became disabled after he was violently assaulted at the age of 15, how he attended university and then worked for Remploy and became a shop steward, as well as his love for literature, and for writing.

Among his roles were as chair of the TUC disabled workers’ committee and disability officer for the London Labour party.

The booklet describes his significant role in the campaign to keep the Remploy factories open, which included strike action in 2012, how he built strong alliances with Disabled People Against Cuts, and his “deep suspicion” of non-user-led charities that claim to represent disabled people.

Siobhan Endean, the Unite national officer for equalities, said McGovern’s focus had been the fight for “dignity and justice” for disabled people and that he had been “dedicated to providing a collective voice to address the cumulative impact of austerity on disabled people from 2010 onwards”.

She described him as “good fun, irreverent, incredibly intelligent, sensitive, a gentle comrade” and a “firm friend and ally to many activists”.

She said he had educated the union on the social model of disability and had been “determined to change union culture, and to encourage all activists in the union to include social networking with disabled people”, and that it was his “lasting legacy that he won the hearts and minds of so many to equality for disabled people”.

Dave Allan, who represents disabled members on the Unite executive council, speaks in the booklet of McGovern’s key role in persuading their union and the TUC to call for universal credit to be scrapped.

He says McGovern was “able to bridge the gap between trade unions, the disabled people’s movement and the Labour Party”, and that he was “unique and irreplaceable”.

Frances O’Grady, TUC’s general secretary, says McGovern was a “committed trade unionist, a great comrade and a thoroughly decent man”, and a “passionate, principled champion of disabled people at work and in society”.

Others to pay tribute in the booklet include Claire Glasman, co-founder of WinVisible, Ellen Clifford and Paula Peters, from Disabled People Against Cuts, as well as Marsha de Cordova, the Labour MP for Battersea, who describes in the booklet how McGovern encouraged her to be active within Unite, and later to stand as a Labour councillor and for parliament.

Nearly half of the booklet features poetry, speeches and other writing by McGovern himself, which appeared on his blog, on subjects including Remploy, activism, Atos and the work capability assessment, direct action, his opposition to Brexit and independent living.

In June 2011, he wrote about austerity on his blog: “These cuts and deprivations are raining down on us both nationally and locally.

“So, if the Tory storm misses you nationally, you can bet on a sustained downpour from your local council.”

He ends the blog with the lines: “I cannot sit by and let the few destroy my class! I will not stand by and see my welfare state destroyed and sold off for short-term profit! I will resist these thieves in our midst!”

Seven years later, he writes about austerity again, saying: “For the past eight years disabled people have been subject to vicious attacks across all areas of our lives caused by the disproportionate impact of austerity measures and the dismantling of the welfare system.

“Social cuts have led to human catastrophe. This misery continues and will continue to spread misery and poverty as universal credit is more widely rolled out catching disabled people in its net.”

Paula Peters ends her contribution to the booklet with the following tribute: “When Seán died there was such a mass outpouring of shock.

“It showed the massive amount of respect he had earned for his endeavours.

“It is an amazing legacy, he touched so many people and empowered so many disabled people to get involved in trade union activism and we will always be grateful to him for that.”

28 July 2022

 

 

Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week

The UK’s biggest care home chains saw their profit margins jump by 18 per cent on average during the pandemic, new research shows, while the highest paid director’s salary surged to £2.3 million. The research found that six of the 10 biggest adult social care providers for whom data was available saw their underlying profit margins widen between 2019 and 2020, the first year of the pandemic: Read The Guardian article

Doctors are less likely to resuscitate the most seriously ill patients in the wake of the pandemic, a survey suggests. COVID-19 may have changed doctors’ decision-making regarding end of life, making them more willing not to resuscitate very sick or frail patients and raising the threshold for referral to intensive care, according to the results of the research published in the Journal of Medical Ethics: read The Guardian article

Disabled drivers have been warned that their blue parking badges will not be recognised in some of the most popular EU destinations for British driving holidays, because of Brexit. UK travellers are also being told to check for the best phone packages to mitigate against roaming charges most mobile companies are reintroducing. Ministers are still negotiating with 11 countries including France, Spain, Portugal and Italy on the status of UK blue badges, which were recognised across the EU until Brexit: Read The Guardian article

One in four patients who have extra communication needs, including deaf and blind people, have been “refused” communication support while accessing NHS care, a poll suggests. A survey of 605 people with communication needs in England, including people who have sight or hearing loss or have mental distress, found that two thirds (67 per cent) said communication support had got worse since the start of the pandemic. Some 28 per cent said they had been refused a request for support to understand healthcare information, according to an analysis by Healthwatch England: read The Independent article

A teenage girl was “traumatised” by regular use of physical restraints at a private hospital for girls with mental ill health, her father has claimed. The pair described conditions at Hillview Hospital in Blaenau Gwent as “inhumane” and are taking legal action. This follows “immediate concerns” about patient safety raised by a recent inspection at the Ebbw Vale hospital. Operator Regis Healthcare denies all allegations and said Hillview is one of the UK’s most “successful services”: Read The BBC article

The UK’s busiest airport is slamming TikTok users, claiming a “travel hack” is exacerbating ongoing travel chaos. Heathrow’s chief executive said people pretending to be disabled to avoid lengthy queues is causing mayhem. He said demand has “significantly increased” for travellers who require wheelchair support. The airport boss said users on video-sharing platform TikTok have been “recommending” the “travel hack” amid ongoing travel chaos in the UK’s aviation sector: Read The Mirror article 

Deductions from benefit payments to recover debts should be paused to allow struggling households breathing space, MPs have said. Payments are automatically taken from about 45 per cent of universal credit claimants to recover overpayments and arrears. These should be put on hold to help those struggling most as the cost-of-living soars, the Commons work and pensions committee said. It said the repayments were pushing the most vulnerable into destitution: read The BBC article

28 July 2022

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com