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2th June 2022

In this week’s edition:

  • Government’s cost-of-living ‘sticking plaster’ is ‘no long-term fix’
  • Knock-on effects of PIP assessment backlog ‘show ministers must get a grip’
  • Shock as employers’ organisation drops support for mandatory reporting
  • Survey shows discrimination and abuse experienced by disabled fans at away matches
  • Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week

Government’s cost-of-living ‘sticking plaster’ is ‘no long-term fix’

Hundreds of thousands of disabled people will each miss out on £650 in crucial support, because of the government’s failure to target new cost-of-living funding at some of the groups most in need, disabled campaigners have warned.

Disabled people’s organisations said the injection of £15 billion in grants and other funding that was announced last week – while welcome – would not solve the cost-of-living crisis for disabled people.

And they said the new funding underlined the urgent need for a long-term fix for the social security safety net.

The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced support for energy bills, as well as cost-of-living payments*.

Those on means-tested benefits such as universal credit and income-related employment and support allowance (ESA) will receive £650, split across payments in July and autumn 2022, but people who only receive the contributory form of ESA** (or the contributory form of jobseeker’s allowance) will not be eligible for this funding.

All disabled people receiving disability benefits such as personal independence payment (PIP), disability living allowance (DLA), attendance allowance, and their new Scottish equivalents, will also receive a one-off payment of £150 by the end of September.

Because the chancellor announced a series of flat-rate increases, those on lower rates of PIP, DLA and AA will receive a proportionally more generous payment than those on enhanced rates of the benefits.

Domestic electricity customers in Britain will each receive a £400 grant, which will appear as a credit from energy suppliers from October 2022 onwards.

And people of state pension age who already qualify for an annual winter fuel payment will receive an extra one-off £300 payment, from November 2022.

In addition, Sunak announced a £500 million increase for the Household Support Fund***, extending it from October until March 2023, bringing the total allocated to the fund to £1.5 billion.

The Treasury said the package amounted to £15 billion in support, which was “targeted particularly at those with the greatest need”.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies described the package as “genuinely big” and said the chancellor was “engaging in some serious redistribution from rich to poor – albeit against a backdrop of rising inequality”, while he had “finally” produced funding targeted at benefit recipients.

Benefit claimants had been due to lose out significantly, with benefits rising in April by just 3.1 per cent, despite inflation over this year now expected to average eight per cent.

Disabled people’s organisations and grassroots groups welcomed the new funding this week, but raised significant concerns about how the money was targeted.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “While we welcome the additional funding that has been made available, we are very concerned that those receiving contribution-based social security payments have been excluded from this extra funding to help meet their needs.

“No doubt this is a sly move by government to try to force people to claim universal credit instead.”

Michelle Maher, from the WOWcampaign, said that those on contributory benefits, such as the contributory form of ESA, would not receive the £650 grant, despite the huge cost-of-living increases they were facing.

Many of them, like her, were still on low incomes, and qualify for free prescriptions and help with their council tax, even if their incomes and savings were not low enough to qualify for means-tested benefits.

She pointed out that she and 290,000 other claimants of DLA and PIP who do not qualify for specific means-tested benefits were already set to lose the right to receive the Warm Home Discount (WHD) later this year, which will mean losing out on £150.

She questioned why someone with the wealth of the chancellor – who has three homes – should receive £1,200, with a £400 fuel grant for each of his three properties, compared with just £400 for her and most other disabled people.

Maher said that many disabled people feel pain when they are cold, while essential impairment-related equipment often needs electricity.

She said: “We have no choice. I myself can’t cook, because it’s dangerous due to a severe tremor.

“I also can’t physically shop around all the different shops for bargains.

“My choices are limited. Do I hand back the Motability car which gets me to hospital and doctors’ appointments, and lose the freedom that allows me?

“Do I stay cold, find the cheapest, unhealthy microwave food, cutting fruit out of my diet?

“We are the groups on legacy benefit who didn’t get uplifts during the pandemic; we got zero support.

“We are the group with Covid still hanging over our heads like the sword of Damocles.

“We’re not the group who mishandled the pandemic, giving billions out to fraud, cronyism and a £1 billion tax cut for bankers. We’re the invisible, the second-class, the othered.”

Inclusion London said Sunak’s announcement was “a step forward” but “only because it means some extra money for people”.

Svetlana Kotova, Inclusion London’s director of campaigns and justice, said: “We are deeply disappointed that this support is not targeted enough [at those most in need], and it certainly will go nowhere near to meeting the real costs disabled people are experiencing now and for the foreseeable future.

“We will still be forced to choose between heating, eating and essential care and support.

“Huge increases in our extra costs of disability and in the cost of living, coupled with 12 years of punitive benefits cuts, cannot be sorted by a one-off payment.”

She said the crisis “has not been fixed”, and she added: “The government must uprate benefits in line with current inflation and then carry out long-term work to get our social security safety net functioning and effective again.

“It also should stop the vicious circle whereby it gives money with one hand only to take it away with the other.

“Social care charges must be scrapped. We cannot accept the injustice which allows local authorities to take away people’s benefits to pay for social care, leaving thousands of disabled people with the highest support needs trying to survive on less than £23 per day and mired in debt.”

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) also said that the one-off payments would “not be enough to ease the dire situation that many disabled people are facing”.

Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s chief executive, said: “We welcome moves by the government to ease the extreme hardship many people are facing, but the measures chosen are a sticking plaster.

“Benefits have not kept pace with inflation for years. The government fears that a £20 uplift applied to benefits, like the one introduced during the pandemic, would become permanent.

“It needs to become permanent.”

Another disabled people’s organisation, Buckinghamshire Disability Service (BuDS), also welcomed the funding, but said the package had “two fatal flaws”.

BuDS said the payments were “far too small for struggling and poorer households facing doubled or tripled costs”, and would arrive too late, while far too much money was being handed to “households who do not really need it”.

BuDS said the government should have provided a minimum of a 20 per cent rise in monthly disability benefit payments for the next year, which could have been funded by removing the £400 electricity bill grant from second and multiple homes and working-age households not receiving a disability- or income-related benefit.

It also called for temporary, standard-rate benefit awards for those disabled people whose PIP or DLA claims have been delayed (see separate story), those who are awaiting an appeal against the loss of an existing award, and those similarly affected by delays in the work capability assessment system.

Andrew Clark, chair of BuDS, said: “Disabled people are hit hardest by the huge increases in the cost of energy, food and other basics.

“It’s right that they should receive help proportionate to their needs – and an extra £650 as a one-off payment simply isn’t enough.

“BuDS calls on the government to remove funding from richer households which do not need it, and focus their support on those who need it most, such as disabled people.”

Disabled activist 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 set of measures announced by the chancellor were “undoubtedly welcome, though long overdue, and what many would have expected in the spring statement”.

She said the various grants and payments were “positive steps”, but the chancellor’s package of support “re-affirms what the commission and many others have long been saying: temporary fixes won’t be enough to hold together a broken safety net”.

She said: “Our social security system has been whittled down beyond what one-off payments can now repair.

“What we need from the government isn’t more sticking plasters, but a complete overhaul with a new vision of what a decent system could look like.

“We believe the ideas we put forward in the plan would be a strong starting point.

“Our ideas were shaped from thousands of claimants, advocacy groups and Deaf and disabled people’s organisations.

“The only way forward is to put into action the solutions from those of us who actually need social security to get by.”

*For further details, see government information on its Energy Bills Support Scheme and its cost-of-living support

**Contribution-based benefits are not means-tested and are available to those who have paid enough national insurance contributions

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

2 June 2022

 

 

Knock-on effects of PIP assessment backlog ‘show ministers must get a grip’

Backlogs in the disability benefit assessment system are having significant knock-on effects on disabled people’s ability to live independently, new evidence has shown.

It is showing how lengthy delays in reviewing people’s personal independence payment (PIP) claims are having a substantial impact on their applications for other benefits, blue parking badges, bus passes and Motability vehicles.

They are also causing delays for disabled people whose support needs have increased and believe they should now be entitled to higher PIP payments.

The evidence has come from the Benefits and Work website, which has heard from a string of existing PIP recipients who say the delays are causing them significant problems.

In March, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how the backlog of disabled people waiting for a PIP assessment had more than trebled in the last five years, from 88,500 in October 2016 to nearly 312,000 by December 2021.

DNS has also reported on similar problems with the Access to Work system, with DWP figures showing the number of disabled people waiting for decisions on their applications has more than quadrupled in a year from just 4,890 in March 2021 to 20,909 in March this year.

One of the ways the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is dealing with the lengthening PIP assessment backlog is by providing temporary, short-term extensions to PIP claimants who are waiting for their benefits to be reviewed.

But this appears to be having significant knock-on effects with premiums and other entitlements available to those receiving PIP.

One Benefits and Work reader said the extension had caused a “nightmare”, causing their pension credit, council tax and housing benefit to be stopped.

Another reader, whose support needs have increased since they were last assessed, has been waiting since last July for a re-assessment, a delay that is causing “constant daily worry”, and has now been told their daughter’s carer’s allowance will stop this month.

Another, who sent in a PIP renewal form for his brother last June, has been told he will lose the disability premium on his employment and support allowance (ESA) because of the PIP delay.

Other Benefits and Work readers have been left unable to lease Motability vehicles until their PIP reviews have been carried out, as PIP recipients need at least a year left on their claim if they want to lease a vehicle through the scheme.

Another reader said they had been unable to renew their bus pass.

And many claimants appear to have been waiting for months for a re-assessment after their support needs have risen.

One said: “I have now been waiting for a review for over a year now my circumstances have massively changed for the worse.

“I keep ringing them and I just get told they are extending it, I’ve never known anything like this before.”

Vicky Foxcroft, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “With the cost-of-living crisis hitting disabled people particularly hard, it is shocking this government has not got a grip of the PIP backlog, which has been going on for months now.

“Short term fixes aren’t enough anymore. Disabled people deserve so much better than this; Tory ministers need to get a grip on this backlog, especially given the impact it is now having on other benefits for disabled people.

“A future Labour government would invest properly in disabled people, ensuring they had the support needed.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We closely monitor the progress of PIP cases awaiting assessment and take all steps possible to ensure claimants receive the vital support they require.

“We can and do make in-house decisions on award reviews without referral to assessment providers where necessary and use a blend of phone, video and face-to-face assessments to ensure support is given as quickly as possible.”

2 June 2022

 

 

Shock as employers’ organisation drops support for mandatory reporting

An influential disability employment membership organisation is facing serious questions over why it suddenly dropped its support for proposals that would force larger employers to reveal how many disabled people they employ.

The Business Disability Forum (BDF) revealed its about-turn in its response to a government consultation on disability workforce reporting.

One critic of BDF’s move, the Conservative disabled peer Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin, said he was “at a loss” to explain the forum’s about-turn, while Professor Kim Hoque, a leading researcher on disability and employment at Warwick Business School, said the decision was “unfathomable”.

Last year’s National Disability Strategy – since declared unlawful by the courts – said there was “increasing interest in making disability reporting mandatory”, and it pledged to carry out the consultation, which was launched in December 2021.

BDF and its chief executive, Diane Lightfoot, were expected to deliver resounding backing for mandatory reporting for larger employers in their response to the consultation.

BDF’s members include major employers such as Asda, Toyota, IKEA, Google, and multiple government departments.

The forum had been a co-founder of the Disability Employment Charter (DEC), which now has more than 100 signatories and which in the first of its nine actions calls on the government to introduce annual mandatory disability reporting for all employers with more than 250 employees.

BDF has now withdrawn its support for the charter.

Lightfoot was also a member of the Centre for Social Justice’s Disability Commission, which again called for the introduction of mandatory reporting, and she has reportedly supported the measure in meetings with government.

And Angela Matthews, the forum’s head of policy, told the Commons work and pensions committee last year that BDF was “supportive of mandatory workforce reporting”, although she said there was “some detail to flesh out”.

But in its response to the government’s consultation, which closed on 8 April, BDF summarised research it had carried out and concluded: “We do not feel there is evidence to support a mandatory approach to disability workforce reporting at this time.”

Instead, it called for increased uptake of the current voluntary approach.

It said it had spoken to 64 of its members, and 64 disabled employees, about mandatory reporting.

Among the conclusions of its research were that disabled employees “were actually not fond of a mandatory approach” and that the number of disabled employees in an organisation did not show how inclusive that employer was.

Lord Shinkwin told Disability News Service (DNS) that he was “at a total loss” to know why BDF was “going into reverse gear”.

He said: “I think their continued credibility depends on them releasing the research in full.

“We need to understand how those findings were arrived at.”

He said he believed that the Cabinet Office, which is running the consultation, would welcome BDF’s about-turn, and that the government would use it to justify ruling out mandatory reporting.

He said: “This is completely at odds with what some companies are already doing; they are doing pay gap reporting across a range of protected characteristics.

“My fear is that the government may well use this to continue the line that this cannot be done. Actually, it’s already being done.”

He said mandatory reporting would help ensure a “level playing-field” and support employers to “harness diverse talent”.

He added: “This is about talent, this is about recognising that diversity is good for business.

“It’s very hard to measure progress on that without transparency and, crucially, consistency of workforce reporting. You can’t get that unless it’s mandatory.”

Matthews said BDF had originally signed up to the charter because it believed action was needed to address the disability employment gap, which “has not moved in an acceptable or meaningful way” over the last few decades.

She said: “At that point we were yet to consult our members on the first and highest profile ask in the charter – that of mandatory workforce reporting.

“We were open minded at that point and took the view, which we still take, that if and when any such mandatory reporting is introduced, we will support our members to implement it as effectively and constructively as possible.”

She said the forum carried out the research to inform its response to the consultation, but that it was qualitative research – which examined participants’ answers to the questions from the consultation document – so there were no figures to show how the 64 disabled people had responded to each of the questions.

She said there were no further details of the research other than the consultation response published on its website.

But a BDF spokesperson said later that the forum was “a very small team” and the project was led by one person, so it “wasn’t possible to gather all the insights and produce an evidenced-based consultation response with a full research document within the 16-week consultation timeframe, which also included the Christmas break”.

Matthews said BDF had “wanted to use disabled people’s words, voices and experiences that come directly from them” and that the research allowed the forum to report “what disabled people told us”.

She said: “As a result of our findings, and what our members and disabled people told us, we do not believe that there is enough evidence to suggest that mandatory disability data reporting, in the form currently proposed, will achieve its intended aims or improve employment opportunities for disabled people at this time.

“We want to see reporting that looks beyond just a number.

“We want employers (including our members) to share data about the experience their disabled employees have in their organisations.

“Too many people are waiting years for adjustments, not getting promotions, and are being bullied or harassed at work.

“How does reporting a number ‘call out’ these experiences? We do not believe it does.”

She added: “Given the findings of the research, we feel that it would be inappropriate for us to continue to support the DEC.

“We are glad that our research is provoking constructive debate.”

She said BDF was calling instead for an increased uptake of voluntary reporting and for that to focus more on the experience that disabled people have at work.

She added: “We do not believe that it is a U-turn to develop our thinking based on the latest information available.

“BDF’s credibility is based on research that is evidence-based and which represents the views of our membership and their disabled employees.”

Professor Hoque, one of the Disability@Work group of researchers, told DNS that the research that BDF had based its decision on appeared to be “very confused and very flawed”, and he backed the call for more details to be released and for BDF to be “completely open and transparent”.

He said: “We think they have got it wrong. It’s a big U-turn.”

He said the forum was a “powerful voice” and its conclusion “gives the government a get-out not to go ahead with it”.

Hoque said the BDF consultation response suggests that the disabled employees they questioned did not understand how mandatory reporting would work, and that they did not understand that it would be confidential.

He said: “If [BDF] really believe in themselves they would actually look at reporting as something that could underline their credibility rather than detract from it.”

And he suggested that the reason the forum decided not to back mandatory reporting could be because it could show up how its members were no better on disability employment than non-members, which would be “disastrous for their business model”.

Research he is currently working on suggests this could be a valid concern for BDF.

Initial findings from the Disability@Work research shows that – although the findings are not statistically significant – universities that are BDF members have 5.9 per cent of their staff reporting they are disabled, while universities that are not members of the forum say 6.5 per cent of their staff report as disabled.

Matthews denied that BDF was concerned that mandatory reporting would expose its members’ performance on disability reporting.

She said: “Our concern is that mandatory reporting will not work and will not be enough to expose the practices of poor employers.”

She said: “We are interested to hear about the new research that is being carried out.

“We would need to see the detail of the research and the methodology before being able to comment further, but emphasise that there is a huge difference between prevalence of disability within an organisation and inclusive practice.

“It’s not enough for organisations to have a high percentage of disabled people in employment if those disabled people have a bad experience when working for that employer.”

2 June 2022

 

 

Survey shows discrimination and abuse experienced by disabled fans at away matches

Hundreds of disabled football fans have described how they have been subjected to offensive songs or chants, verbal abuse and other discriminatory behaviour when following their teams to away matches.

They were responding to a survey carried out by the disabled-led charity Level Playing Field (LPF), which represents disabled sports fans in England and Wales.

Of more than 600 disabled fans who responded to the survey, more than two-fifths (43 per cent) said they had been subjected to some form of abuse or negative attitudes at an away game in the last five years.

More than a quarter (26 per cent) said they had been subjected to verbal abuse, while about one in six (16 per cent) had experienced disability-related offensive songs, chants or gestures.

More than one in eight (13 per cent) said that “fear of disability abuse” was a barrier for them when attending away matches.

LPF said these experiences were “clearly unacceptable”, and that clubs have a legal duty under the Equality Act to ensure there is a “clear process for disabled fans to report abuse, and that these reports are dealt with swiftly and appropriately”.

The survey results show that the overall rating for the matchday experience for away games was significantly lower (an average of 3.27 out of 5) than there was for home games (3.81 out of 5) in a survey carried out last year.

Nearly half of the disabled fans (48 per cent) who responded to this year’s survey reported experiencing a poor view of the match as an away supporter.

LPF said it was not acceptable “for clubs to expect fans to pay for tickets and travel when they are unable to view the match”.

The report also says that 28 per cent of disabled supporters complained of not being seated with their own fans, while one in four said they had difficulty buying tickets.

Disabled fans also raised concerns about the poor levels of staff disability awareness, inaccessible public transport, and general access barriers at stadiums.

It is now eight years since clubs began to face concerted, high-profile pressure over their access failures –with much of that pressure coming from LPF – which led to the equality watchdog writing to all 20 Premier League clubs to ask how they were complying with their legal duties to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled supporters under the Equality Act.

Tony Taylor, chair of Level Playing Field, said clubs had taken “significant steps” in recent years “to improve the matchday experience of disabled fans in general”, but he said the survey showed there was “still much work to be done and that the away fan experience, in particular, should be an area of focus for improvement by clubs”.

He added: “It’s a sad situation that the access to live sport, which most supporters take for granted, is clearly not being provided in the same way for disabled supporters at away matches.

“The ability to watch a football game without blocked sightlines and fear of abuse or judgment is a basic expectation not being met.

“Clearly, there is a need for greater education within football.

“Level Playing Field will continue to take the lead in this by raising awareness amongst supporters and sharing best practices with clubs and governing bodies.

“We will be looking to these organisations and other fan-led groups to work with us to improve the issues highlighted in this survey, which continue to beset the away fan experience of disabled supporters.”

The English Football League (EFL), which represents clubs in the second, third and fourth tiers of English football, does not yet compile figures on how many fans have been banned by EFL clubs for discriminatory abuse, but it said it plans to start compiling them centrally as part of its new equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy.

An EFL spokesperson said: “Where reports of discrimination are made or abuse is witnessed by match day staff, the appropriate action will be taken which could include criminal prosecution and a ban.”

Asked about the disparity between the experiences of home and away disabled fans, he said: “Clearly this is something which we want to challenge and ensure that all fans receive similar experiences when attending all matches, whether as home or away supporters.

“We are committed to working alongside our clubs and Disabled Supporters Associations to ensure this and would encourage clubs to continue to establish good practice and listen to fans’ voices throughout the league.”

He added: “Through our new EDI strategy, launching over the summer, the EFL will reinforce our commitment to ensure that the voices of under-represented groups, including disabled fans, across our clubs, will continue to be heard which will allow for effective and sustainable change.”

The Premier League – which represents the top tier of English football – refused to say if it was concerned about the difference between the experiences of disabled home and away fans.

And although the Premier League introduced bans for anyone found to have committed discriminatory abuse at the start of last season, it was also not able to say how many bans had been applied for disability-related abuse.

But a Premier League spokesperson said that all its clubs had “undertaken substantial work to improve disabled access for home and visiting fans”, which was “a priority for the league and significant investment has been made in stadium improvements to ensure they are accessible and welcoming environments for all”.

Premier League clubs have invested more than £125 million in improving accessibility since 2015, while the Premier League is currently reviewing progress and areas where further improvements should be made.

The Premier League spokesperson said examples of improvements included new accessible viewing spaces at away ends, new viewing platforms at pitch-level, mid-tier and high-level, new lifts, and clubs developing sensory rooms and Changing Places facilities.

He said: “Clubs will continue to consult with supporters and Level Playing Field to improve accessible facilities at grounds and ensure the matchday experience is enjoyable for all.”

2 June 2022

 

 

Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week

An autistic man is taking supermarket giant Sainsbury’s to court for refusing entry to his assistance cat. Designer and writer Ian Fenn from London says the ban on Chloe, who helps him in daily life, is limiting his independence. He says she helps him stay calm, but the supermarket argues that cats, unlike assistance dogs, present risks to food hygiene. Sainsbury’s says it is working with an environmental health team to find out how Ian and his cat can visit safely: read the BBC news article 

Two Mencap-run care homes for adults with learning difficulties “fell way below the standards that people should expect”, according to inspectors. Foxglove and Daisy, both in Thetford, Norfolk, provide personal care and support for up to 11 people. The Care Quality Commission rated the homes inadequate overall and inadequate on being safe or well-led: read the BBC article 

A mum claims her blind daughter became a recluse after she faced discrimination at school. Phoebe-Lea Swales received little education, her mum claims, as the school was found guilty of unlawful disability discrimination in a tribunal. Kimberley says the 13-year-old developed severe anxiety due to discrimination by the school. The tribunal found the school failed to provide Phoebe with educational equipment to take part in lessons, which made her feel stressed and unable to cope: Read The Mirror article 

A disabled passenger was forced to call police for help after he was left stranded at border control “for hours”. Daryl Tavernor admitted he was left like a “hostage” after he was left stranded on the plane for two hours after his delayed flight from Rome to Manchester. The digital marketer, a wheelchair-user, was then forced to wait at border control for another 90 minutes before calling police: Read The Mirror article 

2 June 2022

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com