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Election 2017: Coalition of 80 charities unite to pressure party leaders over disability benefit cuts

INDEPENDENT 1st June 2017


More than 16,500 people and a coalition of 80 charities have signed a letter urging party leaders to put an end to disability benefit cuts.


Paralympians Kadeena Cox and Anne Wafula Strike and BBC Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills are among those to have signed the open letter to all the political parties, urging them to protect disability benefits from further cuts in the next parliament.


There are more than 13 million disabled people in the UK, who spend an average of £550 extra every month on costs related to their condition. However, charities in the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) say disabled people have borne the brunt of welfare reforms to the point where their benefits have been reduced or removed altogether.


Laura Wetherly, policy manager at the MS Society, which co-chairs the DBC, said: “Today, thousands of people across the UK are sending a loud and clear message to our politicians that the current welfare system doesn't make any sense.


“Too many disabled people have been stripped of the security and stability they need to live independent lives.

“The next Government must make sure no further cuts are made to disability benefits so that disabled people can rely on support without the constant fear of having it taken away.”


More than 50,000 people have had specially adapted motability vehicles taken away since personal independence payments (PIP) were brought in to replace the disability living allowance (DLA) in 2013.


Celia Johnson, who lives with multiple sclerosis (MS), lost her motability car after having her benefit downgraded last year.


She said: “I’ve fought for a long time to keep my independence with a condition like MS that's so unpredictable.

“It can’t be right that with a stroke of a keyboard, they can completely mess up someone’s life. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”


Nearly two-thirds of people rejected for PIP who take their case to an independent tribunal have the decision overturned in their favour.

Other issues include a £30 a week cut to new claimants in the employment and support allowance (ESA) work-related activity group, as well as problems with the work capability assessment, which tests people on whether they are fit to work.


Disabilities Minister Penny Mordaunt this week said this assessment treated people “like they’re in a sausage factory” as she pledged to reform it if the Tories continued in power.

  

New exemptions from the bedroom tax come into law

01 April 2017


From 1st April 2017 the rules are changing to allow an additional bedroom for disabled children or non-dependent adults who require overnight care and for couples who are unable to share a bedroom for health reasons. Previously people in these circumstances could have been subject to the bedroom tax.


The 'bedroom tax' means that working age people who get help towards their rent through Housing Benefit can have the amount they receive restricted if they are considered to have too many bedrooms.


Ever since the policy was proposed Carers UK have campaigned for it to be scrapped. We’ve argued that these bedrooms are not spare but needed by families providing care.


In November the Supreme Court ruled in favour of two families; Carers UK member Paul Rutherford and his wife Susan care for their profoundly disabled 14-year-old grandson, Warren, and live in a specially adapted home, which has a room for a care worker to stay when providing overnight care. This had been deemed as a spare bedroom and, as a result, their housing benefit had been reduced.


The Court also ruled in favour of Jacqueline and Jayson Carmichael, who are unable to share a bedroom due to Jacqueline’s severe disability.

To reflect the Court’s ruling the Government has changed the law to create further exemptions for carers from the Bedroom Tax. This means that from the 1st of April:


 • A couple that could not share a room because of a disability – could now have an additional room. This is already allowed for disabled children that cannot share a bedroom with another child.


 • A child that is disabled – may need overnight care from someone other than the parent/s and may need an additional bedroom can have one.  This was previously allowed for a disabled adult, but not for children.  


Although we are delighted that the law is being changed we are concerned about the way the change is being communicated to local authority staff in charge of Housing Benefit as the guidance given to them appears to attempt to  limit the kinds of health conditions that could result in an extra room.  

Emily Holzhausen OBE, Director of Policy at Carers UK said:

“After more than five years of campaigning for a change during which families already under financial pressure have had to cut back on essentials and to apply and reapply for Discretionary Housing Payments we are pleased that the law has now been changed.

 

It shouldn’t have taken families having to take cases to the Supreme Court for the Government to recognise that the bedrooms these families are using are not spare but being used to provide essential care – the cost of which would otherwise fall on the State.

 

We encourage any families that think the change in the law might mean they will no longer face restrictions on the support they receive with housing costs to look at our bedroom tax information pages or contact our advice team.”


The ‘dementia tax’ mess shows how little May thinks of disabled people


Frances Ryan Guardian

25th May


In a matter of days, Britain’s social care crisis became the Tories’ election crisis. As Theresa May took the fall out of a U-turn on the “dementia tax” – a term adopted with such ease, and so widely, it gives a hint at the failures of the policy – Tory HQ was left clutching at straws. As well as buying Google ad space to “correct” voters searching for “dementia tax”, May has adopted two equally desperate strategies: insisting that “nothing has changed” since the manifesto (as if it hadn’t been published for all to see), and declaring that to suggest otherwise is simply Jeremy Corbyn making “fake claims”.


It’s a particularly brazen stance, considering the Conservatives are currently using their social media feeds and press statements to issue what appear to be a series of entirely fabricated statements about their opponents. Such things aren’t simply a sign of desperation but an insight into the sort of party it is. Theresa May has made it clear that when a policy begins to unravel she’s willing to use outright deceit in an attempt to escape it.

The country is about to face a “staggering increase” in the cost of social care. Research published this week shows that within the next eight years there will be 2.8 million people over the age of 65 needing nursing and social care – that’s an increase of 25%. With no credible response, Theresa May’s team is lurching between silence and frantic underhand tactics. Yet what’s really damning is that as the “dementia tax” U-turn gets the focus, more black holes lurking in the Conservatives’ social care policy are going under the radar.

Take the unpaid leave plan. Before the dementia tax captured the headlines, May proudly announced that if she were re-elected, employees would be given the right to take a year off work to care for elderly relatives. The generosity is remarkable. The Tories will help destroy the social care safety net and then allow you unpaid time off to pick up the pieces.

Family carers have been the invisible backbone of social care for years, but to enshrine this policy in a manifesto marks a disturbing shift. The Conservatives don’t intend to relieve the pressure on carers but use unpaid labour as a long-term solution to “plug the gap” in gutted state funding.

If unpaid work isn’t enough, the dementia tax could then leave carers suddenly homeless when the person they are caring for dies. One woman, a carer for her elderly mother, broke down on the radio this week. She was describing how the policy appears to mean that – because she’s living in the family home to care for her mum – when her mum dies, their house will be sold off to pay the state back for her care, leaving her with nowhere to live.

It’s unclear whether a similar fate to that of carers who live with older relatives awaits disabled people who – largely due to a lack of accessible homes and adequate social care packages – live with their parents into later life. When their parents die, will the disabled child lose their home as well? 

That this hasn’t even been mentioned by the Conservatives is hardly a surprise. While the dementia tax is criticised for failing to address the needs of older people, there is no plan at all for working-age disabled people who rely on social care.

As one reader with a chronic pain condition asked me this week: “Will the new social care policy apply to disabled people too? The media’s not talking about disabled folk.” I’ve written before about the way the social care debate shuts out disabled people but we’ve now reached a point where major policy that completely ignores us is being announced.


I spoke at a social care event in Manchester last week, and heard from disabled people and their families terrified of the future: a parent of a young adult son with learning disabilities frantic he’d end up being “warehoused” in unsafe institutional care; a twentysomething wheelchair user trying to plan her life but being discouraged from getting a job because of the impact on her social care package (she told me she was “lucky” because, unlike many of her disabled friends, she at least had some care hours).

There are a million disabled people now without the social care they need, and 6.5 million of us caring for elderly or disabled relatives. Theresa May has made it clear: she is more concerned with hanging on to her position as prime minister than offering the help that’s desperately needed. Come next month, voters must not forget it.


Report on the Independent Living Survey 2016

In April ‘15 the introduction of the Care Act in England radically changed the way in which care and support services are organised. The act places local authorities under a very powerful obligation. They are charged not just with having regard for, but with actually 'promoting' an individual's wellbeing. The act also covers many of the obligations the government has signed up to under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  In this regard the Care Act is a very significant and welcome development.

However new duties are being placed on local authorities at a time of unprecedented cuts to their funding.) In the lead up to the introduction of the Care Act, adult social care departments have had to make 'budget savings amounting to 26 percent over the last four years, the equivalent of £3.53 billion'). Further, the Care Act is being put in place alongside a major organisational change to the way care and support for many disabled people is funded as the Independent Living Fund has now closed and its once ring-fenced budget has been transferred to local authority control.

This report, published by In Control on behalf of the Independent Living Strategy group, presents the findings of an online survey looking at what impact the Care Act is actually having on the day-to-day lives of disabled people living in England today.

Key Findings

Choice and control

 • Just under half (48%) of all respondents reported that the choice and control they enjoyed over their support was poor or very poor.

 • A third of respondents (33%) said that the level of choice and control they enjoyed over their support had reduced or reduced significantly.

 • Significant numbers of people reported a range of different restrictions being placed on how they could use the money available for their support: for example 50% of respondents reported support was restricted to personal care tasks only.

 

Quality of life and wellbeing

 • Well over half (58%) of respondents reported that their quality of life had reduced or reduced significantly over the past 12 months.

 • A quarter of respondents (25%) said the hours of work or volunteering they could do had reduced or reduced significantly.

 • Almost two out of five (38%) reported they are having to rely more on family and friends for support.

 • More than a quarter (27%) of respondents reported an increase or a significant increase in the amount of money they have to contribute towards the cost of their support.

 

Quality and amount of support

 • About the same numbers of respondents rated the quality of their support as good or very good (41%) as rated it poor or very poor (40%).

 • However, the amount of support was rated as poor or very poor by 44% of respondents compared to 30% saying the amount of support they had was good or very good.

 

Experiences of assessments and reviews

 • The majority (86%) of people reported that when their local authority had assessed their needs they had listened or partly listened to them.

 • Of those respondents who said their support had been reviewed in the last 12 months, just under two thirds (63%) did not know how much money was available for their support.

 • One in four people had been told their support would be reduced because of cuts/savings and/or there is a limit to the amount of money you can get for a particular service.

 

Experiences of former Independent Living Fund recipients

 • Two out of five (41%) former Independent Living Fund recipients reported that the amount of their support had decreased or decreased a lot, and one third (33%) said that their quality of support had got worse or a lot worse.

 • Around one third (34%) of former Independent Living Fund recipients reported new restrictions being placed on their support.

 

Information and advice

 • Over a third of respondents (37%) struggle to find the information and advice they need.

 • Most commonly people rely on friends and family (33%) and user led organisations (22%) for information and advice.

 • Only 16% used their local authority's website for information.

 • In terms of what people need advice and support with, just under a half (45%) said they needed help understanding their rights under the Care Act and a third (34%) solving problems with their local council.

 • Over half (51%) of direct payment recipients reported that the information, advice and support they get to manage their direct payment was poor or very poor.

 

courtesy In Control


Shaping Our Lives project

Shaping Our Lives project, ‘A Refuge for All’, aims to establish a user-led model of best practice for Disabled women experiencing or at risk of violence or abuse to ensure their needs are met through current service provision. Although Disabled women are twice as likely than non-disabled people to experience domestic violence and abuse, services are not always inclusive of Disabled women. (the funding for this project does not include Disabled  men in similar situations unfortunately.)

 

We are looking for Disabled women with lived experience of violence or abuse to take part in this user-led project. We would be very grateful if you could promote the following opportunities to your members:

 

       Focus group in London on Wednesday 14th June from 1-4.15pm

       Focus group in Birmingham on Thursday 22nd June from 1-4.15pm

(There will be a light lunch and refreshments offered for the focus groups.)

       Advisory Group of Disabled women with lived experience of domestic violence or abuse that will meet quarterly, for no more than 2 hours, over 2 years, starting in July (date to be agreed in week commencing 17th July for the first meeting). 

Travel and reasonable support costs will be met for these meetings and an involvement payment of £50 per meeting is offered to those people who are able to accept it.

Shaping Our Lives is a non-profit making user-led organisation that hosts a national network of user-led groups, service users and Disabled people. We are committed to inclusivity and diversity, specialising in user controlled research and involvement practice ensuring that diverse and excluded communities are represented in the policy making, planning and delivery of services.  

 

For more information about this project and to register your interest in confidence, please contact Becki Meakin, General Manager of Shaping Our Lives at becki@shapingourlives.org.uk or call 07956 424511. 


Vulnerable adults bill risks creating more problems than protections

I fear the type of legislation being mooted would be used against people, not to support them, writes Ian Burgess 27th April Community care


I once worked with a young woman called Emma (not her real name) who had a mental impairment and would sometimes go into town alone, whereupon two young women would sometimes meet up with her. Emma would withdraw £200 from the ATM, which she would share with these people. After an hour or so, the two women would desert her. The care home staff where Emma lived wanted to prevent Emma from going out on her own, they said it was ‘mate crime’ and that Emma was being financially abused.

I met with Emma and put this to her. She said: “I know they are not my real friends, they only want my money. I’m not daft.” I asked what would she do if it happened again? She said: “The same probably. It’s worth £200 to me because it feels like I have friends, I can pretend to have friends even if it’s just for an hour.”

Emma’s story made us feel sad and angry that people would take advantage of her and we wanted to protect her. But she did not want us to do that. She had the mental capacity to make the decision and, putting it bluntly, she did not care how we felt.

Vulnerable Adults Bill

Alex Ruck Keene, barrister at 39 Essex Chambers, Autism Together, and the Association for Real Change submitted a proposal to the Law Commission for a project on a Vulnerable Adults Bill as part of its 13th programme of Law Reform. The Law Commission has selected the proposal for further consideration and a final decision will be taken in May 2017. Read more about it here.

‘We must walk away’

I also worked with a man who was nursed in bed at home but his son – frustrated with his dad’s deteriorating health – would shout at him. We wanted to stop the son from shouting at the older man, possibly apply to the court to prevent him from visiting altogether, but the man told us and the police to do nothing. He acknowledged it upset him when his son lost his temper but he loved him and wanted him to be around. In time, he died at home with his son visiting him to the end. As social workers with both children and adults know well, from the perspective of the person a not-very-good family is usually better than no family.

Had the legislation been available, we could have over-ridden their decisions to protect them. They would have been protected from abuse, so we would feel better, but would Emma or the older man feel better? If a capacitous person wants our support then we give it; if they don’t, we must walk away, no matter how upset or concerned we are.

‘Proper balance’

I am reminded of that much quoted speech by Sir James Munby (‘When is Safeguarding Abuse?”) in which he says that if local authorities are to justify intervention then what follows must be better than what went before. I have no doubt the intention of the Vulnerable Adults Bill is not to wrap all people in cotton wool, but to take what Sir James calls a proper balance in supporting those “less well equipped” to deal with risk than others.

However the proposals for a Vulnerable Adults Bill concern me because, although I have little doubt that while the courts would continue to respect the right of an individual to make an unwise decision, where such is to be over-ridden that must be by a higher authority than a council employee. Indeed, I don’t see why the inherent jurisdiction of a judge sitting in the High Court does not already meet this need. And as I see it, treating people who are vulnerable because of their disabilities differently from all other people is discriminatory.

‘Culture of protection’

In practice then I fear such an Act would be used against people, not to support people, and there would be little consistency in its application by health and social care workers. The culture of paternalism and protection is still deeply embedded in some quarters. For example, I have been challenged many times about the outcome of a capacity assessment I have completed, but not once when I said the person lacked capacity to make the decision, only when I said the person had capacity. That is absurd; the assumption of capacity unless proven otherwise should be well established but it is not, even ten years on.

I doubt those drafting the Bill would want this to happen but in practice many people with dementia (or not!) in hospital making the natural decision to return to their home would be deemed ‘vulnerable’ by ‘concerned others’ and needing protection. The ward staff would want this because they would not want to be held responsible in the event something bad happens to the person. This paternalism exists now in spite of the law preventing it.

In my experience some professionals are not afraid so much of something bad happening to the person, they are afraid of something bad happening to them as a consequence of something bad happening to the person!

‘Defending rights’

I tell social workers all the time that if they do what the MCA says then section 5 of the Act will protect them from liability. But how could a social worker trying to defend the right of a person to make an unwise decision deal with such ward staff or police officers or concerned neighbours telling them that they must do something and citing the new law? Who among us wouldn’t be more worried about their job than the rights of the relevant person?

The MCA is already intentionally used against people, so what then would be the chances of a person unfortunate enough to be objectively considered ‘vulnerable’ appearing on the radar of health and social care retaining their autonomy?

By the way, in time Emma found a real friend and moved out of the care home and into a shared flat and those two women lost their free money. What she had needed was support from her social workers, not for her social workers to decide what was best for her.


WELCOME TO LITTLE AMERICA     

by Mo Stewart April 2017


The  deaths,  despair  and  the  suffering  now  endured  by  the  chronically  ill  and  disabled population  was all planned a very long time ago, and is totally unrelated to the 2008 banking crisis, argues principal researcher MO STEWART.   “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” is a very famous quote from the C17th by Sir Walter Scott but  is  very apt for today’s politics,  as  the  British government successfully deceive the British public and the British parliament on route to the total demolition of the Welfare State, as originally planned thirty five years ago by the first female Conservative Prime Minister.     Unsurprisingly, the future demolition of the Welfare State was first suggested in 1982 by Margaret Thatcher, which archives advise led to the nearest thing to a Cabinet Office revolt in the history of Downing Street.  However, all three major political parties supported the plan to rid the country of State funded welfare,  and  every government since Thatcher  covertly worked towards that goal when using toxic neoliberal politics.  The right leaning New Labour government used the 2008 banking crisis to begin the welfare reforms, which really meant welfare destruction.  Then, with the election of a Tory led Coalition government in 2010, the demolition of the  Welfare State  began in  earnest and the adoption of additional “austerity measures” guaranteed  that  many chronically ill and disabled  people dependent upon  State financial support would suffer, and many would die, when killed by the State.   Following in Thatcher’s footsteps, in 1992 John Major invited the help of an American  insurance corporate giant to consult on future “welfare claims management” and the Second Vice-President of UnumProvident Insurance, John Lo Cascio, was the American consultant. By 1994, the company were appointed as official government advisers and the 1994 Social Security (Incapacity for Work) Act introduced Incapacity Benefit, as designed to limit access to out-of-work disability benefit.    By 1995 the Department for Social Security’s (DSS) then Principal Medical Adviser, Mansel  Aylward,  appointed  following  a  lengthy  career  when  involved  with  the  private

Welcome to Little America – final – April 2017  2  healthcare insurance industry,  co-authored an  academic paper  with John LoCascio and so began the plan to justify the future demolition of the Welfare State.   “Problems  in  the  assessment  of  psychosomatic  conditions  in  social  security  and commercial  schemes” argued  that  General  Practitioners  (GP)  should  not  be  expected  to determine a patient’s incapacity, and the authority and clinical opinion of GPs would eventually be  curtailed.    The  1995  paper  expressed  concern  as  to  the  increases  in  “subjective impairments”,  with  conditions  such  as  chronic  pain  and  fatigue  syndrome  listed  as  the significance of diagnosis was rejected as having “a high degree of subjectivity”.  This one academic paper rejected the clinical opinion of GPs and disregarded diagnosis, prognosis and the claimant’s past medical history, which opened the door to the planned introduction of the fatally flawed biopsychosocial (BPS) model of disability assessment for State funded long-term sickness and disability claims.    The introduction of the BPS model of assessment had been successfully adopted by UnumProvident  Insurance  in America,  to limit  payment for  healthcare  income protection insurance claims, and LoCascio was guiding the DSS as to how to introduce the BPS model into the UK.  The DSS was renamed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in 2001 and were motivated to reduce and to eventually remove the Welfare State, whilst disregarding  a parliamentary debate in 1999  which exposed UnumProvident Insurance as failing to pay out on legitimate claims for Income Protection Insurance.  Aylward was appointed as the DWP Chief Medical Officer in 2001 until his resignation, in 2005, to work  as the Director of  the new  UnumProvident  Centre for  Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University, with £1.6million funding by the American corporate giant. Together with Gordon Waddell, DWP commissioned research led to the hastily produced publication in 2005 of “The Scientific and Conceptual Basis of Incapacity Benefits”, which would be used by the  DWP from  2008 to justify the introduction of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) to limit access to the new Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), as used to replace Incapacity Benefit.  All 2.68 million Incapacity Benefit claimants were destined to be reassessed using the WCA, which is a replica of the bogus “functional assessment” used by UnumProvident Insurance to successfully resist funding healthcare insurance claims when using the BPS model of assessment that disregards diagnosis.  

Welcome to Little America – final – April 2017  3    By 2005, following many successful legal cases throughout America, the California Department of Insurance Commissioner, John Garamendi, stated “UnumProvident is an outlaw company.  It  is a company that has operated in an illegal fashion for years...”  In the same year, a Unum internal report boasted that the UK government welfare policy is “to  a  large extent  driven  by  our  thinking”, which was  demonstrated in  the 2006 Welfare  Reform bill, introduced  by  New  Labour,  using  the  same  methodology  adopted  by  UnumProvident Insurance, which introduced the use of the dangerous WCA to the unsuspecting chronically ill and disabled ESA benefit claimants in October 2008.    Eventually,  distinguished  academic  excellence  by Professor  Tom Shakespeare  and colleagues, not commissioned by the DWP or funded by an American corporate giant, would expose the Waddell and Aylward BPS model as having “no coherent theory or evidence behind this model” and demonstrated “a cavalier approach to scientific evidence”, whilst citing my research and exposing the BPS model as having no authentic authority or credibility.      Another significant DWP commissioned report, used to justify the welfare reforms and the use of the corporate sector to assess claimants, was “Reducing Dependency, Increasing Opportunity” as reported in  March 2007 by former city banker  David Freud.  Commonly known as the “Freud Report”, this was another DWP commissioned report that claimed that one million Incapacity Benefit claimants could be removed from the 2.68million total, and was another official government report that was discredited by academic excellence.  By May 2007 Professor Danny Dorling exposed the fact that Freud had “got his numbers wrong” and had misinterpreted his own references, so there never was going to be the predicted massive fall in claimant  numbers.    Coincidentally,  Freud  suddenly  resigned  his  government  position  in December 2016 shortly after his past incompetence was publicly identified.    So, both the DWP commissioned reports used to justify the welfare reforms and the use of the BPS model for the  WCA have been discredited by academic  excellence and, when challenged in 2012, Aylward admitted that the BPS model was now considered by him to be “unsatisfactory” as it “no longer addresses the real needs of disabled people and the exclusion of disabled people from society”.    The  government  appointed  BPS  expert  changed  his  mind  in  2012  but  the  DWP continues to use the BPS model, with the WCA linked to the deaths of 92,000 ESA claimants


How to Survive Disability Benefits

Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/670546233151595/

23 May at 19:00–21:00

Trinity Centre

Trinity Road, BS2 0NW Bristol, United Kingdom


Over the past seven years the government has practically declared war on

those with disabilities, long term illnesses or any other conditions

that make life difficult. Support services that enabled us to work or

live normal lives have been stripped away. At the same time the

politicians and their media lackeys label us ‘lazy’ and ‘scroungers’.

Surviving on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) means navigating an

intentionally brutal bureaucracy coupled with a culture of disbelief. It

also means making it through the dreaded Work Capability Assessments,

that have contributed to the deaths of hundreds of people declared ‘fit

to work’.


Making it through all this is often damaging to our health. It can be

stressful, isolating, anxiety inducing, and seems setup to create the

sort of ‘mistakes’ that can leave people penniless. It doesn’t always

have to be this way! We can come together to support each other through

the processes. We’ll be sharing knowledge, tips and tricks to making it

through ESA and look at ways we can join together to confront the system

head on.


This should be of use to anyone who is on ESA and/or related benefits

such as PIP or supporting someone who is. Please be aware this is a

skill share and there won’t be time for folks to offer comprehensive

advice on individual cases (although we can help direct you to places

that offer further support).


Trinity is a very accessible venue, details are here:

https://www.3ca.org.uk/accessibility If you have any accessibility needs

beyond those listed please contact either the venue or ourselves

bristol@afed.org.uk


As always this event is free to attend, but donations to help cover room

hire are appreciated. Hot & Cold drinks & snacks will be available to

keep you going. We’ll also have some anarchist pamphlets, papers,

magazines and stickers some for free/donation and others for a few quid.

Keep an eye out for future events, including our monthly Capitalism: a

Survival Guide workshops!


Please remember that whilst we encourage debate of ideas, we do not

tolerate attacks on individuals; especially in a way that uses

oppressive or threatening behaviour. Whilst we are not at our usual

venue of Hydra Books this month, we’ll still stick to their safer spaces

policy which you can read here : http://www.hydrabooks.org/safer-spaces/


Disability charity says it will face crisis if forced to pay minimum wage

Mencap loses appeal against ruling that it was wrong to have paid a support worker £29.05 for nine-hour sleep-in shift

by David Brindle 5th May 2017 Guardian


The learning disability charity Mencap has said it could face a financial crisis if it is forced to pay the minimum wage to 5,000 staff while they sleep at the homes of people they support in case they are needed during the night.

The charity lost an appeal against a ruling that it was wrong to have paid a support worker £29.05 for a nine-hour sleep-in shift, or just under £3.23 an hour. The statutory minimum is £7.50 an hour.

Mencap said it was not against paying its care workers “properly”, and was seeking to raise their rates in the longer term, but that it was not paid enough by the councils and NHS bodies that commission it to support disabled people, John Cowman, the charity’s director of services, wrote in a blogpost: “This judgment could leave the organisation in financial crisis, at worst leading to insolvency and at best we may have to consider moving out of providing services altogether, which would create huge job uncertainty for our colleagues.


“Unless we get clarity on what the law is telling us to do, and providers get the proper funding, the sector and everyone who relies on it is at serious risk. We are sleepwalking into a complete collapse of social care for some of the people who need it most.”

The judgment against Mencap is the latest twist in a wider battle over payment of sleep-in workers in the care sector. Standard practice has been to pay a flat sum for a shift, plus the minimum hourly rate for time when the worker is roused to help the person they support.

Since last year, however, HMRC wage inspectors have been interpreting the rules to mean that workers are entitled to the minimum rate – the “national living wage” – even when they are asleep if their contract requires them to remain on the premises



The costs of meeting those costs are estimated by care providers in England to be £800m over three years, which would soak up 40% of the emergency £2bn extra for social care over that period that was announced by ministers in March.

Additionally, HMRC inspectors are instructing employers to calculate backpay for up to six years. Some care providers say this would bankrupt them and it is spreading alarm among 65,000 disabled people who pay their own support workers, using personal budgets allocated by councils.

Tim Cooper, the chief executive of the United Response charity and co-chair of Learning Disability Voices, an umbrella group of support providers, said the issue posed “the single biggest threat” to transforming care and support for learning disabled people to enable them to live independently in the community.


“The government must stop HMRC’s enforcement activity with immediate effect or else face depriving the most vulnerable in society of the care that they desperately rely on,” Cooper said.

The Mencap case was one of three similar appeals heard together and involved a “highly qualified and extensively trained” support worker in east Yorkshire who had worked for the charity since 2004. She was backed by the Unison trade union.

Although the hearing was told that the woman had been roused only six times in 16 months to help a resident of the house where she did sleep-ins, it was held that she was entitled to the full hourly rate because she had to “keep a listening ear” and was not allowed to leave the house.

Mencap, which is to further appeal against the ruling, says it faces a bill of £10.5m if it has to pay all support workers the minimum wage for sleep-in shifts and give them two years’ backpay. The charity last year reported total income of £190m.

Ministers from several government departments are understood to have begun meeting shortly before the general election was called to discuss sleep-in pay, which the care minister David Mowat has described as an unexpected consequence of minimum pay rules and “a £200m-ish headache” for the care sector.

A spokesman for HMRC told the Guardian last month: “The case law is very fact-specific and each case HMRC investigates is assessed on its own merits and the facts established. If HMRC considers the facts of the working arrangements to mean that the worker is working whilst asleep, they will be entitled to [minimum wage] for that time and HMRC will make an assessment as to whether arrears are owed to the worker.

“HMRC has no discretion to reduce the value of the arrears owed to the worker, or to disapply the uplift.”


PIP MOBILITY CHANGES

The DWP is continuing to do its best to ignore the law when it comes to PIP mobility criteria.

As readers will know, the law relating to PIP mobility was changed on 16th March to make it harder for claimants with mental health problems to get an award.

However, even though the change in the law was not retrospective, the DWP has been writing appeal submissions asking tribunals to apply the law as if it had been.

It would definitely be an error of law for a tribunal to do so.
For decisions before 16 March, the much more favourable decision of a panel of upper tribunal judges should apply.
Although we understand that this decision is now being appealed. This may mean that some appeals will not be heard until the appeal has been adjudicated on.
But that still doesn’t give the DWP any legal right to try to enforce a law that wasn’t in place at the time of their original decision.
Not that a little thing like breaking the law is likely to trouble the DWP, as long as it’s them that’s doing it.

Benefits & work


Thousands of disabled people lose special cars in controversial new scheme

Update from ITV News


Disabled people are being left without specially-adapted vehicles Credit: PA

More than 50,000 disabled people have had specially-adapted vehicles taken away by the Government, a charity has said.

The Motability scheme entitles disabled people to lease a new car, scooter or powered wheelchair using part of their benefit.

But thousands of people are now being denied Motability as they transfer over from disability living allowance (DLA) to the controversial new disability benefit PIP.

The latest figures from the Motability charity show 51,000 people have been taken off the scheme after a reassessment for personal independence payments (PIP) since it launched in 2013 - 45% of all cases.

Of these, more than 3,000 have since rejoined after the decision to refuse them PIP was overturned.

900

cars are being removed from claimants each week

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says a fraction of PIP decisions are overturned, while those taken off the Motability scheme are eligible for £2,000 of support.

But charity Muscular Dystrophy UK said 900 cars are now being taken away every week, as more people are rejected for PIP.

Conservative MP Peter Bone said: "You need it for mobility purposes and maybe you use it for work, but because you lose your PIP award you lose the car at the same time.

"You appeal against the PIP award and ultimately the tribunal awards you back the PIP, but you've already lost the car and maybe your job because of it.”


The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says a fraction of PIP decisions are overturned, while those taken off the Motability scheme are eligible for £2,000 of support.

But charity Muscular Dystrophy UK said 900 cars are now being taken away every week, as more people are rejected for PIP.

Conservative MP Peter Bone said: "You need it for mobility purposes and maybe you use it for work, but because you lose your PIP award you lose the car at the same time.

"You appeal against the PIP award and ultimately the tribunal awards you back the PIP, but you've already lost the car and maybe your job because of it.”


Mr Bone said the Government should let people keep their Motability cars until they have gone through the appeal process.

"The Government could quite easily put that right and it wouldn't cost a significant amount of money at all," he added.

The number of people eligible for Motability funding has halved during the reassessment process since PIP launched in 2013, according to Muscular Dystrophy UK.

It said 126,300 of the 254,200 people who were eligible for Motability funding under DLA and had been reassessed for PIP are now no longer eligible.

DWP figures show that since PIP launched, more than 160,000 people have had their original rejection overturned at mandatory reconsideration or at appeal.

Some 65% of decisions are now overturned at tribunal in the claimant's favour, according to the latest Ministry of Justice statistics.

65%

of decisions are overturned at tribunal in the claimant's favour

Nic Bungay, director of campaigns, care and information at Muscular Dystrophy UK, said: "This is having a devastating effect on quality of life.

"Muscular Dystrophy UK is now calling on the DWP to reverse a fiercely contested change in the rules.

To qualify for the higher level of the mobility component of PIP, which is needed to get a Motability vehicle, a person must be unable to walk unaided for 20 metres, compared with the previous distance of 50 metres under DLA.

If an appeal is successful PIP arrears are paid in full to the claimant and they can rejoin the Motability scheme immediately if they repay their transitional support money, or else within six months of the date they left the scheme.

A DWP spokeswoman said: "The reality is that, since PIP was introduced in 2013, more than two million decisions have been made; of these just 7% have been appealed and 3% have been overturned.

"But we constantly review our processes, to make sure they are working in the best way possible."


Extra social care cash won’t spell the end of frontline cuts, directors warn

Courtesy Community Care 11th April


The extra £2bn for the sector could stop the hardest hit councils from running out of money - but it won't remove the pressure to find savings.


Last month the government bowed to pressure to inject more cash into adult social care. Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced an extra £2bn for services by 2020, with half of it coming into the sector immediately in a bid to stave off a crisis.

John Jackson, who heads up the resources network at the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), says the cash could stop the hardest hit councils from running out of money in the next 12 months. But for most, he adds, it’s needed to cover the planned savings that would otherwise by “impossible or very, very difficult to make”.

With government funding for councils cut by 37% in real-terms between 2010 and 2015, many authorities are struggling, says Jackson. Directors have made savings of £5.5bn from social care budgets over the past six years and estimate another £1bn will have to be found this year.

Jackson says the new government cash will therefore reduce rather than remove the pressure for savings, particularly with social care representing a growing share of council budgets.

“People think when there’s new money for adult social care, it means there doesn’t need to be any cuts – but that’s just not true,” he says.

“If local government funding falls, although local authorities are putting money into pay for demographic and inflationary pressures, they are also going to say adult social care is more than a third of the budget, it needs to contribute to savings.”

‘Nothing left to squeeze’

The problem now, Jackson says, is most savings options have been “completely exhausted”. Back office efficiencies have been found and cheaper ways of meeting care needs pursued. Care fees have also been squeezed to the point some providers are handing back contracts, going bust or quitting the sector. This “clearly cannot continue”, he adds.

“The reality – and I say this as an ex-director – is that ultimately care needs must be met.

“So if there’s only one provider and they are charging a significant amount, then at a certain point your negotiation has to finish and you’ve got to make a deal and agree a price for that person so they are looked after in a quality, safe and caring environment.”

So where will the cuts fall this year? Jackson says there’s been a lot of media attention on the growing numbers of people going without care. This change is due to support services for people with lower level needs being stripped back, he explains – it’s not because eligible care needs aren’t being met.

“So with day services and a number of services provided by the voluntary sector, councils are saying we don’t have to provide these services and we’re going to stop funding them.

“On an immediate level, that may not result in an increased pressure on adult social care, but there is a bigger uncertainty about what it may mean longer-term.”

‘Public sector risks’

Moves to target care packages for savings are also causing tension, Jackson says, although he argues packages must be reviewed because “from a quality and safeguarding point of view” councils need to ensure that care needs are being met.

“There are cases where councils are saying ‘well this person is getting X amount of one-to-one support and actually this could be reduced. That could benefit the person because it’s about supporting independence…but it doesn’t always feel like that.

“A lot of local media coverage is about people being unhappy with what councils  have done, even though they are complying with the law.”

Jackson believes housing support that helps vulnerable people to live independently in the community continues to be at risk. These services were once supported via a £1.8bn ring-fenced grant through the government’s Supporting People programme, but have been “cut back very significantly” in recent years, he says, because they are not a statutory requirement.

“That again has risks for other parts of the public sector. It could impact on mental health services, the criminal justice system – and it’s clearly already having an impact on A&E.

“These are people who don’t formally have an adult social care need, but by any definition are potentially vulnerable – the homeless, people with minor mental health issues, ex-servicemen, care leavers. There’s a whole agenda there that councils have struggled to carry on funding.”

‘Long-term solution’

The question now is how adult social care funding will be resolved for the future. Concerns about sustainability have long-been raised by ADASS and echoed by other sector bodies. While the government has spent years ducking the issue, it has now promised a green paper.

Jackson says this paper must go further than Andrew Dilnot’s “excellent proposals” on care and support funding, which were published in 2011. These talked about “the impacts of uncertainty and of people needing significant amounts of adult social care in later life,” Jackson says, but did not address the fundamental issue of the sustainability of the existing system.

“We know over the next 30 years there are going to be more and more pressures on adult social care. We need a long-term solution – one that goes well beyond this parliament.”


Social workers: take our survey on care package reductions


We want to hear from social workers about the decisions they are making about care in the current financial climate


Community Care and the Care and Support Alliance, a coalition of over 90 of Britain’s leading charities representing older and disabled people and their carers, want to hear from social workers about the decisions they are making about care in the current financial climate.

We know that in 2016-17, 24% of planned savings were due to come from cutting services or reducing the personal budgets of people who receive support (ADASS budget survey).

The move to target care packages for savings has sparked concern. There’s been evidence of councils pursuing “legally risky” policies to drive down costly home care packages. Disability campaigners have warned of “significant cuts” that jeopardise the right to independent living.

Care package cuts have also reached the courts. In March this year, a severely disabled man lost a High Court challenge over a council’s decision to reduce his support by 42%. This case was believed to be the first dealing with the Care Act 2014’s wellbeing principle.

At the same time, we know that in some cases, people’s needs will have changed and their support can be reduced safely and fairly. Social workers have a duty to promote independence and alternative, less expensive ways of meeting eligible care needs can be identified.

We are therefore asking social workers, and other local authority social services staff whose role includes reviewing care packages, to share their experiences with us by taking our survey. The survey includes 13 questions and will take approximately five to 10 minutes to complete. It can be completed anonymously.


PIP investigation: MPs expand search for evidence, but again sidestep dishonesty claims

courtesy John Pring 23rd March 2017

A committee of MPs is seeking fresh evidence about a disability benefit assessment process, but again appears to be trying to dodge concerns about dishonesty among the healthcare professionals who carry out the tests.

Disability News Service (DNS) has provided the Commons work and pensions select committee with substantial evidence of widespread dishonesty among personal independence payment (PIP) assessors in the reports they prepare for government decision-makers.

That evidence helped trigger an urgent evidence session of the committee earlier this month, but none of the four welfare rights experts who gave evidence were asked by MPs about claims of dishonesty.

DNS had told the MPs how its investigation had revealed that assessors working for the outsourcing companies Capita and Atos – most of them nurses – had repeatedly lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations.

Now the committee has written to selected organisations to ask for “further written evidence” about PIP, and asking five questions about the assessment process.

The letter, from the committee’s chair, Labour’s Frank Field (pictured), asks which aspects of the process are not “conducive to accurate decision-making”, and whether Atos and Capita staff have “sufficient expertise” to carry out the assessments and “take enough account of additional evidence supplied by claimants”.

Field also asks in the letter if the face-to-face assessment is appropriate for claimants with different conditions; what changes are needed to improve the accuracy of initial decisions; why so many decisions are being overturned on appeal; whether the government’s mandatory reconsideration process is working properly; and what is the impact on claimants of delays in securing an accurate decision on their PIP claims.

But there is no explicit request for information about any concerns the organisations might have about dishonest assessment reports.

One PIP claimant, Sally, told DNS that she experienced a nurse PIP assessor who had “disregarded, misinterpreted and disputed” her medical evidence, was “extremely aggressive”, and was “rude, bigoted and dishonest”.

The assessor’s report led to her being found ineligible for PIP, despite previously having a lifetime DLA award, including the highest rate of the care component.

A tribunal subsequently overturned the original decision and awarded her the enhanced daily living rate of PIP.

She said: “There seems to be a lot of evidence that dishonest PIP assessors are not unusual and I was ‘assessed’ by one myself.

“The consequences of assessors who are lying must be obvious even to that committee.

“I would also add that not only is there a problem with dishonest assessors, but Capita are not responding appropriately to complaints about dishonest assessors and government ministers seem to be ignoring correspondence from people who have evidence that all this is happening.

“And the DWP also fails to deal with the issues of dishonest assessors and Capita’s failure to respond to complaints appropriately.”

Inclusion London, one of the disability organisations asked by the committee to give evidence, said it would be raising specific concerns about assessors not honestly reporting what they had been told in face-to-face assessments.

Mark Lucas, who next week will give evidence to an inquiry into PIP assessments set up by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, said he did not believe the committee would consider any evidence of dishonesty in the process.

He has told DNS previously of the “shockingly poor and dishonest service” he and other disabled people have experienced in their PIP assessments.

He said: “I am sure the committee are concerned about the high number of ‘mistakes’ but are never going to admit or even highlight the fraud on an industrial level by PIP assessors.

“Whilst I am disappointed, it is in line with the response I got from the police, who… believe the DWP or their contractors would never commit fraud.”

One group of PIP claimants with a rare neurological condition, who have previously raised concerns with DNS about the assessment process, said they would be writing to the committee with answers to Field’s questions.

They told DNS earlier this month that they believed there was “systemic malpractice” by healthcare professionals who carry out PIP assessments and then write “fraudulent reports” for the government.

Speaking on behalf of the group, Mary, the wife of one of the claimants and herself a former nurse, welcomed the committee’s decision to expand its investigations.

She said: “We think this is an excellent opportunity for disability organisations to provide evidence to the committee about the systemic problem of inaccurate PIP assessments.

“We can submit documentary evidence of healthcare professionals making false statements and ignoring specialist evidence; also evidence that healthcare professionals systemically apply an incorrect threshold test which upper tribunal cases confirm is a material error of law.

“It is extraordinary that the DWP continue to accept and act on healthcare professional assessments containing such a basic error.

“This malpractice is an astonishing waste of public money that needs to be stopped.”

DNS was unable to confirm the committee’s position yesterday (Wednesday) because of the terror attack in Westminster.


DWP presentation on ESA plans ‘confirms worst fears’ about green paper

courtesy John Pring 31st March 2017


Ministers have been accused of ignoring a public consultation and ploughing ahead with plans that will make their “fitness for work” testing regime even more stressful and unfair for sick and disabled people.

A presentation delivered by two senior Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) civil servants earlier this month suggests that ministers have decided – as many disabled activists feared after the publication of last year’s green paper – to introduce new benefit sanctions for sick and disabled people with the highest support needs.

The presentation at a DWP “Operational Stakeholder Engagement Forum” appears to confirm that the government had decided how it would reform the system of out-of-work disability benefits before its “consultation” process had finished on 17 February.

The government had claimed that it wanted to make the work capability assessment (WCA) less of an ordeal for claimants, with work and pensions secretary Damian Green telling last October’s Conservative party conference he wanted to support those disabled people who cannot work, and “sweep away unnecessary stress and bureaucracy which weighs them down”.

But slides from the presentation appear to show that his new regime will be even harsher, and that many employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants with the highest support needs and barriers to work will for the first time face having their benefits sanctioned if they do not co-operate with the regime.

The slides show DWP has already begun introducing a compulsory, face-to-face “health and work conversation” (HWC) with a jobcentre work coach that will apply to nearly all new claimants of ESA, weeks or even months before they go through the WCA process to decide whether they are not fit for work and eligible for the benefit.

The presentation says that “vulnerable” claimants will not have to take part in the face-to-face HWC.

A DWP spokesman has told Disability News Service (DNS) that work coaches will be “issued clear guidance on who will be exempted from the HWC” and “will also be able to defer the HWC if the claimant cannot attend due to temporary circumstances”.

But disabled activists have warned that these decisions will be taken by non-medically trained civil servants.

The slides say: “Currently Jobcentre staff do not routinely engage with ESA claimants before the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) which can take place many months into the claim.

“We know that the start of the claim can be a challenging time for claimants and that the longer a claimant is on benefit, the more difficult it is for them to move into employment where appropriate.

“The Health and Work Conversation (HWC) will provide this early support to claimants.”

The presentation said the HWC – which it claimed was co-designed with some disabled people’s organisations – will draw on “behavioural insight techniques and research” to “develop voluntary action plans” and help claimants “move closer to the workplace”.

And it said that all new ESA claimants would have to sign a new “ESA Claimant Commitment”, which would “set out the expectations and legal requirements that claimants will be required to accept in order to receive ESA”.

It added: “A sanction will be applied for failure to attend or participate in the HWC without good cause. This means a claimant’s ESA payment will be reduced.”

It also appeared to suggest that jobcentre work coaches would only receive one day of face-to-face training – as well as online training – before they begin delivering the HWCs.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the presentation “confirms our worst fears about the green paper”, that the consultation was “nothing more than a tick box exercise and the DWP had no intention of listening to feedback and reviewing their proposals”.

She said it confirmed that “instead of overhauling the WCA in order to make it fairer and less stressful for claimants, the green paper instead seeks to make applying for ESA even more difficult, with the aim of excluding as many disabled people as possible from entitlement to social security”.

She said: “Imposing a mandatory HWC will create an added barrier and undoubtedly cause more harm and distress.”

Gail Ward, from Black Triangle, who discovered the presentation slides and passed them to DNS, said they showed that “DWP skullduggery is at play yet again” and that the green paper consultation was “merely a tick box exercise”  that will be ignored by DWP.

And she said they showed the government was again using sanctions like a “rod of iron to effect behavioural changes”, even though they have been shown as an “ineffective means to get people into work and find them suitable employment”.

Joe Whittaker, chair of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said: “The imposition of yet another stage in the already oppressive process to ‘support disabled people into employment’, cynically named a ‘health and work conversation’, is another pernicious attempt to weaken the rights of disabled people.”

He said that conversations “should be based upon mutual respect, honesty and transparency”, whereas the government was “conditioned to treat disabled people in a callous way, making any meaningful conversation impossible”.

Gerry Zarb, from SPECTRUM Centre for Independent Living, said the impact of the HWCs on disabled people “crucially depends on how they are conducted, and how they are to be used.

“If they are genuinely used as a means of exploring what kind of support people might need to move them closer to work then that would be positive, as some people need all the help they can get.

“However, if the main intention behind the proposals is simply to add to the existing checks on eligibility then the process is much more likely to be detrimental to disabled people.

“At this stage we cannot be sure – although it’s fair to say that previous experience with DWP is unlikely to fill most people with optimism.”

Caroline Richardson, one of the authors of a report on the green paper for the Spartacus Network of sick and disabled campaigners last month, said the plans show “a total ignorance of the level of sickness or disability that the claimant may be experiencing, and will subsequently lead to huge stress and deprivation at what may be a crisis point in people’s lives”.

The Spartacus report accused ministers of using the green paper as a “smokescreen” to disguise their intention to cut support and force sick and disabled people into inappropriate work.

Richardson said it seemed “incredible” that the government believed that a non-medically trained jobcentre worker would be able to “triage the most sick and disabled people via a conversation and a fit note, and hence make them subject to sanctions, two months before the claim is assessed under the WCA.

“It is a callous and ignorant process that cannot benefit the claimant, and will significantly harm many more than it helps.”

Another disabled activist, Rick Burgess, said the slide showed the claimant commitment would be similar to the one the government had introduced for the mainstream jobseeker’s allowance under the new universal credit system.

He said: “So together with sanction-mandated HWCs this is further making ESA as punitive, abusive, and conditional as the system is for well and non-disabled people.

“As such it will simply harm more people at the time when they are most vulnerable.

“It makes clear the government remains determinedly set on their policy goals without regard to how much damage they do, their consultations are a mockery, their ‘parity of esteem’ a falsehood. These are the politics of democide.”

The new HWC system began with “small-scale ‘test and learn’ activity” in Alfreton, Chesterfield and Tottenham jobcentres on 30 January, with “incremental rollout” due to begin in further national jobcentres from today (30 March).

The government plans to lay regulations in parliament this summer to allow it to introduce the new ESA “claimant commitment”.

Asked about fears that the new plans would put more people’s health at risk and would make ESA more “punitve” and “abusive”, a DWP spokesman said the HWC was “an opportunity for the individual to get to know their work coach, and hear about the support available to them early in their claim.

“Any actions agreed in the conversation will be voluntary and safeguards will be put in place to ensure there are appropriate exemptions from attending the HWC.

“The ESA claimant commitment is a tailored agreement between the individual and the work coach that sets out the expectations and requirements to receive ESA.

“This agreement can be updated if the claimant’s situation changes.”

He said that work coaches would “receive training to deliver the HWC safely and effectively – the conversation will cover a wide range of issues but will not cover subjects requiring medical expertise.

“Sanctions are only ever used as a last resort and there will be extensive safeguards in place to ensure individuals are not sanctioned inappropriately.”

He claimed that the HWC and the claimant commitment were not part of the green paper consultation and that the powers to implement them had been introduced in 2008 and 2012 respectively and were “debated extensively at the time”.

He said: “The consultation process for the green paper ended on the 17 February and the feedback is now being considered.”

He also said that ESA claimants subsequently placed in the support group “will not be required to undertake mandatory activity” as part of the HWC.

But he stressed that the HWC was separate to a proposed post-WCA “keep-in-touch discussion” for those in the support group that is part of the green paper consultation and is “currently under consideration”, and according to the green paper could be a mandatory requirement.

Despite the presentation saying that the claimant commitment would set out the “legal requirements that claimants will be required to accept in order to receive ESA”, he said: “Any actions agreed in the claimant commitment prior to the WCA will be entirely voluntary.”

He had not confirmed by 1pm today (Thursday) how both of these statements could be correct.


‘Shabby’ Labour fails again on disability rights, after abstaining on PIP cuts vote

Courtesy of John Pring 30th March 2017


The Labour party has been heavily criticised for again failing to defend disabled people from attacks on their rights, after its peers refused to vote against “discriminatory” cuts to the government’s new disability benefit.

The House of Lords voted on Monday on a motion to “annul” new government regulations that will make it far harder for people with experience of severe mental distress to secure mobility support through personal independence payment (PIP).

The motion was proposed by the Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Bakewell, and was supported by three crossbench disabled peers, Baroness [Jane] Campbell, Lord [Colin] Low and Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson.

But because Labour peers abstained, the government won the vote by 164 to 75.

Instead, Baroness Sherlock, Labour’s shadow work and pensions spokeswoman, proposed a weaker “motion of regret”, which was passed by 162 to 154 votes but left the regulations unaffected, although it did call on the government to review the impact of the changes within two years.

Despite Labour politicians celebrating the vote as a victory, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) told Disability News Service (DNS) yesterday (Wednesday) that it would ignore the Lords motion and would not carry out such a review.

Two days after the Lords debate, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams attacked the government for refusing to allow a meaningful vote in the Commons on the new regulations, even though Labour’s peers had abstained on just such a vote only 48 hours earlier.

The government has scheduled a debate for 19 April, Abrahams said, but by then it will be too late to revoke the regulations, even if MPs vote against  them.

Marie Rimmer, the newly-appointed shadow minister for disabled people, attended yesterday’s emergency Commons debate, which had been secured by Abrahams, but did not speak, although it is not yet clear why.

Rimmer had told DNS earlier that “responsibility for these Tory cuts lies exclusively with Theresa May’s government and her commitment to cut social security whilst cutting taxes for the richest.

“Baroness Sherlock clearly explained that the un-elected House of Lords does not possess the power to overturn secondary legislation which has been accepted by the House of Commons.”

Baroness Sherlock had actually told fellow peers on Monday that the Lords had overturned secondary legislation five times since 1945 and that such action should only be taken by peers in “exceptional circumstances”.

But Baroness Campbell said on Monday (pictured) that the motion was an “exceptional circumstance”, and added: “I do not care that they have been debated and voted on only five times within a hundred years or whatever.

“I will gladly support it now.”

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said today that it “deplores” Labour’s actions in the Lords, as Baroness Bakewell’s motion “might have succeeded” and was “certainly the last chance to prevent this measure coming into force”.

DPAC said that by submitting the less powerful “regret motion”, Labour “effectively did the Tories’ work for them” by “spiking” Baroness Bakewell’s motion and replacing it with one that only asked for a review of the cut after two years.

The DPAC statement said: “It would have been better if Labour had done nothing. To later discover that Labour presented this shabby climbdown as a victory just added insult to injury for disabled people who will lose out through this PIP cut.

“And predictably the DWP have refused to hold a review, bringing a fitting end to this whole shameful saga.

“Labour in the Lords seemingly have no interest and no intention of fighting for disabled people’s rights.”

Labour has been repeatedly criticised for failing to stand up for disabled people’s rights over the last year.

In December, Baroness Campbell attacked Labour’s “lazy indifference” to disability equality, after it abstained on a vote in the Lords that would have forced bars, shops and restaurants to ensure their premises obeyed laws on accessibility when renewing their alcohol licences.

In November, Abrahams’ office invited a disabled people’s organisation to speak at the launch of her disability equality roadshow, and then withdrew the invitation after discovering that it wanted to talk about independent living.

And questions have been raised over whether shadow chancellor John McDonnell ever wrote a letter he publicly promised to send to Labour-run councils to ask them to ring-fence government money they receive to compensate for the closure of the Independent Living Fund.

The new PIP cuts came into force earlier this month and were brought in to reverse two upper tribunal rulings.

The government’s decision to reverse the rulings means an estimated 164,000 claimants will not now be eligible for the mobility component of the benefit or will receive a lower level than they would have received.

And an estimated 1,500 PIP claimants who need support to take medication and monitor a health condition will now either not be eligible for the PIP daily living payment or will receive a lower level.

Baroness Campbell told fellow peers on Monday that the “impact of panic attacks and anxiety, not to mention schizophrenia, dementia and autism, on being able to ‘plan and follow a journey’ are equally fraught, if not more so, with profound obstacles than the effects of visual or physical impairments”.

She described how a young woman who lived near her had experienced a severe anxiety attack on a train, which had led to the train stopping and the emergency services being called.

She told peers: “This expensive scenario could have been avoided if her PIP had not been reduced from the high to standard rate award a couple of months ago, allowing her to continue paying for a travel companion or use taxis.

“Her life has now been severely restricted.”

She added: “It is a fundamental tenet of the Equality Act that there shall be no hierarchy of disability: we define a disabled person as someone with a ‘mental or physical impairment’.

“We in this House have welcomed the prime minister’s commitment to parity of esteem between mental and physical health.

“The amended regulations, sadly, completely depart from these vital principles.

“They state, in effect, that disabled people may be equal but, just like in Orwell’s Animal Farm, some disabled people have become more equal than others.”

Baroness Campbell said the cumulative effect of cuts to social care support, independent living entitlements and welfare benefits had “taken its toll on disabled people” and that it was becoming “increasingly tougher for them to participate in society as active citizens”.

She said: “These changed regulations represent another departure and fly in the face of the prime minister’s ambition to create ‘a society that works for everyone’.”

Lord Low said the new regulations were “a clear breach of faith with the disability community”.

He said mental health and other disability charities had supported the introduction of PIP in 2012 after the government assured them that people with mental health problems would not be able to score points only “under the criterion which used the words ‘psychological distress'”.

He said: “The regulations are in clear breach, if not of a manifesto commitment on this occasion, then certainly of pledges given to those with mental health problems in 2012.”

He added: “I believe these regulations are trying to move the goalposts by excluding people who experience psychological distress from eligibility for the higher number of points necessary for the higher rate of mobility component.

“In doing so, they effectively discriminate against people with mental health problems.”

The Liberal Democrat disabled peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas, who speaks for her party on work and pensions issues in the Lords, said: “The disorders likely to be affected, according to the DWP, range from schizophrenia and autism to bipolar affective disorder and cognitive disorder.

“So much for parity of esteem between physical and mental health.”

She said: “Is it not yet another tightening of the screw around the whole independent living project, which is assailed on every side?

“These regulations should be set aside to await proper consultation.”

But one disabled peer, the Conservative Lord Shinkwin, said he supported the government’s position.

He said: “I believe the taxpayer does not have a problem with someone needing assistance as a result of difficulties in navigating – for example, if they are blind.

“Taxpayers surely understand that conditions such as visual impairments and learning disabilities, where these are severe and enduring, are much less likely to fluctuate than, for example, psychological distress.

“Indeed, it makes sense that people who cannot navigate due to a visual or cognitive impairment are likely to have a higher level of need and therefore face higher costs. ”

He then appeared to suggest that he could not support providing the extra mobility benefits for people with severe mental distress until his local council stopped handing him parking tickets.

He complained that Lambeth council had been fining him for parking on yellow lines because he could not find anywhere to park after returning home late from working in the Lords, and that it had refused to provide him and other disabled people with their own parking bays.

He said: “This is just one example of why we urgently need to join the dots on disability if more disabled people are, as we all want, to live independently and work.

“Until we join those dots, I cannot in all honesty justify expecting taxpayers to be even more generous in helping to meet the extra costs of living with a disability, when the state itself imposes such indefensible extra costs on disabled people.”

Lord [Chris] Holmes, who in January ended his terms as disability commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and another disabled Tory peer, also voted with the government against both motions, but did not speak in the debate.

The junior work and pensions minister Lord Henley insisted that the regulations were “not a policy change” and were just “bringing clarity” to the legislation.

He said: “It is inaccurate to describe this as a cut: it is merely the reassertion of the original policy intention.

“In PIP, we have ensured parity of treatment between mental and physical conditions.

“It achieves that by looking at the overall needs of an individual, not just what conditions they have.

“The whole point – if I can put it this way – of the PIP assessment is to distinguish between those differing levels of need. There is no discrimination in that.”

He repeated the government’s claim that there were more people with mental health conditions receiving the higher rates of both PIP components than the DLA equivalents, with 28 per cent of PIP recipients with a mental health condition receiving the enhanced rate mobility component, compared with 10 per cent of DLA recipients with a mental health condition who had received the higher rate DLA mobility component.


DPOs join forces to brief UN on how UK has breached disability convention

Courtesy John Pring 16th March 2017


Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have come together to tell a UN committee the different ways in which the UK government has been breaching the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The meeting in Geneva took place just four months after the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) found the UK had committed “grave or systematic” breaches of the convention, following an inquiry – the first of its kind since the treaty came into force in 2008 – into the government’s social security reforms.

Now the committee is examining the UK’s record in implementing the convention as a whole.

On Monday, CRPD took evidence from grassroots user-led organisations and other DPOs, as well as the UK’s national equality and human rights bodies, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), as part of a process that will see the UK government examined on its record in public in August.

The committee will use this week’s evidence to help it produce a “list of issues” on which it needs further information from the UK government. That list is set to be published later this month.

The government will then have three months to consult and respond on these issues, before it is examined in public in Geneva in August. A final report from the committee will follow later this year.

Among those giving evidence to the committee this week – in a closed, private session – were Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Disability Rights UK (DR UK), Inclusion London, The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), Black Triangle, Disability Wales, Inclusion Scotland, Spectrum Centre for Independent Living, the British Deaf Association, Equal Lives, Disability Action (from Northern Ireland), People First Scotland and Black Mental Health UK.

DR UK, Disability Action, Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales have already produced a shadow report on the UK’s progress in implementing the UN convention – with EHRC funding – while DPAC, ALLFIE, Inclusion London and Equal Lives have produced their own report under the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) umbrella.

But both groups came together to deliver a joint presentation in a three-hour session on Monday afternoon, with each DPO concentrating on different areas where they believed the UK had failed to implement the convention, with concerns raised on nearly every article of the treaty.

Tracey Lazard, Inclusion London’s chief executive, said that Inclusion London, as part of ROFA, had been “very pleased” to work alongside the other organisations to “put forward a very powerful combined body of evidence on the retrogression of our rights under the UNCRPD”.

She said: “There was a great deal of consensus on key areas of retrogression and concern spanning independent living, impact of welfare reform, inclusive education, access to justice, right to life, capacity, liberty and detention as well as enforcement, monitoring and lack of meaningful or effective engagement with disabled people and DDPOs (Deaf and disabled people’s organisations).”

She said that Inclusion London and ROFA were now looking forward to continuing that joint work as the CRPD process continues over the next few months.

Liz Sayce, DR UK’s chief executive, said: “It was great to have the opportunity to put disabled people’s experiences directly to the United Nations committee in Geneva.

“What worked so well was that many of us going over to Geneva met and held teleconferences to prepare together beforehand; and we planned together in Geneva as well.

“We unanimously agreed on the top issues to present; and we collaborated on how to present them, with one organisation leading on a particular issue, but others being nominated to answer questions from the committee on that topic.  

“We are stronger united – and by working together to convey the top issues raised by disabled people (from all our organisations) we presented a strong analysis of the biggest human rights challenges that need to be addressed.”

Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s director, said: “It did go well. It was very well organised and it felt like a very positive three hours.

“ROFA’s report came from a grassroots voice and our intervention strengthened the UK delegation overall.

“We really gave a solid, unified message with a completely united list of issues that was all agreed upon by all of us. I don’t think we could have done a better job.”

And she said there were still opportunities for the DPOs to engage and share more information with the committee to ensure it was “ready to go for August”.

Anita Bellows, a member of the DPAC steering group, also welcomed the “professionalism” and quality of their presentations delivered by all of the DPOs that gave evidence in Geneva.

Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, said the committee was looking to see whether the situation had improved since the UK submitted its first progress report to CRPD in 2011.

In some cases there had been a “lack of progress” and in other areas affected by austerity there had been “regression in people’s rights”, she said.

Davies said she had been able to refer to specific examples from Wales both during her presentation and during the question and answer sessions.

She said the DPOs had been helped in the lead-up to the session by advice from Diane Kingston, a former member of the committee, and in Geneva by the International Disability Alliance and the European Disability Forum.

She said: “I found it a great privilege to be there and to represent disabled people in Wales.

“It’s an opportunity to hold the UK government to account and that is what the focus needs to be on.

“We were clear about what we think the issues were. We feel that in Britain policy around disabled people is regressive and I think we got that message across really clearly.

“The fact that we did present such a united front and gave such a clear direction on what the key issues were… I hope that that will have influenced them.

“Whatever we said was complementary, it was not contradictory.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Scottish-based Black Triangle, said the presentations by DPOs had been “well-rehearsed and coordinated”.

He said that the different DPOs had worked together “in harmony” and had produced an “extremely successful presentation”.

He said: “We are delighted that the UN is listening to the voices of disabled people and DPOs, and we are extremely confident that all of our points will be taken into account.

“It was good that DPOs were able to give evidence with the established organisations like DR UK in a constructive and meaningful way.

“We might not always see eye-to-eye but if they listen to us and we have a dialogue, that is a breakthrough.”

Dr Sally Witcher, chief executive of Inclusion Scotland, said it had been “a genuine privilege to have the opportunity to put the concerns of disabled people in Scotland” to the committee.

She said: “We have been very encouraged by the effective collaboration of a substantial number of disabled people’s organisations from throughout the UK.

“In Geneva, and before, the UK delegation worked together with unity and purpose, and the session with the [CRPD] reflected this.

“We hope to continue developing these productive relationships, working together to improve the human rights situation for disabled people in Scotland and the UK.”

Meanwhile, Disability Wales has also launched its shadow report on how the UN convention has been implemented in Wales, with key messages on independent living, the need for infrastructure projects to be “fully inclusive”, and the barriers disabled people face in accessing justice


Spring budget: ‘Derisible’ government money is ‘meaningless’ in face of care crisis

Courtesy of John Pring  8th March 2017


More than £2 billion in extra money for social care over the next three years – announced by the chancellor in yesterday’s budget – is “meaningless” when set against the scale of the funding crisis, disabled campaigners have warned.

The spring budget contained few significant announcements on key issues of concern for disabled people, and there were no u-turns on two major, imminent cuts to disability benefits.

But the chancellor, Philip Hammond (pictured), did confirm hundreds of millions of pounds in funding* to set up more than 100 more free schools by 2020 – in addition to the 500 already planned – a move that inclusive education campaigners say will lead to an expansion of selective education that will further discriminate against disabled pupils.

Hammond failed to mention disabled people or disability once in his budget speech of more than 6,700 words.

But he admitted that the social care system was “clearly under pressure”, and although he repeatedly referred to the needs of older people, and not to working-age disabled people, he announced extra funding for local councils in England of £1.2 billion in 2017-18, £800 million  in 2018-19 and £400 million in 2019-20.

He also said the government would publish a green paper on social care funding later this year.

But Hammond made no mention of new amendments to personal independence payment (PIP) regulations, announced by the government last month following two tribunal rulings, which will tighten eligibility criteria and cut support to more than 160,000 people, particularly those with severe mental distress who need mobility support.

The Office for Budget Responsibility confirmed in Treasury budget documents that the amendments to PIP regulations will save the government £3.7 billion over the next five years.

Hammond also made no mention of cuts of nearly £30 a week to payments to new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) placed in the work-related activity group, which will come into effect next month.

Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) said the extra funding announced by Hammond would no nothing to address the social care crisis.

A GMCDP spokesperson said: “The £2 billion announced in today’s budget to prop up adult social care over the next three years will do nothing to halt the massive cuts being rained upon disabled people trying to retain or access care funding.

“With the Local Government Association estimating that local authorities will be facing a £5.8 billion shortfall in social care by 2020, the money pledged today is in reality a derisible amount.

“The fact that there was not a single mention of disabled people within the budget seems to be in keeping with the government’s total disregard of the cumulative impact their austerity measures are having on us.”

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “Giving a paltry £2 billion for social care up to 2020 is meaningless when £4.6 billion has already been lost from that budget since 2010.

“This also ignores additional pressures caused by an increasingly older population.”

Disability rights activist Alice Kirby said she was “absolutely disgusted” that disabled people had been ignored by the chancellor in his speech.

She said: “Disabled people were not mentioned once yesterday by Philip Hammond, despite every part of our lives being under attack by government cuts.

“This is unforgivable. Hammond should have reversed the ESA cut and recognised that this will not ‘incentivise’ disabled people to find employment, but will force those unfit for work into poverty.

“He should have also addressed the unjustified changes in eligibility for PIP which is expected to effect 160,000 disabled people.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of the national servicer-user and disabled people’s network Shaping Our Lives, highlighted the chancellor’s decision to increase national insurance for self-employed people.

He said: “Ironically it is perhaps the hike in national insurance for self-employed people which in the longer term may have the most important implications of this budget for disabled people.

“It shows that this government is quite prepared to ignore historical manifesto commitments, even when they negatively affect groups that it would most see as its own voters. 

“I mean the increasing number of people, including some disabled people, who have become self-employed, encouraged to do so by this government, seen by it as its natural electoral constituency and now seriously financially damaged by it. 

“This budget decision adds yet more people to the ranks of those, like disabled people, that the government is quite prepared to penalise in the interests of its own ideological preoccupations, adding to the numbers who in future may well withdraw their support from it.

“There are indeed going to be many new alliances for disabled people to form, as this government alienates more and more people through its regressively redistributive policies.”

Disabled researcher and campaigner Catherine Hale, who wrote a well-received review in 2014 on the failure of the ESA system to increase the number of disabled people in paid work, said the government had “buried without remorse” the “whole raft of cuts to disabled people’s livelihoods and opportunities”.

Despite the booming economy, she said, the Tories “aren’t giving a penny back to the people who paid the most for their deficit reduction: [those who are]sick and disabled”.

Hale, a member of the Spartacus online network, said: “When they say they want a country that works for everyone, they don’t really mean us.

“The extra funding for social care is welcome. But there’s nothing in the government’s messaging to suggest it’s aimed at restoring the principle of independent living that was decimated by the closure of the Independent Living Fund, only on relieving the pressures on the NHS through bed-blocking.

“No recognition that properly funding social care is a route to more disabled people in work.”

Disabled activist Rick Burgess said the failure to mention disability was “ominous”.

He said: “With the assessment regime revealed to be a fraudulent system of abuse, social care collapsing, and the UN condemning the numerous state-sponsored abuses of our human rights, that the Tories saw no need to address this, indicates they are happy with our persecution and intend to accelerate it.

“And they perceive this to be of no detriment to their political support.

“One has to ask are the 11 million Tory voters happy to be thought of as disablist abusers condemned on the international stage?”

Disabled researcher Stef Benstead, another member of the Spartacus Network, added: “What can I say? The government doesn’t care about disabled people.”

*The precise amount has yet to be confirmed by the Treasury, following confusion over contradictory figures in the budget documents


Maximus ‘admits’ using brutal and dangerous suicide questions

Courtesy of John Pring 8th March 2017


One of the outsourcing giants paid to assess disabled people for their eligibility for benefits appears to have admitted that it is standard practice – approved by the government – to ask claimants with mental health conditions why they failed to take their own lives.

A leading clinical psychologist has warned this week that such questioning “brings huge risks” and is one of the reasons behind the increase in suicides associated with the government’s work capability assessment (WCA) process*.

The admission from Maximus, which carries out WCAs for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), came after a disabled campaigner produced a recording of his own assessment.

On the recording, shared with Disability News Service (DNS), a Maximus assessor – an occupational therapist – is heard asking Jonathan Hume a series of questions during his WCA, while typing on a keyboard.

She asks him [his replies have not been included]: “Back to some questions that we have to cover…

“Have you ever tried to harm yourself or take your own life or needed to go to hospital?

“Do you have any thoughts around that at the moment, any intentions or plans to hurt yourself currently?

“When you say desires, how often are you having thoughts like that?

“And what is it that stops you from acting on the thoughts that you have?

“Can you think of any reason that you’re not doing that? Is it friends or family support?”

Hume’s assessment took place in Sunderland last September, and both Maximus and DWP appear to have conceded that the DNS transcription of the questions is an accurate description of what took place.

Hume came forward after fellow disability rights activist Alice Kirby sparked a horrified reaction on social media last week after revealing how the healthcare professional who assessed her eligibility for personal independence payment (PIP) had asked her: “Can you tell me why you haven’t killed yourself yet?”

After she shared her experience, many other claimants came forward to say that they had been asked the same, or a similar, question by their assessors.

Hume said he had raised concerns with Maximus about the questioning by email on the day of his assessment, before he knew the result of his employment and support allowance (ESA) claim.

He told DNS: “As both clinicians and claimants have made clear, the WCA is a hostile, stressful and coercive situation and the carelessness and brutality with which these questions are asked has the potential to do a great deal of harm to vulnerable people, many of whom are already avoiding claiming their rightful benefits due to a system which is degrading and stressful from the first phone call.

“We are forced to justify our very survival in a hostile context to answer questions which are only dubiously related to the legal criteria of ESA.

“Such information, if truly necessary for the claim, could be gained in so many other ways that avoid putting claimants in significant distress and risk, such as written statements from the claimant’s therapists or other carers.

“There are no grounds to continue such questioning.”

Dr Jay Watts, a clinical psychologist and academic, told DNS that people should only be asked about suicidal ideation by a trained professional who can offer help or someone in an “existing trusting relationship with the individual”.

She said that WCAs were “degrading and humiliating experiences for most if not all claimants” and were carried out in a space which was “not a trustworthy one”.

She said: “Individuals are required to parade their distress and feel compelled to answer intrusive questions (for the means to live relies on this).”

She added: “To ask about suicide or self-harm in this context brings huge risks.”

And she said that such questioning “can be suggestive if the environment is unsafe.

“If someone is low or anxious, for example, made to feel they are a ‘skiver’ for needing benefits, an implication that if they were really ill they would have killed themselves can be the final straw. It may lead directly to an attempt on one’s life.”

She said that claimants were “battered with multiple questions about that which is most personal” in disability assessments and questioned about suicide while the assessors are “typing away” on their keyboards.

Watts said: “I have no doubt that questions on suicidal ideation, and the degrading manner in which they are asked, are one reason behind the suicide spike associated with the WCA process.”

She called on Frank Field, chair of the Commons work and pensions committee, to carry out an urgent review of the way disability benefit assessments are carried out.

In a statement, a Maximus spokesman said that its role was “to carry out high quality and sensitive functional assessments”.

He said: “Mr Hulme [sic]contacted us last year and a doctor reviewed the recording of his assessment and the report. 

“We are satisfied that the healthcare professional who conducted the assessment did so in line with our policies and guidelines.

“Every healthcare professional we employ is trained to ask people with a mental health condition a series of clinical questions to assess how their condition affects their daily lives.

“The assessment report was passed to the Department for Work and Pensions, who make the decision on eligibility for benefits.”

He had failed to clarify by noon today (Thursday) whether the questions asked of Jonathan Hume were standard questions; if DWP was aware that such questions were being asked in assessments; and whether Maximus and DWP believed that they were appropriate and safe questions to ask of someone in his situation.

Despite requesting a copy of the recording, which was provided by DNS – with Hume’s agreement – DWP also failed to provide clear answers to a series of key questions.

These include whether it accepted that the questions were asked in Hume’s assessment; whether asking such questions was appropriate and safe in an assessment, particularly for assessors who are not trained mental health professionals; and whether these were standard, DWP-approved questions asked of ESA and PIP claimants with suicidal ideation.

Instead, in response to the DNS questions, a DWP spokeswoman said: “We are not aware of any complaints made to DWP on this issue, but would investigate any allegations thoroughly.

“All PIP assessment providers receive training on mental health conditions, including suicidal issues.”

She said that assessors “receive training in order to conduct functional assessments on behalf of the DWP and their training includes conducting a mental health assessment which may, if appropriate, include questions about suicide or self-harm.

“Health professionals are medically qualified professionals and as such, they should have the appropriate skills to enable them to deal with people in a supportive and sensitive way.

“If an individual has mental health issues or a there is an indication of suicidal thoughts or intentions, this will be given careful and sensitive exploration to establish the circumstances.”

She added: “There is a duty of care to act where appropriate, for example if the individual is considered to be in substantial and imminent risk.

“Both the department and our contracted providers have a duty of care where there is any indication or possibility of suicidal thoughts or intentions, and it would therefore not be appropriate to not explore this further.”

Government-funded research by public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford concluded in late 2015 that the programme to reassess people on incapacity benefit through the WCA was linked to 590 suicides in just three years. Maximus declined to comment on the research at the time.


Disabled people failed by labyrinthine benefits system

Courtesy Guardian  6th March letters


I have every sympathy with the “not really disabled” of Aditya Chakrabortty’s article (One ‘not really disabled’ man has won against the system. But I can’t celebrate, 28 February) – but I’d emphasise that what our government would call the “really disabled” are dealt the same spiteful treatment. It is now nine months since my deeply disabled niece was declared fit for work, and lost her ESA (employment and support allowance) and PIP (personal independence payment): a decision entirely due to the cheapskate assessment procedures introduced by Iain Duncan Smith, devised by Atos, and perpetuated by the American firm Maximus.

My niece has been subjected to nine months of very damaging stress and anxiety. Her ESA was restored when, after five months, a benefit support tribunal ruled, without her appearing, that her case was incontrovertible; the question of her lifeline PIP is still outstanding and the Department for Work and Pensions refuses to say if any back payment will be made. All the evidence shows that the DWP, at the service of “austerity”, is bent on causing distress to all categories of disabled people, “really disabled” as well as “not really disabled”.

Jane Taylor

Penrith

Aditya Chakrabortty is right to rage against a test that is more about ability to navigate a labyrinthine, heartless system than about ability to work. Things are about to get worse. The earnings-replacement benefit ESA has two categories: the support group for the most incapacitated; and the work-related activity group (WRAG) for those expected to prepare for work. Subject to a stringent means-test after a year, WRAG claimants have until now been paid £102.15 per week.



But from next month, new ESA claimants allocated to the WRAG will receive only the £73.10 paid to claimants of jobseeker’s allowance. This amount, pitifully inadequate for anyone, is even more so for sick/disabled people both because they may have greater needs and because their claims often last much longer. Around 20% of current JSA claims were started two years ago or more. The equivalent figure for WRAG claims is over 70% – and some WRAG claimants may never be fit to return to work. In years of unemployment, clothes wear out, furnishings sag, appliances break down – and there is no money to replace them.

The proportion of ESA applicants assigned to the WRAG on assessment increased through 2016. New claimants who suffer this fate after 3 April are liable to face many years of illness in dire poverty. For them, the safety net that was incapacity benefit, the predecessor to ESA, has been more or less abolished.

Patricia de Wolfe

London


The care package changes testing the limits of the Care Act

The pressure to find savings has left some councils pursuing "risky" policies

Courtesy Community Care


Last week it was revealed a severely disabled man’s legal battle against a 40% cut to his personal budget had ended in failure.

The High Court dismissed Luke Davey’s judicial review against Oxfordshire council. The judge acknowledged the cut could impose “unwelcome” limits on Davey’s life, but he ruled the council had acted lawfully and met its Care Act duties.

The case is the first High Court challenge to test a council’s compliance with the Care Act’s wellbeing principle. But the underlying issue of care package cuts is far from unusual as councils struggle to plug a social care funding gap sector leaders say will hit £2.6bn by 2020.

After seven successive years of austerity, social services directors warn there are few “efficiencies” left. Care packages, particularly intensive community support, are now being tightly scrutinised. The pressure to find savings, legal experts say, has left councils pursuing “legally risky” policies that push the limits of the Care Act.

‘Costs and caps’

Among the most controversial are policies to review expensive home care packages against the equivalent cost of supporting someone in a care home. If a review finds council funding is insufficient to maintain a person’s community support, they are given the option of paying a top-up fee or moving to residential care.

North Somerset council approved a ‘fair care’ policy along these lines last month. The authority estimates the move will save £700,000 over the next four years but an impact assessment acknowledges the plan could also see more disabled people move into care homes.

Bedford council brought in a similar policy last year, also called ‘fair care’. The council denied the policy was driven by the desire to save money. Yet cabinet papers state it was introduced because of concerns about the ability to fund increasing numbers of complex and expensive home care packages, which were “significantly exceeding” the cost of care home placements.

The wording of these policies is particularly significant. Section 10.27 of the Care Act guidance states that a council should not “set arbitrary upper limits on the costs it is willing to pay to meet needs through certain routes”. However, it does allow local authorities to “reasonably consider” their own finances when meeting needs and take decisions on a case-by-case basis.

The ‘fair care’ policies walk a tightrope between the two. Bedford’s website clearly describes its policy as placing a “cap” on home care packages, whereas North Somerset stresses its policy is only guidance and not a “cap or limit”. Both include the caveat that when the policy is applied, decisions about care will still be made according to “individual circumstances”.

‘Institutionalisation fears’

Disability campaigners have also questioned what an approach to care package savings – that could see more disabled people move to care homes – means for the right to independent living. The Care Act guidance, this time section 1.19, states that “supporting people to live as independently as possible, for as long as possible” is a guiding principle of the legislation.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “Disabled people campaigned hard for independent living and disabled people’s organisations have worked with social services departments to make it a reality in many areas. We have already seen significant cuts to disabled people’s personal budgets. Further cuts will jeopardise independent living.”

A third issue is whether the policies will actually deliver for councils or service users. Medway council abandoned plans to introduce a similar reviews policy earlier this year. Explaining the U-turn, the council said its consultation revealed service users feared they’d be forced into care homes as the cheapest option. Medway’s own research, meanwhile, found that other councils who had implemented the approach hadn’t generated the anticipated savings.

‘Extremely difficult’

Whether they pursue these policies or not, the pressures on councils to find more savings from care packages will continue. Authorities have worked hard to protect adult social care from the worst of the cuts, but the challenge of supporting an ageing population with less central government funding remains.

Margaret Willcox, president elect of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, sums up the dilemma facing councils.

“Our ambition is to try and keep people in their own homes as much as possible, if that’s not the case then in a home in the community that’s as near to independent living as possible. But some people, depending on their needs, will not be able to manage at home.

“The money’s getting very tight. Councils will work their way through obvious ways of making the money go further – they will look at efficiencies first, then alternatives to what they do, but then ultimately they will have to look at what is a fair amount for that person’s expectation.

“That’s where it gets extremely difficult; I don’t think it’s going to get any easier.”


PIP investigation: Claimant seeks judicial review over assessment flaws

Courtesy of  JOHN PRING ON MARCH 2, 2017


A disabled woman is seeking a judicial review by the high court of the errors she says were made in dealing with her claim for personal independence payment (PIP), and which she believes put her life at risk.

Angela Kennedy, from Essex, says the errors by the Atos assessor, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the tribunal service led to her being denied the support she needed to stay safe and live independently over the last 18 months.

It comes as Disability News Service continues its investigation into claims of widespread dishonesty by PIP assessors working for both Capita and Atos on behalf of DWP.

Kennedy says the decision to deny her PIP claim meant: that she had to take redundancy from her job as a university sociology lecturer, partly because she could not afford to travel to work in central and west London without a blue parking badge; that she has suffered further injuries because of the lack of support; and that she has found it more difficult to care for her adult disabled daughter.

Since her PIP claim was rejected in 2015, the lack of financial support has led to three serious falls, which caused further serious impairment; multiple lesser falls, where she has still been hurt; and many other potentially dangerous “trips, slips and stumbles”.

Kennedy says the Atos paramedic who assessed her was guilty of “serious omissions and errors of fact and reasoning” in the report he compiled after a face-to-face assessment at her home in October 2015.

Among those omissions and errors were that he “played down” her impairments, failed to record that she had been suffering frequent falls for “some years”, despite being told this “at length” in the assessment, and omitted other “vital information” in his assessment report.

But she is also highly critical of the way that the first-tier social security tribunal dealt with her appeal against being denied PIP in September 2016.

She says the first-tier tribunal was openly “sceptical” and “hostile” to her during her appeal; failed to listen to her when she was reading her statement; repeatedly interrupted when she tried to answer their questions; and “almost constantly made facial expressions of contemptuous disbelief in response to the comprehensive answers I gave to their questions”.

She also claims that one of the tribunal members fell asleep when she was reading out her statement.

Last month, the upper tribunal denied her permission to appeal against the decision of the first-tier tribunal.

Now she is asking the high court to carry out a judicial review of the way that her case has been dealt with by Atos, DWP and the tribunal service.

Her application was due to be submitted by tomorrow (Friday).

Kennedy said: “Serious errors and omissions were made at all levels of the claims and appeals process. 

“This application for judicial review therefore has important ramifications for the handling of other PIP claims.

“My case is particularly important because of the huge amount, intensity, and seriousness of all the errors of procedure, facts and reasoning that have been made.”

A spokesman for the Judicial Office declined to comment because the case was pending a possible judicial review.


One ‘not really disabled’ man has won against the system. I’m not celebrating

Aditya Chakrabortty


John had to fight for months to get his benefits restored. Most, though, can’t face the struggle of the appeals process.

Last Friday, John beat a system designed to beat him. He took on a secretary of state, a giant business and an infamous bureaucracy – and won. His story comes with a happy-ish ending; yet the more I turn it over, the angrier I get.


First, there is the humiliation and desperation dealt to a decent man who did nothing wrong. Then there are the tens of thousands who are not as lucky as John. Perhaps they include your family, your friends or your neighbours. Whoever they are, they are being driven further into sickness and poverty by our government. Their crime? Being disabled.

Just like John. His story begins and ends with two brown envelopes. The first came last October and contained the news that he’d been judged fit for work. This was despite his major injuries sustained from an attack 30 years ago; despite even a short walk leaving him reeling with pain; despite how even being dosed up with tramadol won’t get him more than three hours’ sleep a night. John had submitted all this evidence in good faith to the “healthcare professionals” and “decision-makers” employed by US giant Maximus and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). But they decided that he was not, to use the latest term from our governors in No 10, “really disabled”.

It was at that point I wrote about John on these pages. He’d been robbed of one of his key benefits – employment and support allowance – and was now being forced through the cruel and stupid bureaucracy of demonstrating he was looking for work that he could not possibly do. Friends told me he’d “collapsed”, and when we spoke he kept breaking down crying. We picked John as a pseudonym, so worried was he of reprisals. His was just one of the real-life stories that proved the grey horrors depicted in Ken Loach’s and Paul Laverty’s I, Daniel Blake – which this month won a Bafta – were not made up.


Things got even worse afterwards. His GP wrote saying he was in no state to look for work, to which the jobcentre responded by taking away his jobseeker’s allowance. For most of the run-up to Christmas, he was living off his disability living allowance: just under £50 a week to cover heating, groceries and everything else. While friends lent him cash, he also racked up a big overdraft with his bank. He felt as if he was drowning. “I was going under.”

And then the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) contacted me to offer John help. One of its advisers, Martin Williams, found that the DWP actually owed John thousands in unpaid benefits. And last week, John and Williams went to an appeal hearing in central London. Despite fierce questioning from a doctor (who had “an air of incredulity about him”, remembers Williams), John held it together. Then came the second brown envelope on Friday, overturning the crazy verdict that he was fit to work and restoring his ESA.


For the first time in five months, John can “finally look ahead”. This modest, gentle man, who lives quietly without smoking, drinking or eating out, describes what the extra money will mean to him. He won’t need to borrow off the bank or anyone else. The literature graduate might even be able to splash out on the occasional paperback.

A bit of good news in the dying days of winter, you might call it. But I cannot use that term for a story of a man driven nearly to destitution and forced to fight for months merely to restore his rightful benefits. Nor can I stop thinking about all the people who aren’t lucky enough to come to the attention of a national charity with highly experienced welfare advisers.

Seven years of cuts, and the near-scrapping of legal aid, means there are far fewer people like Williams and much less help for those deprived of their benefits. Among the letters I received after my first article about John were a number from people who’d also been declared fit for work but could not face going through the call centres and tribunal hearings, the reconsideration and the appeal and the months of having to prove how sick they were. Nor were they going to go through the humiliation of the jobcentre: they were simply subsisting on a few quid a week.


When I asked the DWP for a comment, it pointed out that only 4% of all ESA work capability assessment decisions are overturned. That may be as much a commentary on the opacity of the procedure, because over 60% of those decisions that are actually taken to appeal are successful. At CPAG, Williams thinks he handles 30 such appeals each year. Over the past three years, he has won all but one.

None of this is an accident. It is a system that has been set up by a government that wants to deprive poor people of money that is owed to them, even while it hands cash to the richest. This week ministers will formally announce that disability benefits will be cut by a further £3.7bn a year. People with mental health problems, who need help just getting out of the door, are now to be judged not really disabled. This from the same party that has spent seven years slashing corporation tax, so that big businesses now pay nearly £11bn less into the public purse. What’s more, Theresa May has vowed to cut these taxes even further.

This is the same party that has tried to make the appeals process even harder for people such as John, so that claimants merely file papers rather than get to present their case in person. The same party that allows huge delays to mount up in assessments for personal independence payments, which means people with disabilities are deprived of both that and a range of other help.



New PIP Descriptors For ‘Planning And Following Journeys’ From 16 March Will Exclude MH Claimants

FEBRUARY 24, 2017

With many thanks to Benefits and Work.

 

Following a court victory by claimants just last month, the government is rushing in an urgent change to the law to prevent many people with mental health conditions being awarded the mobility component of personal independence payment (PIP).

The change reverses the recent ruling by a panel of three judges and means that people with mental health conditions such as severe anxiety who can go outdoors, even if they need to have someone with them, are much less likely to get an award of even the standard rate of the PIP mobility component.


Panel of upper tribunal judges

As we explained just a few weeks ago, for years we’ve been advising members that DWP guidance about ‘Planning and following a journey’ was wrong and was leading to incorrect assessments by health professionals and errors of law by decision makers.

The disagreement over interpretation was finally decided by a panel of three upper tribunal judges last month

The DWP continued to argue that anyone with a mental health condition who was ever able to go outdoors, even with someone with them, should score only 4 points and receive no award at all on that basis.

But the tribunal held that claimants with conditions such as severe anxiety can qualify even for the enhanced rate of the mobility component, just on the basis of problems with ‘Planning and following a journey’, or ‘Going out’ as the PIP form terms it.


New regulations

Rather than try to fight the case any further, the government have resorted to a change in the regulations, which doesn’t require any kind of debate or vote in parliament.

From 16 March the law will be changed so that the words “For reasons other than psychological distress” will be added to the start of descriptors c, d and f in relation to “Planning and following journeys”.


Current descriptors

The descriptors currently read:

a. Can plan and follow the route of a journey unaided. 0 points.

b. Needs prompting to be able to undertake any journey to avoid overwhelming psychological distress to the claimant. 4 points.

c. Cannot plan the route of a journey. 8 points.

d. Cannot follow the route of an unfamiliar journey without another person, assistance dog or orientation aid. 10 points.

e. Cannot undertake any journey because it would cause overwhelming psychological distress to the claimant. 10 points.

f. Cannot follow the route of a familiar journey without another person, an assistance dog or an orientation aid. 12 points.


New descriptors

The new descriptors will read (changes in bold by us):

a. Can plan and follow the route of a journey unaided. 0 points.

b. Needs prompting to be able to undertake any journey to avoid overwhelming psychological distress to the claimant. 4 points.

c. For reasons other than psychological distress, cannot plan the route of a journey. 8 points.

d. For reasons other than psychological distress, cannot follow the route of an unfamiliar journey without another person, assistance dog or orientation aid. 10 points.

e. Cannot undertake any journey because it would cause overwhelming psychological distress to the claimant. 10 points.

f. For reasons other than psychological distress, cannot follow the route of a familiar journey without another person, an assistance dog or an orientation aid. 12 points.

The effect will be that people who are too anxious to ever undertake journeys unless they have someone with them, for example because they have panic attacks or similar, will be unlikely to be awarded more than 4 points by the DWP. This means they will not be able to get an award of the mobility component on the basis of this activity alone.

Even claimants who are too anxious to ever go on journeys, even if they have someone with them, will only score 10 points and thus not be eligible for the enhanced rate of the mobility component on the basis of this activity alone.


Ruthless

The new regulations also make changes to the way that descriptors relating to taking medication are interpreted, again in response to a ruling by judges in favour of claimants.

The new regulations are being rushed in without the Social Security Advisory Committee even being given a chance to comment on them.

Penny Mordaunt, the minister for disabled people, claimed in a statement today that

“Two recent Upper Tribunal judgments have broadened the way the PIP assessment criteria should be interpreted, going beyond the original intention. In order to make sure the initial purpose of PIP is maintained, we are making drafting amendments to the criteria which provide greater clarity. This will not result in any claimants seeing a reduction in the amount of PIP previously awarded by DWP. . . If not urgently addressed, the operational complexities could undermine the consistency of assessments, leading to confusion for all those using the legislation, including claimants, assessors, and the courts. It is because of the urgency caused by these challenges, and the implications on public expenditure, that proposals for these amendments have not been referred to the Social Security Advisory Committee before making the regulations.”

In reality, the new regulations are a ruthless response to fair and reasonable judgements and their only purpose is to cut the cost of disability benefits, regardless of the effect on the lives of individuals.

The new regulations will not apply to decisions made before 16 March. However, it is possible that decision makers will delay making decisions on claims likely to be covered by the new regulations until after that date.

We will be updating our PIP guide before the new regulations come into force.


Allowing DWP barristers to sit as benefits appeal judges ‘is unquestionably wrong’

courtesy of JOHN PRING ON FEBRUARY 23, 2017


A system that allows barristers who are paid by DWP to prosecute benefit fraud cases to also sit as judges on tribunals that decide social security appeals is “unquestionably wrong” and a “direct conflict of interest”, say welfare rights experts.

The concerns were raised this week after Disability News Service (DNS) was told about one judge who had prosecuted two high-profile cases of benefit fraud in 2012 and 2013, even though she had been appointed as a part-time social security tribunal judge in 2011.

It is likely that the barrister prosecuted many more cases for DWP, as most trials are not covered by the media.

There is no suggestion that the judge in this case – who was eventually appointed to a full-time judicial role and stopped working as a barrister – behaved improperly, but there are concerns that other barristers who work as part-time judges might feel pressured not to rule against DWP in tribunals in case future prosecution work dries up.

Once a judge is appointed to a full-time, salaried post they are no longer allowed to carry out paid work as barristers.

Neither DWP nor the Judicial Office, which supports the judiciary, expressed any concerns this week about part-time judges on social security appeal tribunals also prosecuting cases on behalf of DWP.

But Steve Donnison, co-founder of Benefits and Work, which provides benefits information and advice, said: “It is unquestionably wrong that judges can be allowed to sit in jurisdictions where they have a financial relationship with one of the parties to appeals. 

“It undermines people’s trust in the independence of the judiciary.

“Unfortunately, the tribunals service have form in this regard. 

“A lot of the medical members who sat on disability living  allowance tribunals were doctors who also regularly did home visits for DWP medical services, before assessments were outsourced.

“Many people were unhappy about this and it was the subject of an appeal. 

“But the upper tribunal, or social security commissioners as they then were, decided that doctors were professional people who could be trusted not to let such things influence them in their role as tribunal members.

“I suspect that judicial faith in the incorruptibility of professional people will not have diminished, if this issue is ever the subject of an appeal.”

Andrew Clark, chair of the user-led disabled people’s organisation Buckinghamshire Disability Service (BuDS), also expressed concern.

He said there was an argument that barristers should have a “professional detachment” and so should not be affected by which organisation was paying them.

He said: “Having prosecuted benefit fraud for the DWP does not necessarily mean that you are against people claiming the benefit.

“There is a substantial difference between an employee of the DWP and a barrister who works for a chambers that takes work from the DWP.”

But he said that he would be concerned about lawyers going “backwards and forwards between the two on a regular basis”.

He said: “I would feel considerably more concerned about it if they were one of the DWP’s stable of barristers that were regularly used by them.

“If [the judge]is in that position as being seen quite regularly as representing DWP it would be a completely different situation.

“If they have done two [cases prosecuting benefit fraud]there is a good chance they would have done more.

“If that is the case, there are grounds for concern. It may be unjustified concern, but I think it is in the public interest to pursue [the concern]further.”   

Michelle Cardno, founder of the benefits advice organisation Fightback4Justice, said she believed DWP barristers also working as part-time tribunal judges was “a direct conflict of interest and morally wrong”.

She said she would not like to see any of these barristers sitting as an “impartial judge” on a tribunal for any of her clients because of the “certain mindset” required to be a prosecuting barrister in benefit fraud cases.

She said that such cases often rely on evidence from DWP fraud investigators, which only reaches court because of the persistence of the DWP barrister, “even when statements are unsigned”.

She said: “I feel the whole way they pursue a suspected fraud claimant is relentless and designed in court to wear disabled people down, and to switch to an impartial role on a panel after being part of that mechanism would be legally unethical in my opinion and not in the best interests of natural justice.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “The judiciary is independent of the government. Both barristers and judges are bound by their professions to uphold that independence.”

She said the Government Legal Department, and not DWP, was responsible for approaching a barrister’s chambers to ask them to prosecute a case, and added: “The chambers will then instruct a barrister to act in proceedings, making an assessment on an individual’s skills and any potential conflicts of interest.”

But asked if DWP was aware of cases in which barristers prosecuting benefit fraud cases on its behalf had also worked as part-time judges on social security tribunals, she refused to comment.

A Judicial Office spokesman said they “do not recognise this as a conflict of interest, unless specific allegations are made”. 

He said: “Judicial conduct guidelines require all judges to remain impartial. 

“If a judge considers there to be a conflict of interest it is a matter for them to decide on whether to recuse themselves or to raise the matter with the parties involved.”

He added: “Given the specialised nature of the tribunal and that most cases are brought by the DWP it would be undesirable to exclude lawyers who had represented them from sitting as judges.

“Equally it would be undesirable to exclude all those lawyers who had represented claimants challenging DWP decisions.

“It is only by representing parties in the tribunal that lawyers gain the experience and knowledge they need to become judges.”

When asked whether the Judicial Office was concerned about lawyers working as both a barrister and a part-time judge, flipping from one to the other, he said: “In practice they wouldn’t be acting as a lawyer at the same time as sitting as a judge. They would do one or the other.  

“They would be expected to represent either party to the best of their abilities when acting as a lawyer and remain impartial when sitting as a judge.”


Council boss in Capita care cuts storm admits one in five had support reduced

16th February 2017


A council leader has admitted that one in five of the disabled people whose care packages were reassessed by the discredited outsourcing company Capita have had their support cut.

Simon Letts, the Labour leader of Southampton City Council (SCC), also admitted that none of the 90 service-users whose direct payments packages have been reassessed by Capita have seen their support increased.

Letts was forced to speak out as activists from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and their allies protested outside his council’s offices after a Disability News Service (DNS) story revealed how freelance social workers were offered an “extra incentive scheme” by a Capita manager last September if they increased the “savings” they achieved by cutting people’s support.

Although that email offer was later withdrawn – the council and Capita insist it was never approved – another leaked Capita email passed to DNS showed how the council continued to pressure the company to cut care packages.

The second email, sent on 8 November by the same Capita manager, said: “The senior [council]managers who are leading this transformation want to know why we are failing to realise the results in service delivery and savings they anticipated by commissioning this project.

“They in turn are being asked to explain to Councillors of SCC.”

Letts told DPAC that the emails made “disturbing reading” and later admitted that their “style and tone” was “not acceptable”.

But before DNS released the emails to DPAC and the council – with the permission of the whistleblower who leaked them – Letts had attacked the story as “false news” and said that Labour Party members who planned to protest should “know better”.

The protests against Capita have come as a DNS investigation continues into separate claims that healthcare professionals carrying out disability benefits assessments for Capita – and fellow outsourcing company Atos – have been guilty of widespread dishonesty in how they have compiled their reports for the Department for Work and Pensions.

Actvists who protested outside the council’s offices yesterday (Wednesday) said they believed the local authority’s actions had breached the Care Act.

And they called on the council to reinstate the support packages of everyone who has seen their care cut because of a Capita reassessment.

Tim Geering (pictured, at the protest), from Southampton DPAC, one of the organisers of the protest, called on Letts to consider resigning.

He said: “We wanted to lay down a marker today that DPAC and our supporters are going to put pressure on the council to restore the care packages of people who have had them taken away.

“We want an end to using contractors like Capita, who have an abhorrent record in their dealings with disabled people.”

Kathy, a council service-user who has not herself been reassessed by Capita, said she was concerned by the council’s contract with the company.

She said: “Without help, we wouldn’t survive. I am just concerned about the older generation who are too scared to voice an opinion.”

Bobby Noyes, president of Southampton Trades Union Council, told fellow protesters: “The information from the whistleblower potentially brings into question the legality under the Care Act of every person assessed by Capita.

“Our demand is for the council to reinstate all packages cut by Capita.

“We want to see the packages restored, to ensure people can have a dignified existence and not suffer the consequences of austerity.”

One disabled protester, Ba Lupton, said Capita were “just a rogue firm. They are just making millions out of tax-payers’ money.”

Independent councillor Andrew Pope, a former Labour council member, told DNS: “Social work in the city of Southampton has been in chaos for many years, whether Conservative or Labour.

“This is what happens when you don’t have control over what is happening in your offices.”

The whistleblower told DNS last week that Capita had piled pressure on its team of freelance social workers – while paying them more than £1,000 a week, after tax, and putting them up in three-star hotels – to cut care packages, on the council’s orders.

The council had employed Capita to clear a backlog of annual reviews of the care packages of disabled and older people.

The whistleblower said her bosses made it clear that team members would only keep their jobs if they produced enough cuts to the packages of the people whose care needs they were assessing.

Both the council and Capita have continued to deny there was any pressure placed on the social workers to cut people’s support packages.

A council spokesman said: “The style and tone of the emails to social workers in the review team is not considered acceptable and this has been addressed with the sender.”

But he denied that the council had asked Capita to cut people’s support, or that the council had told Capita that the contract would only continue if it produced a certain amount of cuts.

He said: “The purpose of this project was to comply with the Care Act.

“The aim of the project was not to cut people’s care and support packages but to address a backlog of reviews.

“As the care packages had not been reviewed for over a year, it was anticipated that some would reduce.

“The reason for the project was to bring additional capacity to enable overdue reviews to be completed in a timely way.

“Social workers were not encouraged to recommend the reduction of people’s packages, but to carry out a thorough review of needs to ensure that care and support was appropriate and being delivered in accordance with the council’s adult social care and support planning policy.

“The locum social workers employed by Capita on the project were paid at rates that are consistent with the cap on social worker agency fees proposed by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services for social workers with two years’ experience.

“The hotels used are booked by Capita at their contract rates for social workers who are working away from home.”

A Capita spokesman said in a statement: “Capita and its employees delivering this service have never been incentivised to deliver savings, and our overall contract performance is measured on the delivery of needs based assessments that ensure people are receiving the appropriate type and level of care as well as meeting the requirements of the Care Act (2014).

“We always encourage all of our employees to consider how our services to customers could be improved or delivered differently.

“However, in this case the employees’ idea was clearly inappropriate and they did not have the authority to suggest it, share it with the team nor action it.

“The scheme was never considered an appropriate proposal and was rejected outright.”


Euthanasia:  The Tip Of The Iceberg

Posted by Editor in News on 4 February 2017. Comments Off on Euthanasia:  the tip of the iceberg


Some recent news items recall the tip of the iceberg analogy, the presence under the surface of something large and dangerous that may suddenly emerge in full view.

Picture the scene: a doctor gives a lethal injection to an elderly confused woman who is struggling to fight it off, but is being held down by her family.

Horror story from a novel or film?  History?  From a land under a savage dictatorship?

No.

In the Netherlands, where rampant euthanasia and assisted suicide usually go unchecked, this case was sent to the Regional Review Committee, which though asking for more judicial clarity on the subject, approved of the doctor as having acted in good faith.

See  https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/dutch-govt-panel-hopes-case-of-forced-euthanasia-committed-in-good-faith-ca

The woman, who was over 80 and had dementia,  had apparently earlier requested to be euthanized when “the time was right”,  but more recently said she wanted to go on living.

Her doctor, however,  put a sedative in the patient’s coffee, and although she struggled, administered a lethal injection while family members held her down.

How often does this happen?  An earlier case was reported where an elderly woman with dementia had clearly said she wished to be euthanised when she lost her mind, but physically resisted when her husband called a doctor to carry this out. The doctor stopped, but later the husband insisted, and the doctor returned and ended her life. There was some doubt about whether she resisted the second time.  The discussion of that case in the Dutch media showed how drastically their laws have eroded public views on killing helpless people.

Another factor that is increasingly coming into view is that it is much cheaper to kill the ill, disabled and elderly than to care for them. A recent study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal talks about a saving of millions of dollars for the country. See  http://www.cmaj.ca/content/189/3/E101.abstract   

Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister has said that old people should “hurry up and die” to unburden the nation’s medical-care system.  Similar attitudes towards those who are considered no longer productive have been openly expressed by several politicians and doctors.

So far our own legislature has seen the dangers of relaxing the law. We must continue resisting continual attempts to do this, whether by changing statute law or in other ways.


The Tories have decided to 'incentivise' disabled people – by trying to cut their desperately needed benefits again

Independent February 2017


Ministers seem to think that if the state just stopped showering disabled people with sweeties they’d get off their backsides and get jobs. Employ a few ex-military PT instructors as 'work coaches' at the Job Centre Plus, allow them to impose sanctions on the real lazybones, and it won’t be long before no one will need ESA!

  

If you take a moment to look beyond Brexit, you’ll discover that Theresa May’s Government is up to some extremely nasty things. 

One of those is its plan to slash the amount of money available for new sick and/or disabled claimants of Employment and Support Allowance.


This ugly little policy, already the subject of considerable angst, has just been made the subject of a sharply critical report from the Work & Pensions select committee. 

But before we get to that, some background: the policy affects people in what’s now known as the Work-Related Activity Group. These people are deemed by the Department for Work and Pensions to have disabilities or health conditions that limit their ability to work.  

However, it is held that they could improve their chances through “work related activities”.

From April, new claimants will be hit with a reduction of £29.05 in their entitlement, which will fall to £73.10 a week, the same rate as people currently claiming Job Seekers Allowance. This follows on from the cuts that the DWP tried to implement last year, which resulted in Iain Duncan Smith's resignation. 

Before you ask why that should be a problem, remember that these are people with potentially quite serious disabilities or health conditions, which typically impose sharply higher extra costs upon them. According to the charity Scope, disabled people’s extra costs average out at about £550 a month, which £29 a week won’t even come close to covering.

It’s also worth remembering that you have to prove that you face some really quite serious challenges before getting ESA in the first place. 

The DWP has, however, justified the cut by arguing that it will incentivise these people. 

To the mind of its ministers, if the state just stopped showering them with sweeties they’d get off their fat arses and get jobs. They’re probably fakers anyway.

Employ a few ex-military PT instructors as “work coaches” at the Job Centre Plus, allow them to impose sanctions on the real lazybones, and, hey presto, it won’t be long before no one will need ESA!


You won’t be all that surprised to learn that the DWP doesn’t actually express in it like that. But it is the clear implication of their policy. 

What the DWP doesn’t want to say that it is doing it to keep the Treasury happy by saving £450m a year from its budget by 2020-2021, and £1bn in total leading up to that point. 

Ministers are only too aware that if they admitted this, people would be given an excuse to juxtapose that £29.05 a week against the millionaires’ tax cut they voted for. Oh look, I’ve just done it. 

But let’s take the DWP at its word. The problem with its explanation for the cut is that it stands up to scrutiny about as well as some recipients of the benefit are able to stand up. 

As the All-Party Committee’s report makes clear – it says the evidence supporting the idea that introducing a new, lower rate of ESA, will enhance incentives to work is “ambiguous at best”.

It also, quite rightly, states that “where new ESA claimants have unavoidably higher living costs related to their conditions, the change may leave them with lower disposable incomes than Job Seekers Allowance claimants”.

It might also impede their ability to find work (if it’s even realistic for them to do that). Something which they are going to find considerably harder than their able-bodied competitors. 



Right now, around 80 per cent of adults of working age (16-64) are in employment. The number falls for 48.3 per cent for disabled people, using the Government’s preferred definition. 

The report notes ministers’ stated commitment to halving what is known as the disability employment gap, but without giving any timescale. 

Under the previous minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, it was supposed to be done by 2020. Since then, however, the target has been dropped, not least because it would require getting as many as 1.5m disabled people into work in less than four years. We’re more likely to see a wheelchair based player getting into the NBA than we are that happening. 

The Committee says it heard one estimate – from the Learning and Work Institute – that on current rates of progress, halving the gap would take over 200 years at current rates. But it could easily start to widen, particularly if unemployment starts rising, as it might, given the uncertainties the country faces.

People with disabilities who are not on ESA find it incredibly tough to find work, let alone those whose conditions are specifically assessed as limiting their ability to engage in it. 

In researching this piece, I asked a friend with disabilities whether they were on ESA. This is what they said: “I am not 'sick' I am able to work. It’s just that finding work is difficult.”

 

The UN is about to investigate the UK's treatment of the disabled

You’ll hear that a lot. The vast majority of disabled people are like my friend. They want to work. The problem is finding employers that will look past the disability and judge them on their skills and abilities. 

The committee has tried to be constructive. It has suggested incentivising employers to hire people with disabilities by offering reductions in their National Insurance contributions. 

I have repeatedly argued that the Government, which employs millions through the public sector, and millions more via contractors that work for the public sector, should do far more than it is doing to monitor and influence their hiring practices.

 

Liz Sayce, from Disability Rights UK, has this to say on the cut: “We’re not aware of one single disability employment or benefits expert who thinks this particular cut will be an incentive for disabled people to get a job.”

And Frank Field, the Committee’s chairman, said this: “If they intend to proceed with these cuts, we expect an explanation of how this will not be detrimental to the target of halving the disability employment gap, by making finding and keeping a job even more difficult for disabled people than it already is.”


Quite. It stinks. And if this brutal holdover from David Cameron’s government isn’t re-examined, it will tell us an awful lot about the true character of the May Government that has succeeded it.

  

PIP investigation: MPs to consider assessment dishonesty claims

courtesy of  JOHN PRING ON FEBRUARY 2, 2017


An influential committee of MPs is to examine claims of widespread dishonesty by healthcare professionals who carry out face-to-face assessments of disability benefit claimants.

Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) published the results of a two-month investigation that suggested a serious, institutional problem that spreads across the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the two private sector contractors – Atos and Capita – that assess eligibility for personal independence payment (PIP) on its behalf.

DNS included evidence from more than 20 disabled people who had contacted DNS over the last year or had commented on previous DNS news stories to claim that their assessors – usually qualified nurses – lied repeatedly in reports they produced for DWP.

Since publication, DNS has collected more than 20 further reports – some through comments on last week’s stories, and others with detailed evidence shared with DNS – from disabled people who say their assessment reports were dishonest and deeply misleading.

As a result of that evidence, the chair of the Commons work and pensions select committee, the Labour MP Frank Field (pictured), said today (Thursday): “The committee has been presented with some concerning reports about the operation of the PIP assessment process.

“I’m looking at those reports, and the issues they raise, very carefully. It will then be for the committee to decide how it wants to respond.”

The team reviewing PIP on behalf of DWP has also confirmed that it will accept evidence collected during the DNS investigation. Paul Gray’s second review of PIP is due to be published in April.

DWP has continued to show no interest in the results of the investigation and to insist that there is no dishonesty at all among its benefits assessors.

Meanwhile, a former Atos assessor has told DNS why she believes there are so many examples of dishonest assessment reports.

The former nurse worked for Atos for about six months in 2014 and 2015 before she left because she was not meeting her target of eight paper-based assessments a day.

Although she left before the period covered by the latest reports – which focus on the last 12 months – she said she believes the pressure on her former colleagues to reach their targets for completing reports left them little time to research the conditions they are assessing.

She said: “I know staff would make assumptions rather than facts… to get the reports done quickly and hope it didn’t get audited.

“Some were like me very conscientious and others banged them out for the financial incentive, with little compassion or research on conditions.”

She added: “The lack of knowledge on conditions, drugs and side-effects is shocking, but in reality, assessors cannot know about every possible condition but have no time… to look them up and research the condition and effects.”

She particularly highlighted the lack of knowledge about mental health conditions, which she said meant assessors were often “totally subjective rather than objective with no time to look up the condition or read up the effects of the prescribed medication and side effects”. 

She also blamed “target-driven management” and assessors “making assumptions rather than using facts”, while the risk of losing their jobs if they failed to achieve targets for the number of assessments they carried out meant assessors were “not always reading all of the evidence”.

And, she said, many assessors often wanted to finish their reports quickly “so they could be paid overtime”.

Atos has again refused to comment this week, while a DWP spokeswoman said of the former assessor’s claims: “We can’t respond on Atos’s behalf. I suggest you refer that question to them.”

In another development, one PIP claimant has provided evidence which may explain why so few complaints about assessors are upheld by DWP’s “independent” complaints body, the Independent Case Examiner (ICE), which is staffed by DWP civil servants.

He has shown DNS an email from a member of the DWP customer services team which makes it clear that he is not allowed to lodge complaints about his PIP assessor with ICE because his concerns were “regarding the decision making process so are not considered as a complaint and as such would not be signposted to ICE as a result”.

A DWP press officer responded to a question about the email just before this week’s DNS deadline to say that she could not comment because “we have not been given any details about the email or claimant you’re referring to”.

By the time she replied, it was too late to secure permission from the PIP claimant to share his email with the DWP press office.

Last week, DWP said: “Assessment providers have their own complaints processes in place, and if claimants are not satisfied with providers’ response they will be signposted to the Independent Case Examiner (ICE). 

“Over 1.9 million PIP claims have been decided since April 2013 to September 2016 and in this time only a tiny fraction of complaints regarding providers’ service standards have been upheld by ICE.


In Tory Britain, disabled people are seen as idle

Barbara Ellen February 2017


There are plans to reduce significantly disability benefits for new claimants of the employment and support allowance (ESA). In changes due in April, the ESA would be reduced from £102 to £73, bringing it into line with the jobseeker’s allowance.

While the work and pensions committee said that it welcomed planned reforms to the work capability assessment, the oft-condemned “fit-for-work” test, it questioned whether the government’s plans would, as stated, help remove “perverse incentives” that apparently discourage people from returning to work.

Disability charities say that far from encouraging disabled people back into work, this could seriously hamper their efforts, as the living costs of such people are already high and their search for work extremely difficult.

How convenient that this important issue is being debated at a time when public attention is distracted. What is being planned (with caveats about “safety nets” for the worst off) is putting disabled job searchers on pretty much the same footing as the able bodied, even though it’s implausible that they’d be in the same situation.

As has been endlessly pointed out, not only do disabled people need more money just to live, not only do they face obvious obstacles in the hunt for work, they also have to contend with employers being loath to hire them.

Then there’s the “perverse incentives” argument, which, attached to the able bodied, argues that it makes no sense for people to work when their expenses can be paid by the state. I’m sure people like this exist and that some souls are just preternaturally bone idle. We should also perhaps question just how perverse it is to sit down, do some calculations and realise that, considering certain factors (high rents, travel costs, childcare, take your pick), families would be better off without a certain job.



Even where able-bodied people are concerned, you’d have to wonder whether these were really textbook cases of “perverse incentives” or just people trying their best to solve dilemmas. Whether, in fact, it’s always fair or accurate to caricature the long-term unemployed as work-shy layabouts, who’d rather sit around all day eating bags of Haribos and watching Cash in the Attic than put in a hard day’s graft. This is insulting enough when able-bodied people are targeted and misrepresented. When it happens to disabled people, it goes into the outer stratosphere of offensive, bordering on inhumane.

The Department for Work & Pensions seems determined to proceed with these plans, even though it has been repeatedly warned about the possible consequences.



With Brexit also looking likely to affect disabled people’s rights and living standards, it would be instructive to see the department detail in full the “perverse incentives” a disabled person presently gets from trying to survive on the ESA of £102 a week. It would also be interesting to hear its justification for taking away over a quarter of it, putting extra pressure on new disabled claimants and increasing their anxiety.

To my mind, attaching this “perverse incentives” theory to the able bodied is problematic enough; when it’s attached to disabled people, it looks farcical and disgusting.

It can’t help but make you wonder what exactly is it about a disabled person’s existence in modern Britain that looks so darned cushy that the Tory government feels that it must rush in to stop them being so cosseted?

The wider picture may be that, for years, society as a whole has been encouraged to scapegoat and stereotype the able-bodied long-term unemployed as idle and cunning or, as the new lingo puts it, “perversely incentivised”. For a while, disabled people seemed, to some extent, to be exempted from this mass-defamation exercise. Apparently, not any more.









Protesters bring ‘rotten PIP’ message to the core of Westminster

July 2016 Courtesy John Pring


Disabled people across the country have marched, stopped traffic and blocked the office entrances of government contractors as part of a national day of action that drew attention to a disability benefit they say is “rotten to the core”.

Campaigners believe the personal independence payment (PIP) system was only introduced as a replacement for working-age disability living allowance (DLA) as a way of removing disabled people’s entitlement to support, as part of the government’s austerity programme.

They also point to the growing evidence of the “shoddy nature” of the PIP assessments, carried out by the government’s contractors, Capita and Atos, which they say are “making a killing” from the contracts.

The national day of action featured protests at nearly 20 locations across the country, mostly at Atos and Capita assessment centres, including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Sheffield, Norwich, and Brighton (where protesters included retired Paralympian Kristina Veasey).

There was also support from the cast of Graeae’s musical Reasons to be Cheerful, who tweeted: “@r2bcheerful cast team are in solidarity with #PIPFightback demos around UK today. ‘No’ to PIP delays, cuts & errors.”

The day of action was organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and two other user-led, grassroots organisations, WinVisible and the Mental Health Resistance Network.

entrance.

They then marched to the headquarters of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in Westminster, before they “faced down the world’s media” on College Green, opposite parliament, as journalists gathered to cover the last day in office of prime minister David Cameron and the first day of his successor, Theresa May.

Disabled activists shouted out the names of disabled people who they believe died as a direct result of the government’s social security cuts and reforms.

Paula Peters, from DPAC, said she wanted Atos and Capita to lose their assessment contracts, with the process brought back in-house, and for PIP to be scrapped and replaced with the old disability living allowance (DLA).

She said: “The assessments are abusive and humiliating, so we want them to stop.”

Peters made it clear that disabled people’s anti-cuts protests would continue under the new prime minister.

She said: “She is just as guilty as David Cameron of the horrendous human rights abuses disabled people have suffered these past six years.

“We won’t stop resisting this government, no matter who the prime minister is.”

In central Birmingham, protesters – including two former chairs of the British Council of Disabled People (BCODP) – were outside the PIP assessment centre used by Capita.

Sandra Daniels, from DPAC West Midlands, who organised the protest, said she believed the government wanted to cut the number of people receiving DLA by 25 per cent, and that mental health survivors and people with learning difficulties were among those being subjected to “sham assessments and reassessments”, a process she said was “ongoing” and “relentless”.

She said: “I want disabled people to have the benefits and support to be able to be members of the community.

“They should be given the resources they need to uphold their human rights and inclusion in society.

“They are pushing us back to the margins of society once again. Disabled people are losing their independence and will no longer have the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Anne Pridmore, a former BCODP chair, said she believed the cuts to working-age DLA were “just the start” of a “trickle, trickle” process of cuts to DLA spending, and that the government would eventually begin cutting the higher rate mobility element of DLA from disabled people over the age of 65.

She said the programme of PIP cuts “does not make sense. The government wants to get people in work, but if they take their [Motability] cars off them they are not going to be able to go to work.”

Bob Williams-Findlay, another former BCODP chair, said: “PIP has had a devastating effect on people’s lives and not only those who have lost it, but people here today who are living in fear of being reassessed.

“They know the criteria is so tough that unless you are immobile you are not going to get PIP.”

He said PIP had proved to be not only a deliberate cut to spending on disability benefits but also an attempt to “redefine who is and who is not a disabled person”, and he called for it to be replaced with an improved version of DLA.

He said: “To me, PIP is the epitome of body fascism because it focuses on the body and it doesn’t focus on the social environment and barriers.”

He said he believed PIP contravenes the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which focuses on removing these barriers.

Williams-Findlay said: “Looking at the costs of living as a disabled person, what is it that increases our costs? It’s the barriers.”He said he had not yet been reassessed for PIP himself, but added: “I live in fear that I will get rejected, because it takes no account of reality. Can you walk 20 metres? Can you pick up a bag of sugar?”

Andrew Comer, a former committee member of Birmingham People First, before it was forced to close this year after losing its funding, said he was waiting to hear the results of his own PIP assessment.

He said: “I am concerned about everything from the [closure of the] Independent Living Fund to PIP.


“People with all kinds of disabilities are not being listened to by the government.”

Another disabled activist, known as “Angry Fish”, who has yet to be reassessed for PIP, said the austerity programme was “doing most damage, and sometimes fatal damage, to disabled people”, including the unnecessary “stress, anxiety and fear” caused by the reassessment process.

He said: “People are having their lives totally ruined by the PIP process and austerity.”

He pointed to the hundreds of people every week who were losing their Motability vehicles after being reassessed for PIP, which could cause many of them to lose their jobs, which could then cause their personal assistants to lose their jobs.

And he called for a new programme to replace PIP, which would provide a “holistic perspective of people’s capacity to engage in society”. Mark Lynes, another Birmingham protester, said he believed PIP was introduced to “take away support from society” and was an attack on the social security system.

He said: “A lot of people have lost their total independence. They are struggling and have lost their Motability cars.”

Meanwhile, the former senior DWP civil servant Paul Gray has issued a call for evidence as part of his second review of PIP on behalf of the government. The first review took place in 2014.

In announcing the call for evidence, work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb also announced that his department had launched its own evaluation of PIP, with initial findings to be published by early next year.

Pensions minister Baroness Altmann said the audit would ensure that the advice provided by Capita and Atos was “of suitable quality, is fully explained and is justified”.

Gray, who chairs the social security advisory committee, said the audit followed his recommendation in 2014 that DWP should commission a “rigorous quantitative and qualitative evaluation strategy” to examine the experience of PIP claimants.

He said the audit would run alongside his own review and “may help to inform my final conclusions”.

Gray said that a “major objective” of his second review would be to assess how “further evidence” was used to reach PIP entitlement decisions which “properly reflect claimant needs and the day-to-day functional impacts of their condition”.

This appears to mirror serious, long-standing concerns over DWP’s failure to ensure that the necessary further medical evidence is collected for claimants of employment and support allowance, the out-of-work disability benefit, particularly for those with mental health conditions.


No confidence that SCIE report will see Care Act turnaround in Norfolk

Courtesy John Pring

July 2016


A report commissioned following concerns raised by disabled people that their local authority was breaching its duties under the Care Act will do little to help because it fails to address drastic cuts to social care funding, say campaigners.

Norfolk County Council (NCC) had asked the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) to review its implementation of the 2014 Care Act after the disabled people’s organisation Equal Lives accused it of “reckless behaviour” that had left disabled people prisoners in their own homes.

Equal Lives had accused the Conservative-majority council of a “systemic failure” to meet its legal duties under the act.

But although the report by SCIE – an improvement support agency that was originally set up by the Labour government but later became a charity – makes 22 recommendations for improvements at the council, it says nothing about the need for greater funding for social care in Norfolk.

SCIE said that the issue of funding and resources was “not specifically in scope” for the review, although the impact of funding cuts on the council’s practice “was raised by participants in the course of the review”.

Service-users in Norfolk are now considering taking legal action against the council over the cuts to their support, while their experiences will be fed into an inquiry into adult social care by the communities and local government select committee.

Their cases will also feed into a report being prepared by Equal Lives and other members of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance for its “shadow report” on how the UK government is implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

SCIE’s conclusions came as a health select committee report on the impact of last year’s spending review on health and social care funding in England concluded that “increasing numbers of people with genuine social care needs are no longer receiving the care they need because of a lack of funding”.

The committee’s Conservative chair, Dr Sarah Wollaston, said that this “not only causes considerable distress to these individuals and their families but results in additional costs to the NHS”. 

The committee heard that adult social care budgets had fallen by £4.6 billion (31 per cent) between 2010-11 and 2015-16, while by June 2015, 400,000 fewer disabled and older people were receiving social care than in 2009-10, with the size of care packages also being cut.

The SCIE report claims there is a “high level of awareness that cuts have to be made and budgets have to be reduced”, and that it has been “very difficult to manage expectations”.

It adds: “Service users and carers, aware of NCC’s need to make financial savings, feel generally anxious about reviews and assessments, as a reduction to Personal Budgets could have a significant impact on their quality of life.”

The report says the council has a “genuine intention to improve outcomes for local people”, but says there are “several areas for NCC to focus on to deliver and embed the Care Act’s requirements in ways which use resources to best effect” and “gain the full confidence” of service-users, staff and other groups and individuals.

But Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives, said: “Whilst welcoming the review I am not confident it will change very much given there are no recommendations around resources, even though the report does highlight cuts and management culture as contributing factors to poor performance. 

“The disabled people at the launch of the report saw it as ‘too high level’. 

“Their experience is having their personal budgets cut and a rising fear of social workers and reviews, as they are often a negative experience.

“I don’t believe things can be turned round in Norfolk without a significant rise in funding.”

Earlier this year, Equal Lives published six cases studies of disabled people whose wellbeing had suffered as a result of council cuts, and which it said demonstrated how the council had breached its duties under the Care Act.

Harrison said: “Norfolk has seen the adult social care budget cut by 40 per cent since 2010, with rising demand for services. 

“We are facing a further £20 million cuts over the next two years. “This is unsustainable and I call on Conservative politicians at national and local levels to take this seriously and address this crisis.”

Cllr Bill Borrett, the Conservative chair of the council’s adult social care committee, told Disability News Service that the funding pressures faced by NCC were “a national problem” and “not a problem unique to Norfolk”, and that his council, just like any other, would like more funding for social care from central government.

But he said social care had to “compete for its resources” with other areas, such as the NHS, education, and paying for the Trident nuclear deterrent, and that it was “a decision for society to make about whether they think there is enough of the national wealth being spent in this area or not”.

He said SCIE had not been asked to look at whether disabled people were receiving large enough care packages but at “the effectiveness of what was done and how the council was using its resources to get the best results”.

He said: “What we have to justify as an organisation is that we are using the scarce resources available to us to get absolutely the best results we can from those resources.

“If the council felt that absolutely everything it was doing was perfect then we wouldn’t have commissioned this report.

“We need to look at delivering services in a different way and that means that services are different.”

Asked whether disabled people in Norfolk were currently enjoying choice, control and a right to independent living, he said: “What we’ve got to be sure of is that these different services are going to be better at meeting their needs than the way the services were constructed in the past, and I don’t know the answer to that.”

And asked what message he would give to disabled people facing cuts to their support in Norfolk, he said: “The message I would give to them is we are striving to give them the best service that we can, given the budgets that are available to us, and that nothing is more important than that goal.”


DPAC joins ILF court case trio in call for Labour to back Corbyn

July 2016

Three disabled activists who took the government to court in an unsuccessful bid to stop the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) have called on Labour MPs to halt their attempts to topple their party leader.


Anne Pridmore, Gabriel Pepper and Stuart Bracking have pointed out that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had been “unstinting” in his support for ILF-users throughout the campaign to prevent the fund’s closure.


The trio were joined by Paul Taylforth, the father of a fourth former ILF-user who was involved in the court cases, in raising concerns about developments within the party.


They sent an email outlining their concerns to Corbyn, deputy party leader Tom Watson, the shadow chancellor John McDonnell, the present and previous shadow ministers for disabled people, Debbie Abrahams and Kate Green, and Neil Coyle, a Labour MP and a former director of Disability Rights UK.


They pointed out that Corbyn issued a statement on the day ILF closed in June last year pledging to campaign for it to be reinstated.


Their court bids to overturn the government’s decision to close the fund were finally defeated in December 2014, prompting Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, to suggest that the move signalled “the end of the right to independent living for disabled people in the UK”.


They said in this week’s statement: “The democratic election of Jeremy Corbyn last September instilled hope among many disabled people and their families that the Labour party had turned a corner, and would campaign hard to stop further austerity and cuts to public services and benefits.


“A number of judicial reviews brought in recent years reflect the impact public service cuts are having on the lives of disabled people and their families.

“While legal challenges are sometimes successful, they cannot achieve the impact and change an effective political campaign can.


“Rather than sow further division, we would urge Labour MPs to remember who austerity and public sector cuts are hitting the hardest, and the lives now being destroyed by them.”


They said there was a “desperate need for unity” among working-class people and said the Labour party and its MPs needed to “consider their responsibility and duty of care towards those who will continue to face the consequences if we fail to end austerity now”.

They said this would only be possible if the party united behind Corbyn’s leadership and worked with trade unions and disability campaigners to “build a political movement to achieve this”.


This week, Corbyn lost a vote of confidence among his own MPs by 172 votes to 40, and now faces leadership challenge from former minister Angela Eagle.

Yesterday (Wednesday), the former ILF-users were joined in their call by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which issued its own appeal to Labour members to back Corbyn.


In a statement on its website, it praised the “unstinting support” that Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell had given to both DPAC and disabled people.


It said: “Both have spoken out and voted against every horror the Tories have imposed on disabled people.”


McDonnell has sent a message to DPAC, urging all of its members and supporters “to support Jeremy if there is a leadership election”, and calling on non-members to join the party so they can vote for him.


Only last month, research by Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People suggested that the government’s failure to ring-fence the funding it was handing to local authorities following the ILF closure was leading to a “postcode lottery” of support for former ILF-recipients.


ILF was funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, and by last year it was helping nearly 17,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently.


But ministers decided it should be scrapped, promising instead that nine months’ worth of non-ring-fenced funding would be transferred to councils in England and to devolved governments in Wales and Scotland, to cover the period from its closure last summer to April 2016.

 

Disability employment gap: Experts demolish government excuses for WRAG cut

courtesy John Pring July


A trio of experts have destroyed government claims that cutting out-of-work benefits for disabled people will help them find work.

They were giving evidence to the Commons work and pensions select committee, as part of its inquiry into the government’s pledge to halve the disability employment gap (the difference between the employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people).

Neil Coyle, a Labour MP and a former director of Disability Rights UK, had asked the panel of experts if they agreed with the government that cutting nearly £30-a-week from new claimants placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) of employment and support allowance (ESA) would help cut the employment gap.

David Finch, a senior economic analyst with the Resolution Foundation think-tank, who previously spent eight years at the Department for Work and Pensions, said: “We don’t think it’s going to make any particular difference to people’s incentive to look for work or not.

“In face, we think there’s evidence to suggest that, with disabled people, the cost of work search or work preparation is actually more expensive… so in fact it could have the opposite effect and people will spend more time worrying about not having enough income and less time doing the types of activity they are trying to promote them to do.”


Ben Baumberg Geiger, a senior lecturer in sociology and social policy at the University of Kent and co-author of an influential report that called for the “toxic” work capability assessment to be scrapped, said the parliamentary debates on the ESA cut – due to be introduced next April – had suggested that people in the WRAG were “not that severely disabled”, when in fact there were many people who did have significant long-term impairments and would “suffer financially considerably from the cut.


He said he thought the cut would put an “immense strain” on the work capability assessment – which tests eligibility for ESA – which did not measure how far people were from the labour market but was “just a very crude assessment”.

He said the cut would incentivise claimants to try to get into the support group, which if they were successful would leave them with “very little engagement in getting back to work”, and so would be “definitely harmful” to government efforts to halve the employment gap.


A third expert, George Selvanera, director of strategy and external affairs at the Business Disability Forum, said he had yet to see any evidence that cutting disabled people’s income would “somehow increase their motivation and their skills to find work”.

He said: “What we do know is that it is not the fault of disabled people that the labour market fails disabled people.


“Somehow we are holding disabled people responsible for broader failures in the labour market, which just doesn’t seem fair.”

He added: “We know that [in]2013-14 that 30 per cent of disabled people lived in absolute poverty in this country, so making them poorer, I’m not sure how that incentivises people to work.”


Meanwhile, the latest figures – according to a briefing note published by the House of Commons library – show that the disability employment gap has actually risen since the 2015 election.


In the first quarter of 2015, the gap was 32.7 percentage points, which rose to 34.5 percentage points by the third quarter of last year, before falling to 33.1 percentage points in the first quarter of 2016.


This is because the level and rate of employment for both disabled and non-disabled people have been increasing since 2013.


In the first quarter of 2016, there were 3.33 million disabled people in jobs, an increase of 365,000 compared to the same period in 2014 (a rise of 12 per cent).


Relief after doctors maintain strong opposition to assisted suicide

courtesy John Pring  5th July


Disabled activists have welcomed the decision of doctors to vote strongly against relaxing their union’s position on physician-assisted suicide.

The British Medical Association (BMA) voted by 63 per cent to 37 per cent this week at its annual representative meeting (ARM) in Belfast to maintain its current position of being opposed to physician-assisted suicide.

Some doctors had wanted the BMA to move to a neutral stance on the issue.

Last September, the latest parliamentary attempt to weaken the law, through a private members’ bill put forward by Labour MP Rob Marris, was defeated by 330 votes to 118.

But there were concerns after his bill was thrown out that pro-assisted suicide campaigners were already plotting their next move to try to force through legalisation, either through the courts or parliament.

A move to a neutral position by the BMA would have given euthanasia supporters a significant boost in their continuing quest to change the law.

Minutes before the debate, delegates had decided by a margin of only three votes to allow the meeting to debate the issue of whether the BMA “should adopt a neutral stance on assisted dying”.  

Dr Andrew Mowat told delegates that BMA had debated the issue in seven of the last 10 ARMs.


He pointed out that MPs voted by nearly three to one against changing the law to legalise assisted suicide last year, while the Scottish parliament had thrown out a similar bill months earlier.

He said: “The public expect their doctors to lead on ethical issues. The thought of doctors killing patients creates public mistrust of us.”

He said that evidence from other countries showed that when doctors’ organisations moved to a position of neutrality it was soon followed by legalisation of assisted suicide.

Baroness Finlay, a crossbench peer and consultant in palliative medicine, and a leading opponent of legalisation, said: “With our hard-pressed healthcare system, doctors have enough to juggle without being saddled with assessing whose life is worth working hard to improve, and who should be given lethal drugs.”

But Professor Clare Gerada, former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners and a leading supporter of legalisation, said it was the BMA’s responsibility to debate the issue “year in, year out”.

The disabled people’s campaign network Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK), which opposes assisted suicide, welcomed the BMA vote, tweeting: “Thankyou to @BMA for continuing to oppose #assistedsuicide & listening to disabled people. Our lives are worth living,” and, “Disabled people will sleep safer tonight knowing @BMA doctors support us.”

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, NDY UK’s founder, added on Twitter: “Great news! Not Dead UK thanks you from the bottom of our heart.”


Dr Ian Wilson, chair of the BMA’s representative body, said: “Doctors appreciate the strongly-held views both across society and their profession on both sides of this complex and sensitive issue.

“The issue of assisted dying has been regularly debated by the BMA at its annual policy-forming conference, with delegates voting this year to remain opposed to assisted dying.

“By engaging with doctors and members of the public in an 18-month long project, we have compiled a comprehensive body of qualitative research to look at the wider context of the issue and enable members to have informed discussions at this year’s conference.


“This work will still continue and we will also be holding a special open discussion this week during which doctors will be able to share their views on some of the more complex and practical issues doctors would face if assisted dying were permitted in the UK.”


ENIL Stands by Disabled People in UK after Regrettable Brexit

June 24, 2016 Posted in European Union, News


ENIL Press Release, 24 June 2016

“Today, we come to the sobering realisation that our connection with European supporters, policies that reflect the aspirations of the Independent Living Movement and decision makers that would collaborate with us is severely damaged – possibly beyond repair. Disabled people, in the UK, will become further marginalised as the State begins to dismantle social justice frameworks and destroy the support systems that – currently – do not meet the needs of those who require them. The most startling factor to consider is that the majority of those who voted unwittingly accepted this.” Miro Griffiths, UK, Independent Living activist and researcher.

The European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) has woken up to today’s news of UK’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) with emotions of sadness, disbelief and dejection. We share these emotions with almost half of the UK population, the majority of whom are from the younger generations and larger cities, from Scotland and Northern Ireland, and most certainly from the UK Independent Living and disability rights movement.

It is clear that the distance between the Brussels policy making and everyday concerns of EU citizens in the Member States is far too great, or at the minimum is perceived that way. We hope that the Brexit setback will initiate a constructive debate that leads us to a more social Europe, with a stronger, more positive impact on our human rights and living conditions. The European core values of non-discrimination, human rights and freedom of movement should benefit us all, including the British disabled people and their families.

We are deeply concerned about the prospect of disabled people in Britain being worse off and hit by further cuts. Although discrimination and inequality affect many disabled people throughout Europe, there are numerous EU initiatives that have had a positive impact on our lives and have created a stronger legal basis to protect our rights. Among those positive measures are the EU Employment Directive, the EU Bus Directive and Air Passengers Regulation, the Web Accessibility Directive and the European Accessibility Act, which is currently being negotiated. The benefit of EU’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for Britain’s disabled people also cannot be underestimated, nor can access to the European Structural and Investment Funds, which can be used to advance deinstitutionalization, employment, accessibility and inclusion.

“I have been employing my own personal assistants for 33 years and during this time I have employed PAs from 12 different EU countries. I would not have been able to have managed this if we were not part of the EU. If we leave, this opportunity will no longer be available to us and will restrict thousands of disabled people finding new PAs. Recruitment of PAs is already a big problem in this country, particularly in many rural areas.” John Evans, ENIL UK & advisory board.

ENIL respects the democratic right of the British people to decide on their EU membership. However, we are adamant that a strong human rights agenda throughout Europe is better achieved together. ENIL will continue and intensify its collaboration with disabled people in the UK. We will not leave our British disabled brothers and sisters behind and will do everything in our power to support them in their fight.


PIP is a disaster for disabled people. At last the full horror is emerging

Frances Ryan


When does reform become dangerous? Over three years ago the Conservatives began to roll out personal independence payments (PIP) – in essence, the mandatory, mass re-testing of disabled and chronically ill people – and the answer is getting stark.

Personal independence payments are a punishment of the poor and ill.


A report released today by Muscular Dystrophy UK is the latest piece of evidence to expose an administrative catastrophe: appointments cancelled at the last minute, lost applications, year-long delays. Two in five respondents report being sent to an assessment centre that wasn’t accessible for disabled people. That’s in order to be tested for a disability benefit.

Make it inside the building and the picture is as dire: widespread reports of assessors – employed by private firms hired by the Department for Work and Pensions – who showed no respect for disabled people, while some didn’t even understand the condition they were testing (one man, with muscular dystrophy, pointed out that the word “progressive” means “muscles don’t come back”).

The result of this chaos is anything from rent arrears and credit card debt to mental scars. One woman, with a muscle wasting disease, said that she developed panic attacks after her assessment. She is now under care of a mental health team and doesn’t leave her house.


That the government deliberately built PIP with tightened criteria – and is sitting by as the system descends into disarray – becomes grimmer still when you consider that this is being done to a benefit tied to other essential disability services.

Without PIP a disabled person can’t access anything from carer’s allowance to severe disability premium. If that isn’t enough, anyone who is rejected – or bumped down to the standard rate – is also barred from the Motability scheme for an accessible car or powered wheelchair.

Sarah, a nurse with progressive muscle wasting and weakness, is seven months’ pregnant – and has been forced to hand back her Motability car. The 29-year-old had been receiving the higher rate of disability living allowance (the predecessor to PIP), but after being reassessed she was knocked down to the standard rate – despite her condition deteriorating.

Sarah can’t take her fatigue medicine without affecting her pregnancy, and her disability means she is at risk of falling when she walks, and permanent damage. “That vehicle was a lifeline to me,” she says. “I’ve lost my independence.”

Last week Sarah was due at a tribunal to appeal against the decision, but found it cancelled with just two days’ notice – and no explanation. She’s been in hospital twice this weekend.

The government is skewing benefits appeals against disabled people


Will this be making many headlines? It took the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith and a budget hole of billions to get the mainstream media to shine a light on the disaster of PIP – or many politicians to find a conscience. One cut to the benefit is stopped. A new secretary of state is hired. And the news cycle moves on. The disabled can’t. For many, things are only getting worse.

Between 400 and 500 adapted cars, powered wheelchairs, and scooters are being taken away from disabled people every week. Independence gone – with a maximum of seven weeks to hand your lifeline back. As an insight into the logic, let alone empathy, in this system, that’s notably less time than it takes to go to appeal or even to get the results of mandatory reconsideration – meaning the DWP’s ruling can be overturned, but the disabled person’s car or wheelchair will already have been taken. (At the last count, 60% of appeals against PIP were successful).

Darran uses a wheelchair – and has a degenerative muscle wasting disease – but last year was downgraded on PIP and lost his car. In his own words, it left him “housebound and isolated”, and he scraped together the deposit for another accessible vehicle. The DWP later informed Darran that its decision had been “mistaken”, and his old car would be returned. “My £2,000 deposit is non-refundable,” he says. “I’ve lost that money.”

This is starting to look like a game with people’s lives. Take away benefits and the sick become destitute. Remove a car or wheelchair and disabled people become housebound. It’s happening right now – and what’s worse, most of the public won’t even know it.



Concerns after Learning Disability England Courtesy J Pring

21/6/16


A group launched last year to represent people with learning difficulties across England has been scrapped and replaced by a non-user-led organisation that will be partly controlled by service-providers.

People First England (PFE) was set up last year by Gary Bourlet, who founded Britain’s first People First self-advocacy organisation in London in 1984, and fellow disabled activist Kaliya Franklin.

They joined forces in a bid to set up the first national user-led organisation for people with learning difficulties to cover just England, which they hoped would develop into an umbrella organisation for self-advocacy groups across the country.

In the first few weeks of the project they raised nearly £30,000, but it later struggled to raise further funds and they have now been forced into a merger that will leave people with learning difficulties in a minority on the new organisation’s board.

At the time of its launch, concerns were raised by other self-advocacy campaigners that PFE’s plans to work closely with families, carers and groups not led by disabled people could eventually see it become a non-user-led organisation that would have more in common with service-provider charities like Mencap.

A year on, some disabled activists fear that those concerns have been born out.

PFE has now merged with the charity the Housing and Support Alliance – which had been supporting PFE – to create Learning Disability England (LDE), which was launched at the House of Lords this week.

Instead of LDE being run by disabled people, power will instead be shared between “people with learning disabilities, families and friends, and organisations”, with a nine-strong board having three family representatives, three people from disability organisations and three self-advocates.

LDE is likely to replace campaigning work previously done by the Learning Disability Alliance – which itself was made up of service-providers, the National Forum of People with Learning Disabilities and the National Valuing Families Forum – and the Learning Disability Coalition, which had a similar make-up to the alliance.

But concerns have been raised that LDE’s funders include a string of organisations that earn money by providing services to people with learning difficulties, including Care Management Group, Brandon Trust, Advance Housing and Support, United Response and MacIntyre.

Andrew Lee, director of policy and campaigns at People First Self-Advocacy, who raised concerns last year about PFE, said he was “very worried” about the new organisation and “not surprised that my concerns have actually become a reality”.

He said he feared that LDE would lead to the voices of people with learning difficulties being “sidelined”, while he was also concerned about the risk of “tokenism”.

He said: “Unless people with learning difficulties are in complete control of an organisation, then their voices will always be pushed aside.

“I am very worried that the voices of people with learning difficulties are being trampled on in such a way.

“Obviously the views of family members, although they are important, are not the actual views of people with learning difficulties.

“They will always be different because people with learning difficulties will be saying, ‘I want choice and control, I want to live on my own, I want to get married, I want to have children and have aspiration,’ but they are being told, ‘you can’t,’ or ‘you can, with conditions’.”

He said the creation of LDE highlighted the need for genuine, properly-funded self-advocacy organisations.

Lee said he heard only last week that another local People First organisation had lost its funding, which he said came “at the very time when we need a strong voice”.

LDE said that its immediate priorities would be to develop projects to support people with learning difficulties to speak to the media, and to be more involved in the political process, something PFE had focused on.

It will also bring together “experts in various fields to help make policy stronger and effective”, work with a “network of academics to strengthen the effect of research”, set up a “fighting fund” to “help people challenge prejudice and discrimination”, and provide members with advice and support.

Bourlet (pictured) told Disability News Service that there had not been enough funding to continue with PFE.

Asked about replacing a user-led organisation with one that was partly controlled by the big service-provider organisations, which make money by providing services to people with learning difficulties, he said: “We are stuck in a hard place and people have to understand that money does not grow on trees.

“They put the biggest amount of money in, but it doesn’t mean they will have the majority voting.”

He said that the new organisation was about “all coming together” and “strength in numbers”.

He said: “There are lots of good self-advocacy organisations and others saying the right things but it is easy to ignore because they are all doing it individually.


Former ILF user takes Council to court over care package cuts

17 June 2016


A severely disabled man who needs 24-hour care has been given permission to bring a legal challenge Oxfordshire County Council’s decision to reduce his care package in the High Court.


The care package was previously joint funded by the Council and the Independent Living Fund (ILF) but when the ILF was closed by the government in June 2015 the responsibility and funding was transferred to the local authorities, in this case Oxfordshire County Council.

Luke Davey, 39, is quadriplegic and has cerebral palsy, disabilities caused due to a virus he contracted as a child, which means he has significant needs for care and support which are the responsibility of Oxfordshire County Council under the Care Act 2014.

Luke lives in his own adapted home and is supported by a team of carers to live independently.

Despite an assessment in April 2015 stating he needs 24-hours care a day and a stable care package for over 20 years the council took steps to reduce Luke’s funding over the past 12 months down to 17.5 hours which his family, and an independent report said would have a negative effect on his wellbeing.

DR UK’s legal partners, Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, challenged the decision in the High Court stating that the Council is in breach of the Care Act in not making sufficient payments to meet Luke’s care needs.

The High Court has granted permission for Mr Davey to bring a Judicial Review of the reductions to Luke’s care plan.

Irwin Mitchell has also secured an interim court order for Luke at the recent court hearing meaning that the Council needs to continue paying for the full cost of his current care package until the final hearing which is expected to take place later this year.

At first the council continued to fund the care package but then later decided to reduce the care that would be funded to only 17.5 hours of care per day, leaving Luke by himself for 6 hours during the day.

However, an independent occupational therapist was critical of the decisions to reduce his funding and said it would give rise to significant risks to Luke’s wellbeing and independence.

A further argument in the case is that a reduction in the rates of pay for skilled carers and assistants would be unreasonable and unlawful.

A judicial review hearing will be heard in the High Court later this year.


High Court allows first legal challenge over Care Act wellbeing principle

by Andy Mcnicoll on June 15, 2016 in Adults, Care Act 2014


Luke Davey, 39, claims Oxfordshire council has breached statutory duties with cuts to his care package

A disabled man has been given permission by the High Court to bring a legal challenge against a local authority’s decision to reduce his care package, in the first case to be linked to an alleged failure to meet the Care Act’s wellbeing principle.

 

Luke Davey, 39, is quadriplegic and has cerebral palsy. He was assessed as needing 24-hour care in 2015 and had a stable care package in place for 20 years. Over the past year Oxfordshire council took steps to cut the funding available to him. He says this would leave him able to afford 17.5 hours of support and left alone for six hours a day.

 

Davey is bringing a judicial review of the council’s decision on the basis it breached several statutory duties under the Care Act, including the duty to “promote an individual’s wellbeing” set out in section 1 of the Act and the duty to meet meeting an individual’s unmet eligible needs set out in section 18 of the legislation.

 

He will point to evidence from an independent occupational therapist who said the move to cut his care package posed significant risks to his wellbeing and independence.

 

Davey’s case will be heard in the High Court later this year and is the first legal challenge dealing with the Care Act’s wellbeing principle and care package provision duties. The only other Care Act-related challenge heard by the courts to date concerned advocacy provision.

 

Ahead of the hearing, the law firm Irwin Mitchell, which is representing Davey, has secured an interim court order meaning that the council must continue paying the full cost of his current package until the case is finished.

 

Davey’s care package had been joint funded by the council and the Independent Living Fund (ILF) up until the ILF closed in June 2015. At first the council continued to fund the full care package but then decided to reduce the funding available.

 

Rebecca Chapman a solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, said: “We will argue that the council has duties under the Care Act 2014 and has not taken into account the reasons why the reduced payments will have such a significant detrimental impact on Luke’s health and wellbeing.

 

“We are pleased that the court has granted the interim court order meaning his care needs will continue to be met. We now look forward to presenting Luke’s case at the Judicial Review later this year.”

 

Jasmine Davey, Luke’s mother, said: “I am 75 years old and have cancer. I cannot provide all the care that Luke needs. Luke is unable to make himself a drink or put himself to the toilet.

 

“The decision of the High Court came as a great relief to Luke and the family because it means Luke will be kept safe. It is just a shame that we had to take this matter to court and the council did not listen to our concerns and try to accommodate them which could have prevented the legal action.”

 

An Oxfordshire council spokesman said: “It would be inappropriate to comment at this stage pending consideration of this case by the Court. In the meantime we continue to work with Mr Davey and his family.”


Brexit could undermine the rights of disabled people

Richard Howitt
11/3/16

The EU referendum campaign so far has been more about politicians than about people. But what about the impact of leaving the EU for Britain’s 10 million people with disabilities?

I am an MEP for the East of England, and have been since 1994. But before going into politics I was a disability rights activity – and, as chair of the European parliament all-party disability rights group, I still am.

I was first inspired to stand for the European parliament by a project where British and Dutch deaf people came together in a room for the first time. At first, differences in sign language meant they couldn’t communicate. But within 15 minutes they had spontaneously found a way of doing so – very effectively.

Volunteering in Greece showed me how vital social work is in this refugee crisis 

It taught me about pulling barriers down, and how people benefit by doing so. People with disabilities will always campaign to pull down barriers, not erect new ones. In all the talk of “free movement” in Europe, what about the right of a British wheelchair user to take a holiday or visit abroad?

Discrimination doesn’t stop at borders. Europe’s non-discrimination law for people with disabilities is one of a string of EU actions that have brought tangible benefits for those who live with a disability in Britain.

Europe now has access requirements for lifts in public buildings, the web and all major transport modes. A European-wide general accessibility act that could further transform the lives of millions of people has also been proposed. Last year, 87,000 British disabled people were helped towards employment by European social funding. And a legal exemption to allow public authorities to directly contract to social enterprises has helped disabled people create jobs for themselves. A group of blind people producing and selling animal bedding in Norwich and people with Asperger’s running a business repairing and recycling computers are two examples from my constituency.

Treatments have been developed through European research for diseases so rare that no one country could have done it alone. International copyright rules have been established that allow blind people to benefit from talking books and newspapers.

If these and other disability rights were torn up through Britain exiting the EU, could British disabled people really rely on the government to reinstate each and every one of them? Being part of Europe is a safeguard against British governments of all political colours removing disability rights.

The EU made sure non-discrimination employment rights were extended to small business, overcame resistance to recognising sign language as an official language, and continues to protect the independence of the oft-berated Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

EU leave campaigners who rail against the powers of the European Court deliberately confuse the EU’s Court of Justice with the completely separate European Court of Human Rights. Nevertheless, those of us who campaign for Britain to remain in Europe should proudly attest why it is good for the state to be made accountable for respecting the human rights of disabled people (pdf).

Protection against cruel and degrading treatment is an important defence of decent public services in the current climate of austerity – as one disabled woman proved when she sued her local authority for cutting her care package.

A final myth plied by leave proponents is that Britain is somehow being held back from a bigger, better alternative outside Europe.

Last month I helped host a visit to Belgium by organisations of disabled people from Asia, Africa and Latin America. For them, life with a disability was better in the EU and they had come to Brussels to learn from our ways of working.

Take the achievement of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. British diplomacy within the EU was instrumental in winning agreement in the UN – the first human rights convention ever signed by the EU itself.

Britain within the EU is more influential and the world is better off because of it. So let’s remember the great international spirit which enabled Britain to host the Paralympics, and to share a message of disability achievement and equality with other countries.

That is the spirit as a British politician I take to my own work for disabled people in Europe every day. And it is the spirit we should bring in to the EU referendum campaign: British disabled people are stronger in Europe.

This article is an edited version of a speech given to national disability charity the Papworth Trust.

Join the Social Care Network to read more pieces like this. Follow on Twitter (@GdnSocialCare) and like us on Facebook to keep up with the latest social care news and views.


Changes to the Personal Independence Payment

12/3/16

The purposed changes to the Personal Independence Payment will, using DWP's own figures, disable further 640, 000 people by withdrawing money to cover extra cost arising from impairment itself or disabling barriers to independent living. The argument being used by the DWP is based upon a complete rejection of the methodology within the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People.

This is a twisted ideological attack based upon UNUM's approach to 'disability'. If the starting point - gaze - is constructed through the medicalization of the impaired body, then one determines who has a 'disabled body' incapable of leading 'normal lives' without "specialist" (medically-framed) support or equipment. This isn't about every day interaction which produces extra costs e.g. people who have to buy certain products - that is now denied as a 'disability related issue' because it is deemed a 'social choice' not "special equipment'. The fact those with mobiility related impairments like myself need to buy up to 3 pairs of shoes a year = £70-£80 per annum is discounted because "they are normal shoes that normal people wear" (sic). This is body fascism - it is imposing disability on top of our impairments through the denial of how disability is socially created.

This attack adds to the erroding of disabled people's right to independent living and it increases our social oppression. Let us be clear: these changes will lead to the increased policing of disabled people's lives - dictating what ''disabled lifestyles'' (sic) ought to look like - making thousands 'disappear' behind close doors. It will financially cripple further thousands who are near or on the poverty line. The name of this benefit - Personal Independence Payment - is a bloody sick joke. It is becoming a weapon to murder our people slowly in plain sight. The 'consultation' was worthy of a Stalinist show trial - a means to cover their 'legal' due process - but nothing more. I hear that the Labour Party has issued a statement on these changes in the last two hours, but I've not seen it yet. I know I speak for thousands of disabled people when I say WE can't take much more of this barbaric and dehumanising treatment.


George Osborne to use £150 a week cut in disability benefits to 'fund middle-class tax giveaway’

12/3/16

'Removing support for people who need help to use the toilet or dress is an attack on dignity’


George Osborne is reportedly poised to use a reduction of £150 a week in benefit payments to disabled people in order to fund a middle-class tax giveaway at next week’s Budget.

The decision by Ministers to remove the PIP – Personal Independence Payment – benefits from more than 600,000 disabled people over the next five years, saving around £1 billion a year, could give the Chancellor leeway to bring down taxation for the middle-class.


According to the Daily Telegraph Mr Osborne wants to “accelerate progress” towards the Conservative manifesto pledge of raising the threshold to £50,000 at which people start paying 40p tax – a policy that could see thousands of high-earners pulled out of the higher rate of income tax. 

Owen Smith, the shadow work and pensions secretary, posted on his Twitter account: “Already wicked to take another £1.2 billion from disabled, but truly obscene if switched for tax cuts at the Budget.”


Government plans to cut adapted equipment support for disabled

"The introduction of Personal Independence Payment to replace the outdated Disability Living Allowance for working age claimants has been a hugely positive reform,” said Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, as he annouced the shake-up of the benefits.

He added: “But it is clear that the assessment criteria for aids and appliances are not working as planned. Many people are eligible for a weekly award despite having minimal to no extra costs and judicial decisions have expanded the criteria for aids and appliances to include items we would expect people to have in their homes already.”

The changes could cut more than £1.2bn from the welfare bill by reducing “points” for mobility problems, which claimants need to add together to qualify for the living costs fund.

Charities, however, warned that cutting the payment, which enables disabled people to afford specially-adapted appliances and equipment, will have a “devastating” impact on the lives of many.

On Friday a coalition of 25 disability charities wrote to the Government warning against the plans that would strip some disabled people of a key payment meant to help them live more independent lives.

The Disability Benefits Consortium wrote to the minister for disabled people, Ms Tomlinson, to argue that proposed changes to PIP would have a “severe impact” on people’s security and make it harder for them to find employment. 

“This decision could have a devastating impact on the lives of people with MS. In the worst cases, they could lose up to £150 a week,” said Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of the MS Society.


"Already wicked to take another £1.2 billion from disabled, but truly obscene if switched for tax cuts at the Budget”


Owen Smith, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary

“PIP is an essential benefit which goes towards the extra cost of being disabled.

“The new plans will fail some of the most vulnerable people in society and we have serious concerns about the future health and welfare of those affected.”

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “This change is another unwelcome blow to disabled people’s independence, and will impact on people’s ability to work, enjoy family life and take part in the communities they live in.”


Social worker: ‘I want service users’ complaint about my council to succeed’

My council's decisions are compromising our professional values and damaging service user outcomes, writes a social worker


March 8, 2016 in Adults, Personalisation, Workforce


By an adults social worker


Personal budgets are not delivering on the promise they were introduced with – flexibility, choice and control. Instead, we are being told by senior managers to restrict what this money is spent on. Our service users do not have the freedom to choose the care they want or need.

The general feeling among frontline social workers at Norfolk County Council is this is just another move towards the dismantling of statutory services. Service users are being given personal budgets and cut adrift. This is causing conflict between us and the people we support.

This conflict was highlighted in a recent complaint by user-led group, Equal Lives, on behalf of Norfolk’s service users. Equal Lives has reported the council to the Care Quality Commission for ‘disregarding’ its duties under the Care Act 2014. I think ‘disregarding’ is the wrong word, but we’re certainly not living up to the principles of this legislation.


People aren’t getting their needs met for no other reason than budgetary constraints.


Senior managers and councillors are not standing up for us and challenging government decisions. They are not making a stand against the attacks on our services. They are not being supportive of us as frontline workers. I can’t remember the last time we saw a senior manager in our office, asking if we are okay and listening to us.


Instead, we are told to find more cost-effective solutions, which are usually dressed up in fancy names. We have the ‘Reimagining Norfolk’ strategy, which is about bringing the private and voluntary sectors in and looking for more ‘creative’ ways of meeting need. They dress these projects up in policy decisions, but we know they are just providing a smokescreen for the cuts.

This is causing demoralisation. Social workers are frustrated. We are professionals who every morning go to work determined to do the best we can for our service users and arrive to find our hands are tied. We are overworked and our caseloads are too high.


‘Our values are compromised’


Middle managers are as stressed out as the rest of us. I know many are working in their own time, you’ll often get an email from a manager on a Sunday. They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place – they have to push the managerial and political decisions further down the line to us. They are there for us as much as they can be, but they’re victims of the same situation.

When you do your social work training it is – quite rightly – bashed into you day after day that you must put the service user first, you must use skills like empathy and so on. But when it comes down to it, the managerial decisions that are imposed on us mean we can’t really employ those values. As the cuts bite, our values are compromised.

I would like to see Equal Lives’ complaint to the Care Quality Commission upheld and publicised. I’d like to see other councils face up to this as well. And I’d also like to see Norfolk’s senior managers and councillors showing some guts. Stand up for us, take our side, take the side of our service users, and challenge government decisions.


Council cuts proposals ‘fly in face of Care Act’ and risk legal challenge
Warning comes as user-group writes to health secretary urging him to order a CQC investigation into one council’s commissioning.

courtesy community care 2nd March 2016


  Research finds savings proposals risk breaches of statutory duties.

  Legal firm says it is aware of cases where eligible needs are not being met.

  User-group in Norfolk writes to Jeremy Hunt urging investigation into cuts.

  ADASS says councils working hard to protect services but warns funding made available by government is insufficient to meet demand.


Funding pressures mean councils are proposing cuts that “fly in the face of the Care Act” and are potentially unlawful, campaigners and legal experts have told Community Care.


The Care and Support Alliance (CSA), which represents more than 75 charities, warned cuts are reducing local authorities’ ability to meet their statutory duties. The group’s analysis of savings plans from 15 councils revealed proposals to cut staff, freeze recruitment and reduce assessments in 2016-17.


Law firm Irwin Mitchell said it was aware of cases where councils were failing to meet key Care Act duties. In a separate development, a user-group in Norfolk has written to health secretary Jeremy Hunt urging him to order a CQC investigation into the impact of cuts at the council. The group says the Care Act is being breached, but the council disputes this.


Sue Brown, vice chair of the CSA, pointed to savings proposals from Merton and Cumbria councils as two examples where legal duties could be at risk of being breached if plans went ahead.


Merton proposed reductions in staff which the council acknowledged would reduce its capacity to carry out assessments and reviews, undertake safeguarding activities and fulfil its Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) duties.


Cumbria council’s draft commissioning strategy proposed limiting assessments to people who were “likely to be eligible for services”.

The Care Act statutory guidance states that “local authorities must undertake an assessment for any adult with an appearance of need for care and support, regardless of whether or not the local authority thinks the individual has eligible needs or of their financial situation”. This reflects the duty to assess in section 9 of the act.


Cumbria told Community Care the proposal has since been reworded for a final commissioning strategy. The revised version said: “the aim is to ensure that we only assess people who appear that they may have a need of services.”


Care Act compliance?

Brown said the strain on councils meant they were now proposing changes that “fly completely in the face of the Care Act guidance”, adding: “It will affect the most vulnerable people and it is now very difficult to challenge this kind of thing. It’s hard to get legal aid but, if you also don’t understand what you should be getting, then you don’t challenge it.”


The CSA’s findings were submitted to an inquiry by the House of Commons health select committee into the impact of the comprehensive spending review on health and social care services.


The spending review cut central government funding for councils over the next five years but gave local authorities powers to raise money for social services by raising council tax by an additional 2% a year under a ‘social care precept’. The Local Government Association said there would be a shortfall of more than £2.9bn by 2020 despite the precept.


Social care leaders said councils were working hard to protect frontline care but acknowledged many services would be at “great risk” over the next two years due to financial pressures.


Areas of legal risk

Legal experts told Community Care councils had to “tread very carefully” when making social care cuts.


Caroline Barrett, a solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Their duties under the Care Act are not optional and they must comply with them. With cuts to the amount of provision on offer in many areas, local authorities run the risk of being challenged in the courts.”


Barrett said Irwin Mitchell was aware of cases where councils were not providing enough care support to meet the assessed eligible needs of disabled adults, a situation she warned was open to legal challenge given section 18 of the Care Act requires a local authority to meet a disabled adult’s eligible needs, so long as other conditions are met.

Another legal risk for councils lay in moves to close day centres or remove care placement options, she added. These decisions could breach a local authority’s duty, under section 5 of the Care Act, to promote the efficient and effective operation of a market in care services locally, she said.


User-group escalates complaint

The warning from the CSA came as a user-led group in Norfolk escalated its complaint about the impact of local authority cuts on their service users.


Equal Lives has written to health secretary Jeremy Hunt urging him to order the Care Quality Commission to investigate Norfolk Council’s adult social care department. The letter lists eight examples of budgetary decisions taken by the council that the group claims ‘contravene the Care Act and statutory guidance’. These include:


  Using reviews to make reductions to, or withdraw, social care support in a way that is unrelated to changes in needs or circumstances.

  Removing wellbeing payments from personal budgets and offering no alternatives.

  Raising the eligibility criteria of social care without consulting service users, which means some people with disabilities who were previously receiving services are no longer doing so.


The council “disputes any suggestion” of unlawful care but said it took the issues raised by Equal Lives “extremely seriously” and would review decision-making.


Responding to the CSA warning on spending cuts, Ray James, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said: “The Care and Support Alliance’s submission to the Health Select Committee reflects many of the key messages both in our own submission, and in the evidence already gathered by the Committee.


“We joined many colleagues in the Care Sector, including the CSA and NHS Confederation, to make a joint submission to the Spending Review, highlighting our shared concerns.


“Although the Treasury recognised the untenable position of social care budgets in the Spending Review, the funding made available was both too little, and too late.


“Councils are working hard to protect the quantity and quality of services for older and disabled people, but directors of adult social services are clear: many services are at great risk over the next two years due to increasing demand, the welcome introduction of the National Living Wage and the need to find further savings.”


Charities slam Tories for forcing through disability benefit cuts despite House of Lords defeat
24/2/16


MPs voted 306-279 to cut Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by £30 a week - ignoring peers and a Tory backbencher Charities slammed the Tories tonight for surging ahead with disability benefit cuts despite a major defeat in the House of Lords.


MPs have renewed plans to cut Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by £30 a week - ignoring a desperate protest from a Tory backbencher who declared: "This is my warning shot to government”.


Heidi Allen's speech made an 11th-hour plea for her own party to find "the compassion to look after the little man”.

She added: "Today I will not support [the government]. Today I may abstain, but only for today.”


But her plea fell on deaf ears as a motion to challenge the House of Lords, which struck down the cuts last month, was passed by 306 votes to 279.


MPs also voted 310-277 against a Lords decision to reverse the scrapping of child poverty targets - which are being replaced by "shameful" measures that don't count parents' income. Both plans will return to the House of Lords next Monday amid fears the government could use financial rules to railroad them through with consent.


Dr Fran Woodard, policy director at cancer care charity Macmillan, said: "We are deeply disappointed that the government has not listened to the wide range of voices, including those from their own party, who have expressed major concerns.


"These cuts will have a damaging impact on people affected by cancer and other health conditions.


"Every penny counts when someone can’t work because of cancer, and taking away vital financial support can be a serious blow to people when they are at their most vulnerable.


"The Government must urgently reconsider their decision; if they press ahead, the planned changes could seriously hinder the full recovery of people with cancer.”  The move affects new or interrupted ESA claimants deemed fit for "work-related activity" (WRAG) from April 2017 - a group that has nearly half a million sick and disabled people.


Their benefit will be cut from £102.15 to £73.10 a week, equal with jobseekers' allowance. Those in the more severe "support group" will be unaffected.


Rob Holland of learning disability charity Mencap added: "The opposition across society to this cut is overwhelming.


"People with a learning disability will be disappointed to see the Government continue to try and force this cut through despite their promise to protect disability benefits.


"Just six per cent of people with a learning disability are in employment; however the Government are still yet to provide any robust evidence that cutting ESA WRAG will improve this number.


"In fact the evidence available shows it will push disabled people further away from the job market, and closer to poverty.”  And MS Society chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: "We are deeply disappointed and frustrated that the Government has ignored the Lords’ sensible intervention on this Bill.


"It is hard to see how this move can possibly help achieve the Government’s commitment to halve the disability employment gap.”


Labour accused Tory welfare minister Priti Patel of a "total lack of compassion" after she made an argumentative 29-minute speech defending the cuts.


And she sparked an outcry after she tried to claim Macmillan backed aspects of the government's policy - despite the cancer charity warning ESA cut victims could lose their homes.


She told MPs: "Macmillan have also said that many people who are working when they're diagnosed with cancer would prefer to work or return to their jobs during or after treatment.”


Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Owen Smith interrupted, saying: "Could she confirm that Macmillan are opposed to the reduction by £30 a week for members of the ESA wrag group?”


But she sidestepped the question, saying: "I think Macmillan alongside the government will recognise that I've already said that those that are on the support group will rightly not be affected and will be supported obviously because they are in the support group because they are ill.”


Social services cuts could be 'largest factor' in biggest annual rise in deaths for almost 50 years

Courtesy Independent 16th Feb 2016


'I suspect the largest factor here is cuts to social services - to meals on wheels, to visits to the elderly’


Government cuts to social services could be the “largest factor” in the biggest annual rise in deaths in England and Wales for nearly half a century, according to an adviser to Public Health England. 


The new preliminary figures, from the Office for National Statistics, claim that mortality rates last year rose by 5.4 per cent compared with 2014 – equivalent to almost 27,000 extra deaths. The increase is the highest since 1968 and took the total number of deaths in 2015 to 528,340. 


Death rates in England and Wales have been steadily falling since the 1970s but this trend has been reversed since 2011.


Advisers to Public Health England told the Health Service Journal (HSJ) that an investigation should be launched following the new statistics. They added that the figures show the elderly, especially women, were now bearing the brunt of a growing crisis in the National Health Service and cuts to social care.


READ MORE

  George Osborne under pressure to increase social care funding

  Tories protected richer pensioners at the expense of social care

  Adult social care is under 'strain', says the care commissioner

Professor Danny Dorling, from Oxford University and an adviser to Public Health England on older age life expectancy, said: “When we look at 2015, we are not just looking at one bad year. We have seen excessive mortality - especially among women - since 2012.”


He added: “I suspect the largest factor here is cuts to social services - to meals on wheels, to visits to the elderly.


"We have seen these changes during a period when the health service is in crisis, while social care services have been cut back.


"The statistics clearly show that this is the biggest rise we have seen since the 1960s. But this may well turn out to be the greatest rise since the Second World War, taking into account the sustained nature of the rise, as well as other factors, such as the trend for immigration of older people in the 1960s."

It was revealed last year that a £1.1bn cut to adult social care was leaving the country’s most vulnerable people “in jeopardy”. The warning came amid reports that councils had slashed their adult social care budgets by 21 per cent over the last five years. 


Dominic Harrison, an honorary professor at Central Lancashire University and Blackburn said to the HSJ that the changes were a “strong and flashing amber warning light [that] something is making the population more vulnerable to avoidable death”. 


Mr Harrison added: ‘One of the things this data may be telling us is it is just not possible… to contain costs, improve quality, reduce inequality and improve outcomes within such a rapidly diminishing resource envelope… we need to understand exactly what is happening if we are to prevent it continuing.’


Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK said a full investigation was needed urgently. She added: "These figures suggests something is going badly wrong…we owe it to older people to investigate why last year's statistics are so unusually high and to take firm action to address the causes, whatever they may be.”


A Department of Health spokesman said: "This is provisional data and our experts monitor deaths closely. Excess winter deaths can be due to a number of causes and deaths can fluctuate from year to year. We will continue to monitor this data closely and be advised by experts on any action necessary."


Council’s ‘disregard’ for Care Act triggers user-group complaint to CQC

15/02/16

Watchdog is considering information received on Norfolk council. Local authority disputes claims of unlawful care

Disability campaigners have reported Norfolk County Council to the Care Quality Commission for ‘disregarding’ its statutory duties under the Care Act 2014.

Equal Lives, which represents more than 50 user-led groups in the county, wants the regulator to investigate what it claims are ‘systemic’ failures in care and support planning.

The group says eligibility thresholds have been raised and care package reviews are being used to reduce, or completely withdraw, support for people regardless of need. It also claims the decision to remove ‘wellbeing’ payments for personal budget holders last year has had a “devastating impact” on service users’ lives.

Section 1 of the Care Act requires local authorities to promote wellbeing through their adult social care functions. The statutory guidance underpinning the act also says care package reviews “must not be used to arbitrarily reduce a care and support package”.

Council disputes claims

Equal Lives claims the local authority is breaching these duties and has submitted evidence from eight cases to the CQC.

The council told Community Care it “disputes any suggestion” of unlawful care but said it took the issues raised by Equal Lives “extremely seriously” and would review decision-making.

The CQC is considering the information received from Equal Lives. The watchdog has not inspected a local authority since 2010 but the Care Act allows the government to order it to do so in exceptional circumstances. The power has not been used since the act came into force last year.

‘I fear my personal budget will be cut to the bare minimum’
Martin suffers from scoliosis and Klippel-Feil syndrome. He says cuts to his personal budget mean he can no longer go to the gym, or have massages and short-breaks he feels aided his wellbeing and helped keep him out of hospital.

“Before my personal budget I was in and out of hospital having blood transfusions…[Now] my personal budget has been wiped out,” he told Equal Lives..

“I still have 10 hours PA support but nothing else now…My worrying fear is my PA support will be cut to the bare minimum. If that happens I won’t be going out as much and will be stuck indoors. They need to talk to us. They need to realise how much of an impact the cuts are making not just me, but many of my friends.”

‘Cut too deep and too fast’

Mark Harrison, chief executive at Equal Lives, told Community Care: “The council has had to make huge savings but they’ve cut too fast and too deep and people have been left without the help they need.

“People who’ve received social care for years are now being bumped out of eligibility even if their needs have increased. And it’s ironic that wellbeing payments were cut in the year when the Care Act came into force, given wellbeing is absolutely at the heart of the act.

“Norfolk has gone from one of the leaders in personalisation and co-production to situations where we’ve got people queuing up in our advocacy system after having their support cut.”

Harold Bodmer, Norfolk County Council’s director of adult services, said: “We have a statutory duty to ensure vulnerable people’s care needs are met. The care we provide is as set out in the Care Act and we dispute any suggestion that we are not following this.

“However we take the issues raised by Equal Lives very seriously, and have arranged to meet with them to talk about these. It’s important we demonstrate we do things correctly so we will also look again at the individual cases they have raised and I will be commissioning external scrutiny of our processes and reviewing our decision-making to ensure people have access to the right personalised care. If anyone has any concerns about their care we would always encourage them to contact us.”

Bodmer, who will take over as president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services in April, said adult social care departments were under “huge pressure” across the country and Norfolk was no exception.

“We’ve restructured every aspect of our department over the past five years in order to make considerable savings and with the clear purpose of minimising the impact of the budget reductions on people who use our services.”

Andrea Sutcliffe, CQC’s chief inspector of adult social care, said: “We have received concerns from Equal Lives regarding the provision of adult social care services at Norfolk County Council. We are considering the information and will respond directly in due course.”


A local authority is trying to push through millions of pounds of cuts to adult social care without allowing them to be properly considered by elected councillors, say disabled campaigners.

27/12/15


Labour-run Merton council has just completed a consultation exercise among residents of the south-west London borough, in which it warns that the adult social care budget faces cuts of more than £5 million – or about nine per cent – in 2016-17.

The planned savings include cuts of between five and 15 per cent to support packages, as well as cuts to respite care, meals-on-wheels and day centre staff.

In its formal response to the consultation process, user-led Merton Centre for Independent Living (CIL) said the cuts were “unreasonable” and “a false economy”, and would leave disabled and older people “isolated, trapped at home, stressed and barred from contributing to society”.

It added: “In response to the proposals, our members talked about having to take medication to cope with the changes, and their feelings of hopelessness as a result of continued cuts to services. Some spoke of giving up on life completely.”

Merton CIL’s chair, Roy Benjamin, has written an open letter to senior figures at the council, including council leader Stephen Alambritis, to express “deep concern” about the budget-setting process.

His letter points out that the business plan councillors will be asked to approve in March will only include details of £1.67 million of the planned £5.06 million cuts to adult social care in 2016-17.

This is because the remainder of the measures were approved in previous years as part of the council’s medium-term financial plans.

Lyla Adwan-Kamara, chief executive of Merton CIL, said she was “very concerned that cuts are being pushed through without appropriate scrutiny or discussion”.

She said it was “devastating” to hear her members talk about “the impact on their lives and whether their lives are worth living anymore”.

Only last month, the council settled a possible judicial review taken by David*, a former Independent Living Fund-user from Merton, partly by promising to carry out a full consultation on all of its cuts for 2016-17.

Now Merton CIL fears the council could already be breaching that agreement.

Louise Whitfield, from lawyers Deighton Pierce Glynn, who has been advising David and is continuing to provide advice on the consultation exercise, said: “I am concerned that the reality of the current consultation process does not give councillors a genuine opportunity to consider the full impact of all the proposed cuts in 2016-17 on disabled people.”

A council spokeswoman accepted that the business plan did not include full details of cuts agreed in previous years, but claimed that councillors considering the proposals would also have a report on the latest consultation – which does include that detail – to consider alongside the business plan.

Cllr Caroline Cooper-Marbiah, the council’s cabinet member for adult social care and health, said: “I would like to reassure CIL members that we will be considering the full £5 million in the proposed savings as part of balancing this year’s budget.

“We appreciate how important these decisions we are making are and will be looking in detail at the responses to our consultation, which covers all of the proposed savings.”

The proposed cuts will now be scrutinised at two cross-party committee meetings in January, before the council’s cabinet analyses them on 15 February, with final decisions to be made by the full council on 2 March.


DWP set to repeat ILF blueprint by transferring AA cash to councils

27/12/15 Courtesy John Pring


The government has announced proposals to end all new attendance allowance claims and transfer the savings to councils, but says its plans do not include scrapping disability living allowance for older people.

The provisional local government finance settlement for 2016-17 includes plans to abolish attendance allowance (AA) for new claimants, and pass the funding to local authorities in England and Wales to help them “support older people with care needs” through their adult social care systems.

AA is paid to over-65s who need significant levels of supervision or help, with a lower rate of £55.10 a week and a higher weekly rate of £82.30, and is designed for those who acquire those support needs after turning 65.

Those who are already claiming disability living allowance (DLA) or its working-age replacement personal independence payment (PIP) when they turn 65 continue to claim that benefit, rather than AA, and are not currently affected by the proposals.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) insisted that its planned changes to AA – which are subject to consultation – will not apply to existing AA claimants, although more details of its plans will be revealed when it publishes a consultation document in the new year.

But there are likely to be fears that abolishing AA for new claimants will eventually be followed by scrapping it completely, and possibly even extending this to over-65s claiming DLA and PIP, following the blueprint created by the coalition and Conservative governments for closing the Independent Living Fund (ILF).

ILF was temporarily closed to new members in 2010, before that decision was made permanent the following year.

Another 12 months later, ministers took the decision to scrap ILF completely and pass the non-ring-fenced funding to local authorities. The fund finally closed on 30 June 2015.

The AA proposals were announced quietly just a few days before Christmas, so there has been little reaction so far from disabled activists and user-led organisations.

But Vicky McDermott (pictured), the disabled chief executive of Papworth Trust, described AA as “a lifeline which allows many of our older disabled customers the opportunity to live independently… with low level practical support in their homes”.

She said: “Many of our older disabled people who are eligible for attendance allowance are not eligible for social care.

“This is for good reason. Attendance allowance is for early intervention and prevents disabled older people from requiring higher level social care needs.

“We would have significant concerns about a merger of social care and AA budgets as the applicants to these two funding streams have very different care needs.

“Monies that are currently allocated to disabled older people who are in receipt of attendance allowance must not be diverted into social care at the expense of these individuals.”

A DWP spokeswoman was unable to confirm that the money saved by scrapping AA for new claimants would be ring-fenced for adult social care, although she said: “We will not use devolution as an opportunity to take money out of the support offer for older people with care needs.”

And when asked whether DWP also planned to scrap DLA for those aged over 65, she said only that there were no plans to do so “under this proposal”.


Care funding settlement risks more unmet need and service failure, warns sector

12/12/15

Sector leaders say spending review does not provide enough money and call for urgent talks with ministers to find extra cash the government’s funding settlement for adult social care will not be enough to meet existing shortfalls or future cost pressures and risks causing more unmet need, service failures and hospital admissions.

That was the warning today from local authority, NHS, provider and charity leaders in a letter to cabinet ministers urging immediate talks designed to find additional funds for the sector.

Extra money

Contrary to predictions, chancellor George Osborne announced additional, targeted money for adult social care as part of the spending review, which has set government funding limits from 2016-20. This was from two sources:

  Additional money for the Better Care Fund – the integrated health and social care budget – paid directly to local authorities and rising to £1.5bn a year by 2019-20.

  The opportunity for councils to raise an additional 2% a year through a council tax “precept” with the money going to adult social care alone. If all councils did this in each of the four years of the spending review, the government estimates it would raise almost £2bn a year by 2019-20.

Despite this additional money for adult social care, overall, local government is due to see its funding fall by 6.7% in real terms from 2016-20.

In their letter to Osborne, health secretary Jeremy Hunt and communities secretary Greg Clarke, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass), NHS Confederation, Care and Support Alliance (CSA) and Care Providers Alliance (CPA) warned that the money would not be enough to deal with current and future pressures.

Settlement will not resolve funding crisis

These include the impact of inflation, increasing numbers of older and disabled people and the new national living wage, which comes into force in April next year, on care costs.

“We believe the package put forward for social care will not enable us to fill the current gap in funding, cover additional costs associated with the introduction of the National Living Wage, nor fully meet future growth in demand due to our ageing population,” said the letter, signed by Adass president Ray James among others.

“There are also additional pressures that arise from the costs of regulation, cost of emerging policy, pensions and many others. Without concerted action across government and the sector, the settlement is not sufficient, not targeted at the right geographies and will not come soon enough to resolve the care funding crisis.”

The associations called for further talks with the Treasury, Department of Health and Department for Communities and Local Government to help “avert the crisis” in social care. Without additional money in the settlement, they warned that there was “potential for significant and adverse impacts”.

Service failure and unmet need

These included:

  An increasing number of older people, disabled people and their carers without any, or without sufficient, support to meet their needs.

  An acceleration of the failure of domiciliary, residential and nursing home providers, which would happen mostly in areas where most service users are state-funded and which are also the areas least likely to benefit from the council tax precept.

  An increasing pressure on the NHS with more people admitted to hospital and more delays to get people home safely.

Council tax concerns

The letter follows analysis suggesting that the council tax precept will raise less than half of what the government predicts – just £800m by 2019-20 – and its benefits will accrue disproportionately to well-off areas. Poorer areas will be disadvantaged because they have less ability to raise funds from council tax.

As reported in The Observer, the King’s Fund found that it was highly unlikely that all councils would levy the full precept in every year as some council leaderships had been elected on a platform of not raising council tax.

The letter from Adass, the NHS Confederation, the CPA and  to ministers also raised concerns about the council tax precept, asking ministers how it could be ensured that it delivered the money required for adult social care and did so equitably between areas.

Funding will come too late

The letter also warned that the money from the Better Care Fund would come too late to be of significant benefit. There will be no additional BCF money in 2016-17 and sector leaders are concerned that most of it will be provided in the later years of the spending review period, 2018-19 and 2019-20.

The associations also asked for clarification on how the government had funded the additional costs of the national living wage through the spending review. The new wage floor for people aged over 25, set at £7.20 an hour next April and due to rise to over £9 by 2020, is due to add about £1bn to council adult social care costs by 2019-20.

The letter comes ahead of the local government settlement, which will set out in more detail how much money councils will receive from government in 2016-17.

http://www.lgo.org.uk/news/2015/nov/adult-social-care-complaints-ombudsman-increase/

Adult social care complaints to the Ombudsman on the increase

Date Published: 12/11/15

The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) is publishing its complaints statistics for adult social care – including data for both councils and independent care providers – in its Annual Review of Adult Social Care Complaints 2014/15.

The report is being published as part of the LGO’s role as the social care ombudsman, to encourage transparency and accountability across the whole adult social care complaints system.
The LGO received 2,803 complaints and enquiries about adult social care in 2014/15, which is 18% more than received the previous year. 
In those complaints where it carried out a detailed investigation, the LGO upheld 55% of cases by finding some form of fault with the council or care provider.
The areas most complained about within adult social care are: assessment and care planning; residential care; home care; charging and safeguarding.
The LGO continues to see a year-on-year increase in the number of complaints it receives about independent care providers, where there has been no involvement from a council, however this remains around 10% of its entire adult social care caseload.
Also highlighted in the report are some of the stories from the LGO’s complaints where people had been let down by a social care service, and the impact this had on them.
Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin, said:
“We are releasing our statistics to encourage those providing and arranging social care to think about their own complaints procedures and ensure they are as accessible and accountable as they can be. 
“An increase in complaints locally may indicate a public more willing to come forward with concerns and a sector more inclined to listen. But, as the final stage of the process, the enquiries we receive indicate a local complaint procedure not working as it should and missed opportunities to have put things right first time around.
“As the health and social care sectors become more integrated, complaints systems must maintain clear lines of accountability so that the patient or care user understands where to turn to if they wish to raise concerns.” 

Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care at the Care Quality Commission, said: 
“I welcome this report from the LGO which reinforces the importance of people receiving high-quality and compassionate care from adult social care providers. Responding positively should people raise concerns about their care, or the care of a loved one, is a vital part of that.
“Through our inspection approach we look for evidence that people’s complaints are dealt with in the right way, by the right people and with the right action taken forward. Where we find areas of concern, these will be included in our reports and will influence whether we judge a service to be outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate.”

Ray James, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said: 
“The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) report is a helpful commentary on the state of social care and illustrates a number of areas where improvements must be made in order to meet individual need and improved outcomes. In this context councils are striving to ensure high quality social care services and the reported increase in numbers of complaints suggests that more individuals are confident in that they can raise concerns in order that these can be resolved or improved.
“Over 1.3m people each year are recipients of adult social care services and the level of satisfaction with these services has remained high. However there is no room for complacency and ADASS welcomes the opportunity to work with the LGO, partners, staff, and importantly, the individual, to seek improvements wherever they can be made.”

Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive of Care England, said:
“We are pleased to learn from the LGO that more people are exercising their right to report issues with their social care. We agree that the best care is carried out in an open culture where complaints can be dealt with between staff, service users and families. Where this is not the case, we see that the LGO plays a vital role as investigator and adjudicator. We are also pleased to see that increasing numbers of complaints are being upheld, while we note a need to increase public awareness about the different roles and responsibilities of the LGO and CQC.
“Importantly, this report highlights that poor communication is the cause of many complaints, and we would like to see local authorities communicating effectively to avoid situations where people’s care is affected and they are left confused. This is especially pertinent for complaints about the funding of care: local authorities must ensure that service users don’t experience delayed assessments or 15 minute care visits. The LGO notes that in care visits of this length, there is no time to properly communicate concerns.”

As the social care ombudsman, the LGO investigates unresolved complaints about all adult care services – including care that is privately funded as well as publicly arranged. The LGO is free to use, impartial and independent. If it finds fault, the LGO will recommend action to put things right. It publishes reports of its investigations to share lessons learned and help improve public services. All its decisions are published.


Are the DWP losing the battle?

7/12/15

The DWP is now losing battles on all fronts, as the last fortnight has proved repeatedly.

Because whilst the big benefits news has been George Osborne’s massive u-turn over tax credits, there have been a host of smaller reverses for the DWP.

The forced transfer from DLA to PIP is already running into serious delays – though there has been no change so far in the estimate that a quarter of current working age DLA claimants will get no award of PIP; Maximus is failing to carry out enough work capability assessments, because not enough health professionals want to work for them, and support group numbers are rising as a result; the courts have ruled against the benefits cap for carers and mandatory work schemes are being axed as more and more big companies and charities bow to activist pressure.

On top of all that, Ken Loach is making a film about benefits sanctions. He says that the situation is now even worse than when he made ‘Cathy come home’.

FORCED DLA TO PIP TRANSFER IN TROUBLE
The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) now believes that it will take the DWP three years instead of two to reassess all current working age DLA claimants for PIP.

It blames the increase on Atos and Capita failing to carry out enough face-to-face assessments and suggests that the DLA to PIP transfer process is beginning to look as badly managed as the incapacity benefit to ESA one.

However, the OBR still believes that 26% of ‘lifetime’ DLA claimants will get no award at all when forced to claim PIP.

ESA SUPPORT GROUP KEEPS GROWING
The OBR has also revised its estimate of the proportion of claimants likely to be in the support group long-term. In July it thought there would be 30%, now it thinks that it will be 38%.

One likely cause is the fact that Maximus are failing to carry out enough medicals, meaning that two thirds of the backlog of reassessment of current claimants has still not been cleared.

MAXIMUS LOSING MILLIONS ON WCA
The reason that Maximus are not carrying out enough assessments is that they are having problems recruiting enough health professionals to do the job.

Their lack of staff means that an expected $30 million profit in the first year of the WCA contract has ended up as a $4 million loss. Maximus’ shares plummeted in value by 26% when the loss was revealed.

This is bad news for the DWP as well as Maximus. It suggests that the WCA is still tainted by the reputation it gained under Atos and even offering well above market wages is not enough to tempt health professional in sufficient numbers.

MANDATORY WORK SCHEMES TO CLOSE
The government is axing mandatory work activity and community work placements. The announcement comes after years of protests and court action by claimants forced into unpaid work with no prospect of a job at the end.

The not so good news, however, is that a new scheme called the Work and Health Programme is to be introduced.

As one commentor has already suggested, this might be the beginning of attempts to force claimants into compulsory treatment programmes such as CBT or help to combat drug or alcohol misuse.

BENEFIT CAP FOR CARERS UNLAWFUL
The High Court has ruled that the household benefit cap unlawfully discriminates against carers.

So far the DWP is still refusing to budge and has even issued an urgent bulletin to local councils warning them that the cap continues to apply. At least for single carers, however, they may have no choice but to obey the law in the end.

HOW FAR TO YOUR PIP ASSESSMENT?
Even though the PIP assessment backlog is supposedly history now, we’re still hearing from people who are being asked to attend assessment centres many miles from their home, even when there is a centre nearby.

Councils still in funding crisis despite welcome recognition for adults’ social care

7/12/15

Promises of a 2% council tax precept and more money for the Better Care Fund have been gratefully received, but sector leaders raise concerns this is too little too late.When the Chancellor of the Exchequer, during one the most important events of the parliamentary calendar, pledges what looks like an extra £3.2bn a year to adult social care, the sector feels it has to preface any concerns by emphasising how welcome this recognition is.

Neglected sector

In a sector so long neglected, senior figures have rushed to emphasise their gratitude for even a settlement most agree remains a long way from resolving the funding pressures facing councils and providers.

The Autumn Statement gives councils a new ability to raise a 2% council tax ‘precept’, ring-fenced for adult social care, and pledges an additional £1.5bn to the Better Care Fund (BCF) by 2020.

The government says the council tax rise would raise almost £2bn if all councils take it up in full in each of the next four years, though think-tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has put the figure at £1.7bn. Unlike most of the existing money for the BCF, which is channelled through the NHS, the new money will go directly to councils

Embedding inequality

But critics are saying the settlement will embed inequality between areas and withhold urgently needed funding, potentially until the end of the decade. Meanwhile, concerns that adult social care will remain dangerously underfunded persist.

The government has said that, overall, funding for local authorities will fall by 6.7% from 2016-20, and this dip will be even sharper if councils do not obtain the full rise in council tax for adult care.

Regressive tax

Independent social care consultant John Bolton, formerly the Department of Health’s social care finance chief, says while any extra funding is welcome, the 2% precept is problematic.

“It is a regressive tax in the sense that the areas that have been hit hardest so far by a reduction in grant to local government are the areas with generally higher deprivation and the least ability to raise income through council tax.”

His concerns are borne out by figures put out by the IFS, which show that full take-up of the council tax precept would boost adult social care budgets by between 4% and 17%.

In addition, the government plans to phase out grants to local authorities and instead allow councils to keep 100% of their business rates. At the moment councils give half of their taxes from local business back the Treasury, from where it is redistributed according to need.

“If you keep your own business rates and there is no other redistribution mechanism then poorer areas are going to be disadvantaged. This is not an equitable solution for social care,” Bolton says.

Discretionary budgets

He adds government may still introduce special provisions to mitigate against the risk for councils in relying on business rates, but that remains to be seen.

James Lloyd, director of the Strategic Society Centre, says the 2% levy is “meaningless”.

“A 2% ring-fence that sits on top of a largely discretionary budget means councils will just spend any additional money they raise on social care, but may just reduce the money they would have spent on social care elsewhere.”

Bolton thinks in reality councils will have to take up the opportunity to levy more funds through council tax increases.

“Some will do it reluctantly, but they will need and want to raise money to protect their care services,” he says.

But adults’ services departments will still have to contribute to the overall reduction in council budgets.

Councils overspending

According to recent Association of Directors’ of Adults’ Social Services (Adass) figures, 76% of councils are currently overspending on their adults’ services budgets.

Lloyd says not only will authorities be able to raise comparatively less per head in poor areas through a council tax levy, but these areas are likely to have higher demand. He points out that there is a correlation between poorer areas and higher levels of disability, with local authorities with poorer and older populations like Blackpool struggling the most.


‘Heartless’ decision to stop election access funding ‘is breach of UN convention’

courtesy John Pring

7/12/15

The government is making it harder for disabled politicians to stand for elected office by failing to renew a fund that paid for their disability-related campaign expenses, according to a candidate in next month’s parliamentary by-election.

Simeon Hart who is standing for the Green party in Oldham West and Royton, was the only British Sign Language-user to stand for election in May’s general election.

Hart was able to use support from the Access to Elected Office (AEO) scheme to pay for the BSL interpreters he needed to campaign.

But the fund – which offered grants to disabled people to pay for their additional impairment-related costs in standing for election as a councillor or MP – has been lying dormant since the general election while the government carries out an independent review of its effectiveness. Now Hart is having to rely on crowdsourcing funding to pay for interpreters during the by-election campaign. He said: “Becoming a candidate in elections and by-elections is supposed to be open to anyone eligible in the UK. “Yet my experience has been a challenge and I know that many people with a disability will be put off trying to become an elected politician. “My party and I have a detailed plan for how we can reduce fuel poverty and keep parks public in the constituency and I am unable to articulate my plans as well as the candidates from other parties because of problems finding and paying for an interpreter. “If the government is serious about making elections a level playing-field, it will reconsider its heartless decision to scrap the Access to Elected Office fund.” By 10.30pm today (26 November), he had raised £970 of the £3,000 he needs to pay for BSL interpreters during the campaign.


Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, said she believed the government was in “clear breach” of article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which guarantees disabled people the right to participate in public and political life “on an equal basis with others”.

She said: “The convention expects signatory states to make reasonable adjustments to enable participation in the political process.

“The Green Party and Simeon need to make a formal complaint to the UN about the breach.” She said that disabled people now had even less representation in the Commons than they did before the general election, after Dame Anne Begg lost her seat, while David Blunkett retired.  King said: “We need to support a new generation of disabled people who want to be politicians.

“Candidates will miss out on funding whilst the evaluation [of the fund]is going on.”

David Buxton, director of campaigns and communications for the British Deaf Association, supported Hart’s call for government action. He said: “We are disappointed that the government has not yet made a decision about whether this vital funding will continue. “This delay creates uncertainty for potential Deaf and disabled candidates who wish to stand at elections next year and are currently unsure whether they will get the support they need towards communication and other areas. “It is imperative that a decision is made immediately, as selection meetings for some areas have already started to take place. “We now urge the government to prove their commitment to the spirit of the Equality Act by supporting diversity and allocating funds now to any potential candidate, as well as to Simeon, who is now actively canvassing. “We also expect them to complete their evaluation and review about the future of the fund as soon as possible.”


In September, the Equality and Human Rights Commission called on the government to reopen the fund, as part of its submission to a UN inquiry into the rights of disabled people to participate in political and public life.


What the government’s spending review means for social care

16/11/15

There are few crumbs of comfort for social care as George Osborne prepares to unveil his spending plans for 2016-20

The spending review will set government spending levels from 2016-17 to 2019-20, and in doing so shape the amount of resource local authorities in England will have over this period to spend on services including social care. It will be delivered by chancellor George Osborne on 25 November.

Overall spending will have to shrink in line with the government’s plan to eliminate its budget deficit by 2019-20. But the impact on different services will differ significantly. The NHS, schools, overseas aid and defence will either see their budgets protected or increased slightly.

According to analysis of the government’s latest plans, day-to-day spending on other services must fall by 18.8% (£23.7bn) over this period. This includes government spending on local authorities (Source: Institute for Fiscal Studies).


Why is it so important for social care?

The 2015 spending review is so critical because it follows five years of cuts to local government budgets determined chiefly by the 2010 spending review. While councils have striven to protect children’s and adults’ social care from spending reductions, through efficiency savings and substantial cuts to other services, local government leaders say this strategy is running out of road.

This is particularly because both adults’ and children’s services are facing mounting levels of demand, driven by demographic and economic pressures. So further reductions will hit local authorities – and social care service users and professionals – hard. Yet government has given no indication that it will extend the largesse it has shown the NHS, schools, overseas aid and defence to social care.

What is local government asking for?

The Local Government Association and Association of Directors of Adult Social Services have produced a number of submissions setting out what they want from the spending review for local authorities in England including:

Adult care pressures

The LGA and Adass say the following pressures must be met by the spending review in relation to adult social care:

1. The national living wage. This will set a wage floor of £7.20 an hour for people aged over 25 from April 2016, and is expected to rise to over £9 an hour by 2020. This is due to have a substantial effect on care providers; those partly or predominantly serving a publicly-funded clientele will need councils to cover the increased costs. The LGA says that the additional annual cost for council adults’ social services departments will rise to £1bn by 2020.

2. General pressures on adult social care. These pressures are the result of inflation and demographic pressures. Combined with the impact of the national living wage, the LGA estimates these will add £2.1bn to annual costs for councils in adult social care.

3. Market pressures. Besides inflationary/demographic pressures, the LGA and Adass claim there are (as yet unquantifiable) other pressures on councils arising from weaknesses in the care market. These are the result of years of fee squeezes for providers that has resulted in the risk that many providers will exit the market (both for care homes and home care) and that those remain will face increasingly struggles to remain profitable and recruit staff on the wages they are able to afford (particularly as the economy recovers in other sectors such as retail).

4. The Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards. Based on estimates from the Law Commission, the LGA has said that councils need an additional £172m a year to meet the costs of the Cheshire West judgement in relation to the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards.

5. The Independent Living Fund. The LGA has warned that councils need to have funding to meet the ongoing requirements of taking responsibility for clients formerly served by the Independent Living Fund. The ILF spent £271m in England in 2014-15 (the last full year before its closure) and the LGA wants to see councils’ budgets boosted by something like this amount to compensate them for their added responsibilities.

Children’s services pressures

The LGA has also highlighted the following pressures on children’s services:

1. Rising demand for children’s social care. The LGA says that since 2008, there has been a 22% rise in children’s social care referrals, a 65% rise in the number of children subject to a child protection plan and a 16% rise in the numbers in care. The LGA also points to increased referrals as a result of high profile child sexual exploitation cases, while the number of pupils with special educational needs related to learning disability is expected to rise by more than a quarter from 2014 to 2023.

2. The LGA is warning that councils are facing pressures from two directions. On the one hand, the number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children supported by councils is rising sharply, growing by 29% in 2014-15. On the other, the Immigration Bill includes provisions to change the support provided to failed asylum seekers and other migrants. According to the LGA, these are likely to lead to an increase in the numbers of asylum seekers and migrants with no recourse to public funds, who may become destitute and require assessment and support from local authorities.

Separately, in a letter to education secretary Nicky Morgan following May’s general election, ADCS president Alison O’Sullivan said it was “notoriously difficult to estimate the funding gap for children’s social care”. However, she said it was “vital that planned spending for children’s services in the next parliament is based upon the twin realities that demand and demographic pressures in the child population, particularly in areas of deprivation, will continue grow”.

She pointed to a correlation between deprivation and rates of referral, numbers of children subject to child protection plans and numbers of children who are looked after.

What will happen if the pressures are not met by extra funding?

Councils are saying that they have almost reached the end of the road in terms of both making efficiency savings and using money from other services (libraries, culture, road maintenance etc) to safeguard social care. The LGA estimates that councils diverted £2.5bn from other services and made £2.5bn in efficiency savings to protect adult social care from 2010-15 (Source: LGA/Adass Spending review submission).

In relation to adult care, the LGA and Adass say that the consequences will be:

The last point was echoed by ADCS president Alison O’Sullivan in her letter to Nicky Morgan. She said that the association was worried that any future cuts to spending would impact in particular on non-statutory services such as children’s centres and youth provision, “reducing capacity in the system to intervene early before problems escalate”.

What is the government planning to do through the spending review?

All unprotected government departments have been asked to model cuts to their budgets of 25% and 40%, including the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), which provides most government spending on local authorities. It was announced on 9 November that four government departments had pledged to each cut their budgets by 30% over the spending review period, including the DCLG. However, this will not apply to its spending on local government, so we’re no clearer about how local government will be affected.

But the government’s plan is to, essentially, do away with central government funding for local authorities so that, mostly, all local government revenue is raised locally. This will be done by allowing local authorities to (mostly again) retain all of the income from the business rates they collect locally. Currently about half of this is returned to the Treasury with most (though not all) of this redistributed to local authorities as government grant (known as ‘revenue support grant’).

The government plans to give all of this money to local authorities. On paper this will mean local authorities will have more money (because more is collected locally in business rates and then given to the Treasury than is redistributed back to councils). However, George Osborne has said that in return for the extra money he will give local authorities more responsibilities (ie burdens) than they currently already undertake.

So local government could lose out in a way that is equivalent to a cut in central funding by being given more burdens than is equivalent to the additional money they are getting in business rates, i.e. they could have more money, but they have so much more to do that they will only be able to manage by cutting existing services.

Where does local government get its money from?

In 2015-16, government figures indicate that of around £48.95bn in revenues collected by all local authorities in England (including district councils and fire authorities):

1. 42% came from council tax.

2. 21% came from business rates collected and spent locally.

3. 19.5% came from the main government grant (revenue support grant).

4. 7% came from the Better Care Fund, providing NHS funding for adult social care (though this claim has been strongly disputed by the LGA on the basis that it allocates all of the NHS’s contribution to the Better Care Fund to adult social care, when much of it will have been spent on health services).

5. 10.5% comes from other small government grants.

(Source: DCLG)

How the spending review may impact on local government?

All of the spending areas above will be affected by the spending review but in different ways.

Council tax

Council tax is the safest source of local government revenue as councils know that it is not going to get cut. But its growth will almost certainly be restricted.

Each year, the government sets a council tax increase limit beyond which councils must hold a referendum to enable them to sanction the higher increase. This year the referendum threshold was 2% so rises of this level and above required a positive referendum vote or could not go ahead. Only one referendum was held this year, by Bedfordshire Police, and it was roundly rejected. It would be surprising if the government permitted a higher referendum threshold for 2016-17 or for the rest of the spending review period.

The other way in which government has limited council tax increases is by giving councils a grant in return for freezing rates. This year the grant paid was equivalent to a 1% rise in council tax.

Overall, in 2015-16, local authorities that did not accept the freeze grant increased council tax by 1.3% in England (Source: Cipfa).

Also, even though council tax is the biggest source of local government revenues overall, its share differs significantly from authority to authority. Generally, poorer authorities are more dependent on central government grant and richer ones more able to raise revenue through council tax.

So wealthier councils are in a good position here as not only will they be getting most of their revenue from council tax but they will be able to boost this share of their revenue. Poorer authorities are in a bad position because they will be getting, say, a quarter, of their revenues from council tax, meaning they can only boost a small share of their revenue.

In December, when it announces the local government settlement for 2016-17, the government will estimate how much council tax will go up by to work out what will be happening overall to local government budgets.

The government is yet to indicate whether it will offer councils a freeze grant. In a forecast published in July, the independent Office for Budget Responsibility assumed that council tax would rise in line with the rate of consumer price inflation. This is currently zero but is due to rise to 1% next year and then rise gradually to 2% by 2020. This would mean that council tax rises slightly more quickly from 2017 onwards than in 2015-16, unless the chancellor seeks to restrict this either through a freeze grant or by lowering the referendum threshold.

The LGA will strongly resist any moves to reduce the referendum threshold below 2%; indeed they want to see it lifted altogether.

Business rates and revenue support grant

George Osborne has said that revenue support grant will be phased out by 2020 with councils able to (mostly) keep all of their business rate income instead.

Currently, business rates is divided into two halves: the “local share” and the “central share”. The central share is sent to the Treasury and redistributed as revenue support grant (RSG), which is distributed according to the needs of each area.

The local share is mostly retained by the individual local authorities except for a system of “tariffs and top-ups”, under which richer areas pay a “tariff” to top up the business rate income of poorer areas. So this is another way of redistributing money but less extensive than the revenue support grant.

By 2020, all business rates will be part of the “local share”. There will be no revenue support grant.

In 2015-16, the central share of business rates was £10.2bn, which was greater than the level of RSG (£9bn) ie councils collectively sent £1.2bn more business rates income back to the Treasury than they received back in RSG. Osborne has said that, by 2020, all of this money will be kept by local government; but in return for the extra money councils will be given more responsibilities.

Osborne has also said that the system of tariffs and top-ups will continue but will be fixed. So, if you are a rich authority you will still be paying a tariff to top-up poorer authorities; but from 2020 onwards at least, this tariff will not rise in line with business growth; as the authority rakes in more business rate income it will get to keep this increase rather than see any of it redistributed away to poorer authorities.

It seems unlikely that this initial level of tariffs and top-ups will be as redistributive from richer to poorer areas as revenue support grant (if it were, what would be the point of the reform?) so it is hard to see how poorer areas will not be disadvantaged. And if local authorities are able to keep all of the growth in business rates thereafter, then it is hard to see how this will not widen inequalities between richer and poorer areas (See this LGA report for more information on the system of tariffs and top-ups).

Osborne has also said that, while currently business rates are set at a uniform rate, in future councils will be able to set a lower rate than this to attract business. Only combined, city-wide authorities with an elected mayor will be able to raise business rates above the uniform level – and that will only be to pay for new infrastructure and if they get the support of the local business community to do that (Source: George Osborne’s Tory party conference speech, 2015).

So, the spending review should determine the following:

The Better Care Fund 

The Better Care Fund, launched in 2015-16, will continue for each year of the spending review period. Under this, NHS England will be required to mandate clinical commissioning groups to place a sum from in a pooled budget with local authorities. It may be that one or two specific local government grants for adult social care will be placed in this too, as happened in 2015-16. But the bulk of the mandatory part of the BCF will continue to come from CCGs – this year £3.46bn of the £3.8bn mandatory part of the BCF came from the NHS (Source: DH/DCLG). This was topped up by £1.5bn in voluntary contributions to the BCF from CCGs and councils.

So the question is whether the sum that NHS England is mandated to contribute will increase. The government has already promised that NHS spending in 2020-21 will be £8bn higher than in 2015-16 in real terms (ie once inflation has been taken into account). NHS leaders feel that all of this £8bn (and more) is needed to keep the NHS on its feet and are strongly opposed to siphoning some of it off to social care through the BCF. It is worth noting that the government’s promise on NHS funding could be interpreted more or less generously (see this Guardian article) with knock-on impacts for the BCF/social care.

Specific government grants

There are a multitude of other government grants that councils currently get that appear to amount to about 10% of local authority revenues. These are designed to help councils meet specific responsibilities. Here are some examples of grants for adult social care in 2015-16.

It would be surprising if these grants were not reduced significantly in order to contribute to the government’s planned savings target for local government. One option for the government would be to make the responsibilities relating to these grants part of the additional responsibilities that it expects councils to perform from the additional income they will be receiving from keeping their business rates. And in that case it becomes a question of whether the money councils are losing through the reduced specific grants is greater then what they will be gaining in business rate income.

How likely is the government to listen to local government’s wishlist?

There are a few crumbs of comfort for local authorities:

However, probably more significant is the fact that government has not made social care (for adults or children) a protected area, unlike the NHS, defence, overseas aid and schools. The money earmarked for the Care Act funding reforms has not been budgeted for let alone guaranteed for social care. So it seems too much to hope for that government will reserve this for social care. It is more likely that cuts – and not growth – will be the story for local authorities for the next four years – at significant cost to social care service users.



Government Finally Reveals That More Than 4,000 Died Within Six Weeks Of Being Deemed ‘Fit For Work’

8/11/15

Figures released today show that between December 2011 to February 2014, 4,010 people died after being told they were fit for work, following a Work Capability Assessment (WCA). 40,680 died within a year of undergoing the WCA, making a bleak mockery of any claim that the WCA being a real and valid “assessment” of any kind. Or that our welfare system is “supportive” to those in most need, in any real or meaningful sense. Those people were clearly not at all “fit for work”.

Of the total figure, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has revealed that 1,360 died after losing an appeal against the DWP decision that they were “fit for work”.

The statistical release actually tells us very little and makes inferences regarding causes of deaths almost impossible, as well as presenting data in a way that makes useful comparisons impossible. This is of course intentional.

The Government release does show that more than 80 people a month are dying after being declared “fit for work”.  2,380 people died between December 2011 and February 2014 shortly after being judged “fit for work” and after having their claim for ESA turned down.  7,200 claimants died after being awarded ESA and being placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG), which is an ESA group category composed of people whom the government had judged were able to work towards getting back into work over time.

The figures have only been released after the Information Commission overruled a Government decision to block the statistics being made public.

Since November 2012, many campaigners, including myself, have been asking the Government to release the figures of people who died after being told they were fit for work. As Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle, said earlier this year:

When bad decisions are made I know they can have a life-destroying impact on vulnerable people. So it makes sense for the Government to share that data.

The DWP originally published statistics in July 2012  after several of us submitted Freedom of Information requests (FOIs) for mortality rates related to the WCA. The released statistics indicated that 10,600 people had died between January and November 2011 who had been claiming Employment Support Allowance (ESA), and where the date of death was within six weeks of the claim ending.

The DWP publication caused huge controversy, although many people disagreed over what the figures actually showed. Ministers subsequently blocked publication of any updated figures.

At the time, I made a statistical cross-comparison of deaths, and the information released showed that people having their claim for ESA stopped, between October 2010 and November 2011, with a recorded date of death within six weeks of that claim ceasing, who were until recently claiming Incapacity Benefit (IB) – and who were migrated onto ESA – totalled 310. Between January and November 2011, those having their ESA claim ended, with a recorded date of death within six weeks of that claim ending totalled 10,600. The DWP did not provide information regarding whether or not people had died before or after their benefit claim was ended, which (intentionally) complicated matters.

However, there is a very substantial and significant statistical variation over a comparatively similar time scale (although the 10,600 deaths actually happened over a shorter time scale – by 3 months) that appears to be correlated with the type of benefit and, therefore, the differing eligibility criteria – the assessment process itself – as both population samples of claimants on ESA and IB contain little variation regarding the distribution in the cohorts in terms of severity of illness or disability. 

Bearing in mind that those who were successfully migrated to ESA from IB were assessed and deemed unfit for work, (under a different assessment process, originally) one would expect that the death rates would be similar to those who have only ever claimed ESA.

This is very clearly not the case. And we know that the ESA assessment process has actually excluded many seriously ill people from entitlement because of the media coverage of individual tragic cases, when a person deemed fit for work by Atos has died soon after the withdrawal of their lifeline benefit, and of course, such accounts of constituents’ experiences and case studies, as evidence, informs Parliamentary debate, as well as the ongoing Work and Pension Committee inquiry into ESA, details of which may be found on the Hansard parliamentary record.

The official watchdog ordered the Government to release further information about how many people have died after going through the WCA which had resulted in a decision that they were fit for work, since the last publication in 2012.

The ruling was made after an appeal by Mike Sivier, a fellow campaigner, freelance journalist and carer that runs the Vox Political blog, who has himself been pushing for the figures to be published since the summer of 2013.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has also called for an urgent enquiry into the figures, and said:

We urgently need an enquiry into the government’s back-to-work regime. These disturbing findings cannot be swept under the carpet.

The fact that more than 80 people are dying each month shortly after being declared ‘fit for work’ should concern us all. These deaths relate to just one benefit – Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

We need a welfare system that supports people to find decent jobs not one that causes stress and ill health.

The figures show that of the 4,010 who died after being told they were “fit for work”, 3,720 were in receipt of ESA, while 290 were on either Incapacity Benefit or its replacement, Severe Disablement Allowance.

The DWP were keen to stress throughout its “Mortality Statistics” report that: “Any causal effect between benefits and mortality cannot be assumed from these statistics.”  

However, it cannot be assumed that there is no causal effect either, and I’ve argued at length that in fact evidence shows there IS a clear statistical correlation between the frequently used controversial Work Capability Assessment, the withdrawal of benefits and increased mortality.

I’ve argued many times that the correlation warrants further investigation into the causes of the statistically significant increase in mortality rates of those on Employment Support Allowance. The Government have continued to flatly deny that correlation, claiming it was based on “anecdotal” evidence.

Priceless comment from a Government that values the use of fake statistics to justify punitive, cruel “reforms” to our Social Security.

It’s inconceivable that the Government did not know in advance that cutting sick and disabled people’s benefits would cause them harm. It’s not exactly difficult to grasp that if you impose situations of a lot of stress and strain on very ill people, by, for example, imposing a constant revolving door of assessment, appeal and re-assessment on them, perpetually invalidating their experiences of being extremely ill, and then demanding that they find a job when they are incapable of coping and too ill to work, and withdrawing their LIFELINE benefits, that these people are likely to suffer severe exacerbations of their illness and may die.

The increase in screaming “scrounger” headlines, scapegoating and Nazi propaganda-styled justification narratives in the tabloids that precedes each of the Tory Government’s punitive policies is another indication that Ministers know in advance that those policies are potentially damaging and detrimental to the vulnerable people they are aimed at.

The deliberate delay in the publication of the mortality figures is not only a disgrace for a so-called democratic Government that promised more “transparency and accountability” when it first took office, it also indicates that the Government had some awareness of the likely impact of their “reforms” to disability benefits, (hence the persistent refusal to carry out the cumulative impact assessment,) and the continued refusal to undertake an investigation into the causes of the increase in deaths, along with keeping the mortality figures from public scrutiny, indicates a Government withholding the evidence of policies that they knew in advance are likely to be detrimental to those they are aimed at, and also, of attempting to avoid justified criticism and to silence those of us the policies are likely to harm.



Disabled woman ‘feels pressured by Access to Work’ to hand back Motability car

10/11/15

A disabled woman says she feels pressured to hand back her Motability vehicle, after the government’s Access to Work (AtW) scheme told her it will continue to pay her travel expenses to work if she does so.

Pauline McGuigan, from Dunbartonshire, said the suggestion from AtW “makes absolutely no sense”, but that she will probably be forced to accept it so she can keep working.

She works three days a week for a large insurance company – a job she has had for nearly 20 years – and uses AtW funding to pay for her daily taxi journeys to and from work.

Last week, Disability News Service reported that AtW threatened to stop paying the £90-a-day for taxis she needs to get to work – she contributes £5-a-day herself – because she has a Motability vehicle and should use that instead.

McGuigan has told AtW that she cannot access the car in her power-chair, and has no-one who can drive her to work and collect her at the end of the day.

She doesn’t drive herself, because she has no use of her legs and limited use of her arms, and cannot use a personal assistant to drive her to work because she needs the powerchair, while she has been told the car cannot be converted to allow her to travel in her powerchair.

She and her partner currently use the Motability car at the weekends, when he is available to push her in a manual wheelchair, which can be carried in the car.

But this week, AtW told her it would continue to fund her taxis to and from work if she returned her car to Motability.

She is set to accept AtW’s suggestion.

She said: “It is the only option that I have got that I can still keep my job, so that is what we are going to do. We will have to get a cab at the weekends.

“I can’t get my head around the whole thing.”

She said Motability had been “really, really good” and had agreed not to charge her for ending her contract early.

She has not ruled out applying for a grant from Motability in the future to try to lease a wheelchair-accessible vehicle that can take her power-chair, but because she and her partner both work, she thinks it unlikely that they would be successful with such an application. Now their only option is to take out a loan to buy a car, a solution that is likely to be far more expensive than the Motability option, which was designed specifically for disabled people.

A DWP spokesman said they did not want her to have to return her Motability vehicle, and that they had offered a number of solutions to the problem, including obtaining a similar Motability vehicle to her current car, which could be adapted to take her power-chair.

He said: “At no point have we encouraged Ms McGuigan to hand back her Motability vehicle.

“We want to provide Ms McGuigan with the freedom of a car and her local Motability supplier can offer a similar vehicle to the one she has now which can be adapted for her specific needs.”

DWP said that AtW had to support the most “cost-effective” solutions for its customers, that no final decisions had been taken on her award and that it was continuing “to explore all options for the best solution”.


UN to investigate Duncan Smith’s benefit cuts as report damns his attack on the mentally ill

10/11/15


While the probe looks at the effect of cuts on single mothers, children and the disabled, the Work and Pensions Secretary sends job advisors into food bank.

Iain Duncan Smith is three times more likely to hit mental health sufferers with benefit sanctions than he is to help them into work, a damning report reveals.

An analysis by the charity Mind found almost 20,000 people with mental health issues had their benefits docked last year.

Yet only 6,340 mental health sufferers were helped to find work during the same period.

The figures came as the United Nations Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) announced it will be investigating the Government’s benefit cuts.

The probe will look at whether the reforms have had a disproportional impact on single parents, children and the disabled and whether the tax credit cuts will leave people without an adequate standard of living.

The Committee will also investigate what steps are being done to cut the number using food banks and whether mental health services are adequate in the light of the cuts.

The research by Mind, obtained by a Freedom of Information request, will pile pressure on Mr Duncan Smith to halt his cruel sanctions regime that sees those on benefits lose money if they are a few minutes late signing on or fail to look for work.

According to Mind there are 250,000 people with mental health issues who receive the Employment and Support Allowance. Of these, 19,259 were sanctioned last year.

Paul Farmer, the chief executive of Mind, said: “It is perverse that people with mental health problems are more likely to have their benefits stopped than they are to be supported into employment.

“We have long been warning the Government that a punitive approach towards people who are out of work because of their health or disability is not only ineffective but is causing a great deal of distress.”

Meanwhile, Mr Duncan Smith announced yesterday that job advisers are to be stationed in food banks.

The Work and Pensions Secretary said people seeking emergency food parcels would be given help on how to find work.

The scheme is being trialled at a food bank in Manchester but could be introduced into other centres if it is successful, he said.

“I am trialling at the moment a job adviser situating themselves in the food bank for the time that the food bank is open and we are already getting very strong feedback about that,” he told the Work and Pensions Select Committee.

“If this works and if the other food banks are willing to encompass this and we think it works we think we would like to roll this out across the whole of the UK.”

The Child Action Poverty Group said it already had advisers in food banks “dealing with misery caused by the Department for Work and Pensions.”


Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Owen Smith said: “The revelation that the government is considering placing DWP staff in food banks across the country, highlights the grim reality that people depending on emergency food aid is increasingly a central part of Iain Duncan Smith’s vision for our social security system.

“Under the Tories food bank use has risen exponentially, leaving more than a million people depending on emergency food.

“This is in no small part due to the Secretary of State’s incompetent and callous running of the DWP. The fact that Iain Duncan Smith is so relaxed about extreme food poverty that he has allowed it to become an accepted element of the national planning for the DWP is deeply worrying.”