7th July 2022
In this week’s edition:
- ‘Significant’ victory over DWP ‘cruelty’ after family’s nine-year WCA death battle
- Labour refuses to make co-production pledge for new social care inquiry
- DWP dismisses 300 pages of evidence linking its actions with countless deaths
- Grenfell: Minister’s former council proves evacuation plans are possible
- Airports and regulators under pressure to act over repeated discrimination
- Lords committee quizzes care minister for two hours… but fails to ask about charges
- Campaign aims to address ‘suspicion and hatred’ in social housing sector
- Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week
‘Significant’ victory over DWP ‘cruelty’ after family’s nine-year WCA death battle
The family of a disabled man who took his own life nine years ago after being unfairly found fit for work have welcomed a “small but significant” tribunal ruling that has once again highlighted the “cruelty” of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
DWP’s actions in the case were described in the tribunal last week as “not legally right” and “not morally right”.
Judge Clare Goodman was shown papers which demonstrated that DWP had made at least 61 errors in dealing with the claim of Michael O’Sullivan.
His death on 24 September 2013 led to questions being asked in the House of Commons two years later about links between suicides and the work capability assessment (WCA).
Prime minister David Cameron was twice asked questions about his death after Disability News Service (DNS) uncovered a report showing that a coroner had written a prevention of future deaths report that drew a clear link between the assessment and his death.
Coroner Mary Hassell had concluded, following the inquest in January 2014, that “the intense anxiety that triggered his suicide, was caused by his recent assessment by the Department for Work and Pensions (benefits agency) as being fit for work, and his view of the likely consequences of that”.
Since Michael O’Sullivan’s death, his family have spent nine years in a bid for DWP and its ministers and senior civil servants to be held to account, with the help of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and welfare rights expert Nick Dilworth.
Their painstaking investigation has uncovered multiple mistakes by DWP, and evidence that it was failing to ensure the safety of the assessment system.
The latest ruling by Judge Goodman, in the first-tier tribunal, came on the same day as the publication of the draft Deaths by Welfare timeline, which provides more than 30 years of evidence linking DWP and government welfare reforms with the deaths of disabled claimants (see separate story).
Michael’s daughter, who has asked not to be named, had been forced to appeal to the tribunal after DWP tried to claw back benefits that her father had been wrongly awarded in the months before he died.
He was twice mistakenly placed on jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) and told to look for work, despite DWP and its assessors knowing of his long-term depression, social anxiety, agoraphobia, and general anxiety disorder.
DWP had placed him on JSA the second time even though the department had been told that he had attempted suicide within days of being taken off long-term incapacity benefit and placed on a training course, where he was constantly mocked, harassed and teased by other much younger students.
In November 2020, DWP admitted that the two decisions to find Michael fit for work were wrong, following an “anytime review” of the way his claim had been dealt with.
DWP agreed he had been placed at “substantial risk” as a direct consequence of the department finding him fit for work and twice wrongly placing him on JSA.
As a result of the anytime review – which was allowed so long after Michael’s death because of the errors by DWP – the department agreed to pay his estate the employment and support allowance (ESA) he should have been paid when he was alive.
But DWP then tried to claw back from this sum the JSA payments that he was awarded in the months before his death, under its so-called “offsetting rules”.
But Dilworth told the hearing that it was neither legally nor morally right for the DWP to have caused Michael O’Sullivan’s death and then attempt to retrieve the benefits it had wrongly awarded him, which were “entirely the fault of the department”.
He argued that DWP must “bear the full cost” of its mistakes.
He said work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey “cannot expect to claim back an award that was wholly inappropriate” when her department had failed to issue a notice that there had been an over-payment.
Dilworth told the tribunal that DWP had since changed the regulations as they applied to universal credit (UC), so that it could now reclaim such money for claimants of UC who have died because of DWP errors.
He showed the judge the list of 61 errors made by DWP in Michael’s case, and he told her that a DWP director-general had admitted when he saw the same pages that Michael’s death had been down to her department’s “incompetence”.
He said: “To put it bluntly, the department has to accept the consequence of its own errors and suck it up.”
DWP’s representative in the tribunal agreed with the judge that DWP was trying to recover an overpayment “through the back door”.
But he said: “We are talking about public money. That’s why we have the offsets.”
He said DWP’s actions were to protect tax-payers.
Judge Goodman said in her decision, released to the family on Monday, that it was “clear that a person cannot be entitled to JSA and ESA at the same time because the conditions of entitlement are mutually exclusive.
“However, it does not automatically follow that a person who has been wrongly paid JSA due to official error and is subsequently found, eight years later, to be entitled to ESA for the same period, must re-pay the JSA.”
Allowing the family’s appeal, she ruled that the JSA paid to Michael O’Sullivan between October 2012 and September 2013 should not be deducted from the ESA he was entitled to during that period.
Michael’s daughter said this week that there was still “a long way to go yet” in the family’s battle for justice.
She said: “At the heart of this is a beautiful, kind, gentle and loving father, a man of real integrity.
“If they had done things right, our father would still be here; that’s still crucifying for us.
“No family should have to endure what we are.
“We know it’s a deliberate long game by DWP, but that adds to the cruelty inflicted by them upon our family.
“Preventing a family like ours a natural course of grieving, what did we ever do to deserve that? Think about that for a moment. Morally, that’s horrific.”
Michael’s son, who also asked not to be named, added: “This tribunal was brought about by the DWP refusing to capitulate, despite them accepting our family’s argument that the department had specific statutory rules which they did not follow.
“Despite this, the DWP forced this tribunal, which was emotionally painful on our family, where the department could only cite the very legislation that they knew they didn’t adhere to.
“For our family, this mentality echoed throughout all the department’s ‘official errors’ that led to Michael O’Sullivan’s death.”
Dilworth said the ruling was a “small but significant development” in an “otherwise hugely complex and protracted case”.
He said the number of DWP mistakes in Michael’s case was “astonishing”.
He said: “The mistakes made in this tragic case have been catastrophic and clearly highlight a degree of systemic failure within an organisation which does not seem able to track where claimants are in their vast systems.
“Their different departments simply do not seem to be able to communicate with one another.”
He added: “The purpose of the case was to point out to the DWP that when they make mistakes of this magnitude, they must bear the cost of awarding the wrong benefit; it is unbelievable that the DWP needed a tribunal judge to confirm this.
“The DWP have spent an age, at great cost, trying to avoid their legal responsibility in this matter, effectively quibbling over a relatively small amount.
“It was, after all, Michael and his loving family he left behind who paid the ultimate price of a loss of life in consequence of the DWP’s negligent decision-making.
“We continue to hold those responsible to account and will seek proportionate redress.
“The DWP must take stock of its failures and accept they do have a duty towards those affected.”
Asked if DWP would apologise to the family for forcing them to take the case to a tribunal, and whether the department accepted the judge’s decision, a spokesperson said: “Our condolences remain with the O’Sullivan family.”
7 July 2022
Labour refuses to make co-production pledge for new social care inquiry
Leading party members and activists have raised serious concerns over Labour’s refusal to promise that a new review of its adult social care policy will be co-produced with disabled people.
Shadow health and social care secretary Wes Streeting announced this week that he had asked the Fabian Society, a left-of-centre thinktank, to carry out an inquiry that will “develop a roadmap” towards a “national care service” for England.
In a Guardian interview, Streeting said he wanted to see a national care service delivered on the same terms as the NHS, so it was “publicly owned, publicly funded, free at the point of use”.
But he also said that this could not be delivered in one parliament, and he suggested it could take more than a decade to scrap care charges.
Disabled people and their organisations made it clear this week that the inquiry must be co-produced by disabled people.
Labour has previously stated its commitment to co-producing social care policy, with Liz Kendall, its then shadow social care minister, telling a party conference event last September that a Labour government would not get reform right “unless the most important people, the people who use services and support, are actually driving and shaping… co-producing their services and support”.
The Labour party declined to comment yesterday (Wednesday) when asked if it would insist that the research was carried out in genuine co-production with disabled people.
The Fabian Society also refused to promise that its inquiry – which will be funded by Unison – would be co-produced.
Instead, a Fabian Society spokesperson pointed out that one of the thinktank’s researchers was a disabled person, and she said the inquiry would “review the latest evidence and policy proposals, conduct a series of interviews with key experts, including people with lived experience of the care system, and undertake quantitative analysis to develop up-to-date estimates of costs and benefits”.
Asked to confirm that the inquiry would not be co-produced with disabled people, she said that “as with all our work the research will be produced by a very small team that includes disabled and non-disabled people.
“It will gather evidence from and hear the views of a wide range of individuals and organisations, including organisations led by disabled people.”
Labour’s party conference in 2019 approved plans for a National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS) model for social care reform, which was devised by the disabled people’s movement.
NILSS would provide a universal right to independent living that was “enshrined in law”, and would introduce free social care in England, funded by national and progressive taxation.
NILSS was then backed by Labour leader Keir Starmer during his Labour leadership campaign two years ago.
But Labour has since backed away from the idea of free social care, with the party’s shadow leader of the Commons, Thangam Debbonaire, telling female party members last year that introducing free social care for disabled and older people would just “give the Tories a stick to beat Labour with”.
This week, Ellen Morrison – Labour’s disabled members’ representative on its national executive committee – said a co-production commitment from the Fabian Society was “notably missing” from the inquiry announcement.
She said: “We need our shadow ministers to be leading the way in commissioning all policy work to be co-produced with disabled people, at inception.
“I’m not clear if that’s the intention with this inquiry.”
She also called for the inquiry to pick up on the “transformative” work already carried out by disabled people, including disabled trade unionists, through NILSS, and questioned “why there is the need to replicate existing work that has been led by disabled people and our representative organisations”.
Morrison also raised concerns about how the party’s policy was being shaped, and its lack of engagement with disabled people through her role.
She said she feared that the “very positive work” led by Vicky Foxcroft, the shadow minister for disabled people, through her regional disability roadshows, was at risk of being “over-ridden”.
She said: “I wish I could offer disabled members my full confidence that their voices are being heard in every area of policy-making, but I’m not confident that’s the reality.
“Co-production is a term with meaning so I’m not looking for it to be bandied about without a firm commitment behind it.”
Mark Harrison, a member of the steering group of Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), who helped produce NILSS, said: “The Fabians need to adhere to ‘nothing about us without us’ and co-produce proposals for a national service with disabled people.
“The leaders in co-production in social care and independent living are ROFA, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, which is the only local authority in the UK to scrap charges for social care.”
He added: “It is no longer acceptable to non-disabled people and professionals to talk for us or on our behalf – they need to be ‘on tap, not on top’.”
Kathy Bole, chair of Disability Labour, said: “One disabled person is not co-production.
“As the major users of care services, more disabled people need to be included and fully involved in the whole process from start to finish.
“We don’t need things done to us again and this is what it sounds like will happen.”
Helen Rowlands, co-founder of Cheshire Disabled People Against Cuts (CDPAC), said: “Any serious effort by politicians and thinktanks to address the social care crisis will be informed by the social model of disability and a rights-based approach.
“It is critical that the Labour party comes to terms with co-production of policy as the way forward in any modern, progressive country.
“Wes Streeting and the researchers he has selected to cost up his vision for social care would be well advised to draw upon the expertise of the Co-production Implementation Group at Hammersmith and Fulham council, Inclusion London, and the work on social care carried out by ROFA, if he wishes to convince the disabled electorate that disabled people’s insights and experience will be central in Labour’s plans.”
7 July 2022
DWP dismisses 300 pages of evidence linking its actions with countless deaths
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has dismissed new research that for the first time brings together more than 30 years of evidence that links its systemic failings with the deaths of countless disabled claimants of benefits.
The Deaths by Welfare timeline is based on more than a decade of investigations by disabled people’s grassroots groups, journalists, academics and other organisations and campaigners, and has taken more than a year to put together.
The evidence includes government reports, academic research, disabled people’s activism, letters to DWP from coroners, media reports of deaths linked to DWP’s failings, freedom of information responses and political speeches.
It shows how years of warning signs of the harm to come were ignored, as well as demonstrating systemic negligence by DWP, a culture of cover-up and denial, and a refusal to accept that the department has a duty of care to those disabled people claiming support through the social security system.
The timeline – currently more than 300 pages long – shows how DWP continues to pose a serious and continuing risk to the lives of disabled people who pass through its disability assessment systems.
But it also shows how the campaigning and leadership of disabled people and bereaved families has been vital to resistance.
In an exclusive report for the Mirror this week, DNS editor John Pring revealed how the timeline shows DWP was alerted more than 40 times to life-threatening systemic flaws in DWP’s disability benefits systems over the past 30 years.
Its failure to act on those warnings can be linked to hundreds – maybe even thousands – of suicides and other deaths of disabled people.
Following the Mirror story, the timeline was mentioned in the House of Commons by Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, who has led parliamentary efforts to push for a public inquiry into benefit-related deaths.
She said the timeline provides “even more evidence of the impact of the so-called reforms on premature deaths and suicides”.
She later mentioned the case of David Clapson, who had diabetes and died in July 2013 as a result of an acute lack of insulin, three weeks after having his jobseeker’s allowance sanctioned.
Because he had no money, he couldn’t afford to pay for electricity that would have kept the fridge where he kept his insulin working, and he had also run out of food.
Mills has led the work on the timeline alongside Pring, with key input from disabled activist Rick Burgess, disabled activist Ellen Clifford, author of The War On Disabled People, welfare rights expert and researcher Nick Dilworth, and disabled artist-activist Dolly Sen.
It is hoped the timeline will provide a solid database of evidence for researchers, activists and journalists to push for an inquiry.
It is being released in a draft format so disabled people and allies can provide feedback and suggest any gaps over the next two months, before a final version is published later this year.
Clifford said the timeline was “an enormously important piece of work”.
She said: “Welfare reform has destroyed lives and caused avoidable harm on such a scale the United Nations made a finding of grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights.
“At the most extreme end this has meant the loss of life. We will probably never know the true number.
“The culture of dehumanisation and hostility fostered within the Department for Work and Pensions to justify the government’s conscious cruelty has meant a complete lack of accountability or remorse.
“The timeline represents an important step in the continuing battle for justice for the victims of welfare reform.
“For those of us still living and challenging welfare reform the timeline will be an immensely useful reference point when we need to remember what happened when.
“From a historical perspective and for those coming to the issue new, the timeline exposes the deliberate steps involved in the conscious strategy of dismantling the welfare state in favour of privatisation, business and an economic agenda that puts profit before people.
“It also includes and is testament to key points relevant to the resistance that disabled people and our allies mounted, using all the determination, resourcefulness and collective strength they could.”
Mills said: “In making the timeline we traversed mountains of evidence, some almost prophetic in its warning of the harm to come.
“What started for me as an investigation into the many deaths of people claiming benefits, is also a story alive with resistance – of disabled people joining forces with bereaved families, bearing witness to welfare reform’s deadly impact, and collectively envisioning justice.
“We may never know the names of all of those who have died – the lives lived and lost.
“But as part of the Deaths by Welfare project, we’re making this evidence available and seeking people’s feedback, to remember those who have died and to reimagine welfare justice.”
Asked if it would examine the timeline, whether it viewed the work as useful, and whether it accepted that more than 30 years of evidence showed links between social security policy and the deaths of claimants, a DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “These are tragic, complex cases and our sincere condolences remain with the families.
“We support millions of people each year and in the vast majority of cases we deliver a supportive and compassionate service.
“We continually improve our services and have new teams to focus on our most vulnerable customers, ensuring we make the right decisions and people get support as quickly as possible.”
7 July 2022
Grenfell: Minister’s former council proves evacuation plans are possible
The Home Office is continuing to insist that creating plans for disabled people to evacuate high-rise blocks of flats is unsafe and too expensive, even though a London council has put scores of such plans into effect.
Fire minister Lord [Stephen] Greenhalgh has previously told peers the government had to question how much it was “reasonable to spend” on ensuring that disabled people have a personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP) because ministers must “seek to protect residents and taxpayers from excessive costs”.
But Lord Greenhalgh is the former leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council, which has quietly been implementing PEEPs for its own disabled residents of high-rise blocks for the last two years.
Its neighbouring local authority, Conservative-run Kensington and Chelsea council, has faced years of anger and criticism over its failure to protect those who were living in Grenfell Tower, including its many disabled residents.
A fire in the council-owned high-rise block of flats led to 72 people losing their lives, including 15 of its 37 disabled residents, on the night of 14 June 2017.
National guidance in place at the time of the fire stated that it was “usually unrealistic” to expect landlords to put in place arrangements for disabled people to evacuate blocks of flats in an emergency.
In October 2019, the first phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommended that owners and managers of high-rise residential buildings should be legally required to prepare a PEEP for all residents who may find it difficult to “self-evacuate”.
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, has previously promised to implement all the recommendations of the first phase of the inquiry.
But the Home Office later rejected the inquiry’s PEEPs recommendation and instead is now consulting on its own “alternative package” of measures, which it calls Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing (EEIS).
Its EEIS proposals do not go as far as PEEPs and will only apply to the minority of buildings that have been assessed as being “at higher risk”.
The Home Office has said repeatedly that introducing PEEPs would be impractical, too expensive, and unsafe.
But Labour-run Hammersmith and Fulham council told Disability News Service (DNS) this week that it has created 90 PEEPs since January 2020, including 73 last year.
It has been contacting residents in all blocks of six storeys or more via letters, phone calls and personal visits since January 2020, sending out more than 3,000 letters.
All residents are offered a person-centred fire risk assessment, and those who would need more help to evacuate if there was a fire are offered the opportunity to create a PEEP.
Among the issues addressed in its PEEP form are how long it would take the disabled person to escape from the building where they live, whether they would need any aids to evacuate, and whether there are people living in the building who could help them evacuate.
The council has confirmed to DNS that it will fund equipment that disabled residents might need to help them evacuate.
Cllr Frances Umeh, Hammersmith and Fulham’s cabinet member for housing and homelessness, said: “The government says that personal emergency evacuation plans are ‘too difficult’, ‘too expensive’, ‘not safe or practical’ and ‘cannot be done’.
“In Hammersmith and Fulham, we have already introduced dozens and are adding more all the time.
“We care about our residents and especially those with additional needs living in our taller properties.
“While we recognise the challenges, we fundamentally believe that disabled people are right to expect us to prioritise their safety.
“So, we’ve worked with the London Fire Brigade and disabled people to implement plans so that everyone can be evacuated in an emergency, no matter their situation.
“We invite any Hammersmith and Fulham tenant or leaseholder who needs help to evacuate and doesn’t already have a plan in place to contact us today.”
Sarah Rennie, co-founder of the disabled-led leaseholder action group Claddag, said: “The Home Office has provided a public, bold and painful rationale against PEEPs but has failed to share any evidence to support it.
“We find this level of irresponsibility quite staggering.
“In contrast to their false assumptions, we are seeing an increasing number of PEEPs being put in place, formally or informally – with landlords (private and social sector) choosing to act ethically despite the government’s current position.”
She added: “PEEPs are a practical, effective solution to save lives and funding any aids needed to facilitate a safe evacuation is a responsible and proportionate measure.
“We urge all local authorities to be doing this on a non-means tested basis, particularly given the absence of national leadership on the issue.”
Fazilet Hadi, head of policy at Disability Rights UK, said the Home Office’s “outright rejection” of PEEPs was “completely unacceptable”.
She pointed out that the Home Office consulted on PEEPs in 2021 and more than 83 per cent of respondents supported the implementation of the inquiry’s recommendation.
She said: “It is essential that PEEPs are implemented, to protect the lives of disabled residents of residential blocks, and disabled people’s organisations and disabled people should respond to the current consultation on EEIS, making this point loud and clear.”
A Home Office spokesperson refused to say if the department now accepted that it would not be too expensive, unsafe or impractical to arrange PEEPs for disabled residents of high-rise blocks.
She also declined to explain how the Home Office continued to justify its position when its own fire minister’s former council had proved PEEPs were affordable, safe and practical.
But she said in a statement: “Our fire reforms will go further than ever before to protect vulnerable people as we are determined to improve the safety of residents whose ability to self-evacuate may be compromised.
“That is why we have launched a new public consultation seeking views on an alternative package of initiatives, building on the information garnered from the Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans consultation, that enhance the safety of those residents.”
7 July 2022
Airports and regulators under pressure to act over repeated discrimination
UK airports and regulators are under pressure to act over the repeated discrimination faced by disabled air passengers, after two prominent campaigners were failed by assistance services within 24 hours last week.
Mike Smith, the equality watchdog’s former disability commissioner, was twice failed by Gatwick’s assistance team, while Cllr Pam Thomas, a disabled city councillor in Liverpool, and the council’s cabinet member for equality, diversity and inclusion, was left on a plane at Manchester Airport for more than an hour.
Smith, who was a member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) board between 2009 and 2012, was travelling between Gatwick and Stockholm.
On his outward journey from Gatwick on 22 June, there was a delay while he waited for assistance at the departure gate, and then he had to be carried onto the plane by his own personal assistant because a member of assistance staff had failed to bring the aisle chair needed to transfer him onto the plane.
A week later, on his return to Gatwick, he was left waiting on the plane for 45 minutes after his Norwegian flight from Stockholm.
When two members of the assistance team arrived, they offered no apology until he pointed out he had been waiting for three-quarters of an hour.
They then apologised and told him: “I’m sorry, we are very short-staffed at the moment and the airport is very busy.”
When he finally made it into the terminal, he noticed the airport did not appear at all busy.
The previous day (28 June), Cllr Thomas waited more than an hour at Manchester Airport after a flight from Stockholm.
She had booked and confirmed her assistance in advance.
She said the SAS airline crew waited with her and called several times for the assistance, while the cleaners “came and went”.
She told Disability News Service (DNS): “Flying is something many non-disabled people take for granted and are totally unaware of the experience of disabled people.”
There have been repeated incidents across the country of disabled passengers being left on planes and failed by airport assistance services in recent months.
Last month, a 92-year-old disabled passenger at Gatwick had to hammer on a window and shout for help because she believed she had been abandoned by assistance staff.
Gatwick also had to apologise to disabled journalist Victoria Brignell after she was left on a plane for more than 90 minutes after it landed.
The previous month, another disabled journalist, the BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardner, spoke of being stuck on an empty plane at Heathrow airport.
Smith told DNS he believed there was systemic discrimination across the airport industry in the UK, following the repeated failure to make reasonable adjustments for disabled passengers, particularly wheelchair-users.
He said: “Given that it keeps happening, it’s clear these organisations are failing in their legal obligations.
“It needs looking into by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) or EHRC and action taken.
“If this was in the US, people would be suing left, right and centre, but because of the difficulty of taking legal action under the Equality Act by individual disabled people, these organisations clearly do not feel the need to fulfil their legal responsibilities.”
He said he believed the “underlying issue” was a lack of assistance staff following the pandemic.
He said: “I presume it’s because they laid everyone off when the airports were not being used much, and now people are flying again they haven’t recruited quickly enough and trained people in manual handling.”
He added: “I don’t want compensation, I just want them to sort their act out.
“Why should you have to be a disabled person in the public eye to get this taken seriously?
“If it happens this often to those of us who have connections to journalists, think how often the story is not told when it happens to members of the general public.”
An EHRC spokesperson said: “Transport operators have clear responsibilities in law to ensure travel is just as possible for disabled people as it is for every other passenger.
“This includes a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for disabled passengers. Nobody should get left behind.
“We are monitoring reports of disabled passengers not having access to the support or facilities they required.
“We have approached transport regulators and offered to work with them to address the risk of discrimination against disabled people and ensure fair access.
“Where we hear about concerns of unlawful activity, contrary to the Equality Act, we consider these carefully and take action in line with our published litigation and enforcement policy.”
A spokesperson for Wilson James, which provides the passenger assistance at Gatwick, apologised for its failures.
She said the failure on Smith’s outbound flight was “due to an error in resource allocation on our team’s part”.
She said the inbound flight from Stockholm a week later had arrived 45 minutes behind schedule, at 17.05, which clashed with other flights.
She said: “While we were able to allocate the first agent to Mr Smith at 17:14, and they reached him at 17:22, the required second agent was unavailable until 17:48. Our records show that Mr Smith disembarked at 17:54.
“On the date of the inbound flight, London Gatwick experienced high levels of demand for our [persons with reduced mobility] service and, coupled with late flight arrivals that day, Wilson James failed to provide the level of service we strive to deliver.”
She added: “Much of the aviation industry relies on a ‘just in time’ delivery of services and scheduling, meaning that even small disruptions can have large, compounding impacts across whole airlines and multiple airports.”
She said this was impacted by the “extreme level of disruption the industry is experiencing at the moment”, and she insisted that the company’s current staffing levels at Gatwick were “in line with projected recovery, using peak passenger data from 2019”.
A Gatwick spokesperson also apologised for Smith’s experiences and said the service he had received was “far from the standard it should be”.
He said: “Wilson James deals with a significant number of passengers each day, and more often than not the service works well.
“But on the occasions passengers do not receive the level of service expected, we will always strive to improve.”
When Smith tweeted about the incident on the day of his return, tagging Gatwick, he was asked to submit a complaint online.
He filed a complaint, but he had yet to receive a response by this morning (Thursday).
When he was shown the responses of Gatwick and Wilson James by DNS, he said: “It appears these organisations are admitting the service isn’t staffed adequately.
“You use ‘just in time’ approaches for stacking supermarket shelves, not helping people.
“I cannot believe that there are not flight delays all the time. Logically this means that every day they are failing a disabled person every time there is a flight delay.
“It’s probably worth adding that cabin crew often apologise, saying it happens a lot in the UK, and I rarely experience these kinds of delays in other countries.
“It’s a UK problem. And it’s the fault of both the providers and the way that the airports commission the support. It really is time they sorted their act out.”
A Manchester Airport spokesperson said: “It is disappointing to hear this passenger had an unsatisfactory experience at Manchester Airport.
“Like airports across the UK, Manchester contracts a third-party company [ABM] to provide special assistance, which is booked directly by the passenger with their airline.
“We take special assistance requirements very seriously and, prior to the pandemic, were rated ‘good’ in the Civil Aviation Authority’s most recent Airport Accessibility Report.
“We are confident that most people with special assistance needs travelling through our airport have a positive experience, but we recognise that this was not the case here.
“We will continue to work closely with our specialist provider to ensure passengers requiring special assistance receive the best service possible and to understand how a repeat of this case will be avoided.”
ABM declined to say if it accepted that Cllr Thomas had faced discrimination under the Equality Act, and whether the delay she faced was a one-off.
But an ABM spokesperson said in a statement: “We understand the importance of the special assistance service we provide to passengers.
“We always aim to deliver that service with efficiency, respect, and care and regret when passengers experience anything short of these standards.
“Learning from these moments, we are actively working with our teams, clients and partners to implement efforts to minimise the impact on passengers as we navigate this phase of the pandemic recovery.
“Special assistance providers are one part of a larger network of airport services that continues to face challenges, including a national labour and resource shortage.
“In addition, our teams are currently experiencing higher volumes of special assistance requests than our busiest pre-pandemic peak.”
The Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates the industry, refused to comment on the latest failures.
7 July 2022
Lords committee quizzes care minister for two hours… but fails to ask about charges
A cross-party committee of peers has defended its failure to ask the minister for social care a single question about care charges or the social care funding crisis in a two-hour evidence session.
Only last week, disabled social worker Andy McCabe told the Lords adult social care committee that the “huge barrier” created by social care charges was forcing disabled people into poverty, was “causing a lot of mental anguish” and was “morally wrong”.
But social care minister Gillian Keegan spent four minutes short of two hours on Monday being questioned by the committee about adult social care in England without being asked any questions about care charges, the social care funding crisis, or the unmet support needs of working-age disabled people.
Instead, there was a heavy emphasis in the committee’s questions on the needs and concerns of carers, with at least 11 questions focused on carers’ issues.
In April, disabled activists called for local authorities to take urgent action, after 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.
Freedom of information requests submitted by campaigners have shown that tens of thousands of disabled people across the country are having debt collection action taken against them every year by their local authorities over unpaid care charges.
And the crossbench disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who has led parliamentary attempts to ease the burden of care charges on working-age disabled people, told Disability News Service (DNS) in April that the government’s new care funding reforms were “criminal” and would “continue to push disabled people of all ages into greater poverty and dependency”.
Baroness Campbell is a member of the committee but was not able to attend Monday’s session because she is recovering from emergency surgery.
During Monday’s session, the committee asked at least 11 questions about carers, as well as asking the minister about perceptions of adult social care, the “reliability” of the social care system, digital accessibility, the Household Support Fund, innovation and co-production, scaling up innovative projects, and co-production in commissioning.
She was also asked about sharing data, local authorities, capacity-building and user-led organisations, the support needs of those who are ageing without children, the accessible housing shortage, and integration of health and social care.
The final question of the session, from the Conservative peer Lord [Stuart] Polak, asked how the government would enforce local authorities’ duties to fulfil people’s legal rights to care and support under the Care Act, but he failed to make any reference to the current care funding crisis, to debt-ridden service-users, or to care charges.
Baroness [Kay] Andrews, the Labour peer who chairs the committee, told DNS today (Thursday): “Throughout its inquiry, the committee has worked on the principle of co-production with disabled people and unpaid carers.
“We have focused on an area of adult social care which is relatively hidden, and we have taken a huge amount of evidence from people with lived experience, both carers and disabled people.
“The session with the minister was intended as an opportunity therefore for the committee to question and test her precisely on the evidence we have received to date on the poverty of disabled people and carers, and the invisibility of unpaid carers and people with care needs, including the difficulty of navigating the system just to access the information, benefits and support to which they are entitled.
“We are looking at the huge challenges of funding and workforce through the lens of those who are most vulnerable, and we challenged the minister, for example, on the failure of government to fulfil many promises and expectations – not least the implementation of the Care Act 2014.
“We raised with her issues such as the failure to make standards for adaptable housing mandatory, to bring in carers’ leave, and how the investment set aside in the social care white paper was actually going to benefit unpaid carers and disabled people as well as how innovation was actually going to be driven and how good practice might be scaled up.
“We were disappointed by many of her responses, and we will continue to engage with ministers and civil servants going forward.
“We hope that our final report will bring some clarity, hope, respect, and challenge.”
7 July 2022
Campaign aims to address ‘suspicion and hatred’ in social housing sector
Disabled housing association tenants have launched a campaign they hope will put an end to widespread disability discrimination by their landlords, and raise awareness of the Equality Act.
Disabled members of the Social Housing Action Campaign (SHAC) have come together to draw up a charter that housing associations can sign up to.
The charter was put together by members of SHAC’s Disability Visibility group, and South Yorkshire Housing Association has already agreed to pilot it.
The group want landlords to stop discriminating against disabled tenants, particularly those with experience of mental distress or who identify as neurodiverse.
They want to see landlords improve their compliance with housing policies, statutory guidance, and equality laws.
Among their concerns are landlords who delay repairs and accuse autistic tenants and those with mental distress of anti-social behaviour.
Among the commitments they must make, housing associations that sign up to the Social Landlord Disability Charter Scheme (PDF) have to promise to treat disabled tenants with dignity and respect; involve them in decision-making processes; and ensure they make reasonable adjustments for them.
The charter says housing associations must avoid “calculated neglect of repairs, disrespectful behaviour, dragging out complaints, and weaponizing disability”.
The Disability Visibility group was first set up last year after a blog by Carl Davis*, in which he described how he and other autistic tenants and those with mental distress were often see as “difficult, awkward or anti-social ‘problem tenants’ by housing providers”.
He wrote how landlords believe residents “simply asking questions or seeking clarification constitutes anti-social activity which provides them with an excuse to act against the resident concerned”.
Davis, who has a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, had lived for almost 20 years in his housing association property before a request for a reasonable adjustment – asking his housing association not to make unannounced visits – led to “persistent harassment and victimisation”.
He told Disability News Service this week that it was a “horrible situation to be in”.
He said: “This wasn’t a story unique to me. Other tenants experience the same sort of things.
“It’s really draining and that is on top of whatever other problems you’re dealing with.
“There is a constant background of suspicion and hatred towards disability that is prevalent in certain reaches of the housing sector, and it is not being dealt with.”
Key to the charter is the way that housing associations treat complaints and cases of alleged anti-social behaviour.
Members of the Disability Visibility group believe prejudice, misunderstanding and false allegations of anti-social behaviour are often allowed to escalate into “heavy-handed” bullying of disabled tenants and even legal threats by housing associations.
This can often drag disabled tenants who have made legitimate complaints about maintenance and repairs into lengthy complaints processes and anti-social behaviour casework.
Davis said: “Anti-social behaviour legislation was originally intended to protect the community and individuals, not heavy-handed and discriminatory bureaucrats.”
He said the charter could provide crucial support for disabled tenants who do not have the resources to take cases under the Equality Act, but could also benefit landlords, who could avoid long drawn-out disputes with tenants and “benefit from greater awareness”.
He said: “They are not listening to their residents, whether disabled or not. They need to do more.”
Davis said the recent investigations by ITV News on the state of social housing showed how often disabled tenants were being forced to live in substandard properties, with landlords failing to carry out urgent repairs.
He said: “People are being ground down by disrepair and bad communications, being treated in a stigmatising way. It’s really widespread.”
*Not his real name
7 July 2022
Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week
Hundreds of thousands of disabled people in the UK are missing out on payments worth up to £157 a week because bureaucratic delays have driven up processing times for disability benefit claims to an average of five months. Citizens Advice said the backlog in personal independence payment (PIP) claims processing was causing widespread stress and hardship. Roughly 150 people an hour were contacting its advisers for one-to-one help with the delays: read The Guardian article
Working-age claimants are waiting five months for a decision after applying for disability benefits, according to a briefing paper by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. It said this “likely contributes” to the link between disability and deprivation, with disabled people making up nearly half of the most deprived working-age adults in the UK. It found that spending on disability benefits has risen as claims have increased – despite reforms intended to reduce costs and numbers: Read The Independent article
Thalidomide survivors living in Scotland will receive lifelong financial support, the Scottish government has announced. Health secretary Humza Yousaf said he hoped the commitment to provide grants would reassure those affected. There are 50 known survivors of the banned drug living in Scotland, most now in their 60s. They are among thousands born with limb impairments after their mothers took the drug while pregnant: Read The BBC article
Disabled music fans have described access at the Wireless festival in south London as an “absolute disaster”, after being forced to cross “dangerous” terrain and watch performers from a distant platform next to the exit. Wheelchair-users at the festival, who were ushered to a viewing platform far from the stage and had to make their way across gravel, have told of an “abysmal” experience, with organisers accused of not putting “two thoughts into disabled people”: Read The ITV news article
Noel Gallagher has been blasted as “vile” by disability charity Scope after he admitted he “blagged” his way on to an accessible viewing platform at the Glastonbury festival. The singer-songwriter said a security guard initially attempted to stop him from using the platform in the John Peel tent, but he showed him his Access All Areas pass and said: “See that pass mate? It gets me any-f***ing-where.” He then said he “would have” tipped someone out of a wheelchair and encouraged his son to sit in it to get them a prime spot, and would pretend to touch disabled people on the forehead and tell them to “rise… you can walk”: Read The Mirror article
A protest has been held by a coalition of organisations committed to reversing York’s blue badge parking ban. Reverse the Ban, made up of 24 York groups, said the city council’s “discriminatory decisions” hit disabled and older people the hardest. The council took away the exemption in November which allowed blue badge holders to park in the city’s so-called “footstreet” zone: Read The BBC article
7 July 2022
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com