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Deadline For Replacing ATOS For WCA Will Be Missed

October 20, 2014

Many thanks to Benefits And Work.

One of a collection of long overdue freedom of information requests received by Benefits and Work demonstrates that another of Iain Duncan Smith’s deadlines is unravelling before our eyes. The memo reveals that the new contractor delivering work capability assessments (WCAs) should already be in place and beginning to take over from Atos.

A memo headed ‘Atos Healthcare will no longer deliver Work Capability Assessments by 2015’ was sent out to DWP managers on 27 March 2014

The document explains that the Atos is to exit early from its contract to deliver WCAs, which was due to end in August 2015. The memo goes on to say that:

“The most effective way to stabilise and then increase delivery of Work Capability Assessments is to bring in one national provider to deliver the services. The plan is for the new contract to be awarded later this year. There will be a gradual transition from Atos to the new provider with a view to the new provider taking responsibility for delivery of Work Capability Assessments by 2015.”

However, that plan began to unravel as early as July of this year when the DWP realised that Atos owns all the hardware required to run the LiMA software used in WCAs.

As the Central Government Computing website revealed, the DWP were having to pay Atos an extra £10 million to carrying on running all the hardware for assessments for an additional year whilst a new IT provider is sought. The new contract runs into 2016 with options for it to continue right into 2020.

Meanwhile, however, there is still no sign of a company stepping in to carry out the actual face-to-face assessment. The possibility of Atos being fully replaced by the end of the year now seems very slim as another of IDS’ projects misses its deadline.

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DPAC #SackFreud Protest- Watch Live

October 20, 2014

Four In Ten Disabled Children Living In Poverty, Finds Report

October 20, 2014

With many thanks to The Children’s Society.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson recently led an inquiry – supported by us, Citizens Advice and Disability Rights UK – into the impact of the new Universal Credit benefit system on disabled people and their families.

The inquiry’s final report, Holes in the Safety Net: The impact of Universal Credit on disabled people and their families, summarises the findings from three research reports which are based on evidence from surveys of almost 3500 disabled people and a parliamentary evidence session. The report finds that several key groups of disabled people and their families will lose out financially under the new system.

The evidence from the inquiry suggests that reducing financial support could have a devastating impact on these groups. The report makes key policy recommendations to ensure that Universal Credit really supports all disabled people and their families.

The three research reports are:

The inquiry’s first report, Disability and Universal Credit, outlines a series of scenarios of the impact Universal Credit will have on disabled people and their families in different circumstances.

Four in every 10 disabled children are living in poverty

Our report 4 in Every 10: Disabled children living in poverty (summaryfull report), shows that 320,000 disabled children – far more than previously estimated – live in poverty in the UK than previously estimated. The Children’s Society warns that cuts in support for disabled children under the Universal Credit, as outlined in the Holes in the Safety Net inquiry report, threaten to push even more disabled children into poverty.

Labour To Call Commons Vote Over Freud Comments

October 20, 2014

Labour will force a Commons vote on Lord Freud’s future after David Cameron refused to dismiss him as welfare minister for his suggestion that some disabled workers are not worth the minimum wage.

The Conservative peer has been allowed to remain in his job after apologising for the comment, but Labour will table a motion of no confidence to be voted on later this month.

Separately, the Independent on Sunday reported that a second government minister had made contentious comments over the role of disabled people in the workplace. Andrew Selous, a justice minister, was said to have told a fringe meeting at the Tory party conference that “disabled people work harder because they’re grateful to have a job”.

Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary said the prime minister’s failure to act to remove Freud was astonishing. She said: “When the disgraceful and offensive views like this go unchallenged within the Conservative party it’s clear that mask has slipped and the nasty party is back. Labour will table a motion of no confidence in Lord Freud because we believe it’s completely unacceptable that David Cameron has failed to sack his minister for welfare reform.”

The shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds said it was “absolutely disgraceful” that Freud had not been removed from his post, and rejected the suggestion her party was playing politics with the saga. She told the BBC’s Sunday Politics: “I don’t think suggesting that disabled people, regardless of their disability, should be working for £2 an hour is acceptable.”

Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, said the implication of Freud’s comment was that “some people aren’t worth as much as others”. He disagreed with the suggestion that the peer had been talking about topping up wages with benefits as a way of getting more disabled people into the workplace.

He told Pienaar’s Politics on Radio 5: “This isn’t the first thing he has said … he is completely out of touch, this bloke.” He was referring to a comment last year that an increase in numbers of families using food banks was not necessarily linked to benefits sanctions or delays.

Last month Freud was recorded at a conference fringe meeting responding to a Tory councillor who suggested that people with mental health problems may be unable to work because employers were unwilling to pay them the statutory minimum.

He replied: “You make a really good point about the disabled … There is a group – and I know exactly who you mean – where actually, as you say, they’re not worth the full wage and actually I’m going to go and think about that particular issue, whether there is something we can do nationally, and without distorting the whole thing, which actually if someone wants to work for £2 an hour, and it’s working, can we actually …”

Cameron flatly disowned the peer’s remarks when questioned by the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, at prime minister’s questions, and later ordered Freud to apologise. Freud has since offered “a full and unreserved apology”, saying he was foolish to accept the premise of the question.

Freud said: “To be clear, all disabled people should be paid at least the minimum wage, without exception, and I accept that it is offensive to suggest anything else. I care passionately about disabled people. I am proud to have played a full part in a government that is fully committed to helping disabled people overcome the many barriers they face in finding employment.”

The vote on the motion of no confidence is expected to take place on 29 October during an opposition day debate.

Second Government Minister, Andrew Selous, Says ‘Disabled Work Harder Because They Are Grateful’

October 20, 2014

A second government minister made contentious comments over the disabled and their role in the workplace at the Conservative Party’s annual conference last month, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Andrew Selous, a Justice minister and former parliamentary aide to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, told a fringe meeting that “disabled people work harder because they’re grateful to have a job”.

His comments are revealed just days after David Cameron faced calls to sack Lord Freud as Welfare Reform minister after a recording emerged of him telling a separate fringe meeting that disabled people were “not worth” the full minimum wage. The IoS has learned that Labour will hold a vote of no confidence in Lord Freud, in the Commons. Labour will table the motion tomorrow and the vote will be on 29 October, the first available opportunity, when it has its opposition day debate. Labour sources said the pressure would be on the Lib Dems to back the motion after Nick Clegg said last week that Lord Freud’s comments were “deeply distressing and offensive”.

In a further development, David Blunkett, the blind former Cabinet minister, said people with his form of disability should be able to work on “equal terms”, after the journalist Tom Utley wrote that his father, the late Daily Telegraph journalist TE Utley, was happy to work for less money than his sighted colleagues.

Responding to Mr Utley’s article in the Daily Mail on the Lord Freud row, Mr Blunkett told The IoS: “I am very sorry that Tom Utley recalled his father’s situation in this particular dispute. He was always applauded for being able to work on equal terms and to use his remarkable memory… to do his job. It saddens me to have his memory diminished in this way.”

While Lord Freud apologised for his comments, supporters have insisted that he was discussing the idea, previously backed by Labour and some disability groups, for the Government to provide additional support to employers who take on disabled workers.

The emergence of a second minister’s comments risked adding fuel to the row. Mr Selous made the comments at a Centre for Social Justice fringe meeting, where he was speaking on the Government’s reforms to the criminal justice system. Tania Bassett and Dave Adams, two senior members of the Napo probation union, which opposes the reforms, were sitting in the front row.

Mr Adams said: “I was shocked. It was one of those moments where you think ‘did he really just say that?’.”

And Ms Bassett said: “There was a lot of muttering, like ‘I can’t believe he just said this’. He was talking about employment for offenders, suggesting that, like disabled people, they’ll work hard.”

Mr Selous defended his position last night. He said: “I was Iain Duncan Smith’s PPS [Parliamentary Private Secretary] for four years. My recollection is that the point I was making was the feedback I had… that employers are often very, very pleased with disabled employees; they work harder, they are loyal. These are good reasons to employ disabled people and offenders.”

Privately, disability rights campaigners are split over whether Mr Selous’ language was offensive or not, though most agreed that the word “grateful” was misjudged. A spokesman for Disability Rights UK said that case studies backed up Mr Selous’ views, pointing out that many disabled people are “pretty determined to do well”, but he added “it’s not necessarily about gratitude”.

But Kate Green, the shadow Disabilities minister, said: “These new comments about disabled people from another Tory minister show they just don’t get it… Many would love to work, but Tory policies are failing disabled people.”

On the Labour motion, shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves said: “David Cameron’s failure to act after Lord Freud said that some disabled people are ‘not worth the full wage’ is astonishing… it’s clear the mask has slipped and the nasty party is back.

“Labour will table a motion of no confidence in Lord Freud because we believe it’s completely unacceptable that David Cameron has failed to sack his minister for Welfare Reform.”

Margarita, With A Straw: Review

October 18, 2014

What’s the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear the title Margarita, With A Straw? Alcohol? A cocktail? A bar?

So what would you say, readers, if I told you that this is the title of a Hindi movie about disability?

The lead character is a university student called Laila, who has severe Cerebral Palsy. Laila lives in Delhi with her loving family and attends Delhi University. This movie is the story of her life- but most importantly it is the story of her loves.

She has a close male friend who, just like her, is a wheelchair user. He is in love with her, but she breaks his heart when she meets a non-disabled musician- who later breaks her heart.

And this is the point when the movie really starts tackling sensitive subjects. It has several sensitive themes, each tackled as well as the last.

Heartbroken and embarrassed after making a fool of herself with a boy who doesn’t love her, Laila leaves Delhi University and enrols on a Creative Writing course at NYU. Here she meets a blind student activist, Khanum, who is half Pakistani, half Bangladeshi- but, surprisingly for a movie mostly set in India, that’s not the problem.

Khanum teaches Laila several things about herself. Early on, she encourages her to try alcohol for the first time. Her choice? Margarita, with a straw.

Later, Khanum reveals that she is gay, and the young women begin a very serious, special same-sex relationship. However, Laila remains bisexual, and once cheats on Khanum with a boy. Never afraid to say the wrong thing, at this point Laila says just about the most hurtful thing possible- when asked for a reason, she says it happened because he could see her.

A movie with a severely disabled main character can never completely ignore disability, and this one doesn’t ever try. So as well as facing all the same issues as any other young adult, Laila faces issues that I, as a person disabled since birth, recognised instantly. Although she loves her mother deeply, Laila longs for her own independence, and for some privacy. The mother and daughter have their first real fight when Laila’s secret stash of porn websites is accidentally discovered!

Towards the end of the movie, Laila has to face yet another challenge, when her mother is diagnosed with cancer. As many adult children would do, at the end of her mother’s life Laila takes on the role of carer.

The script, throughout, has a great sensitivity to disability. It never shows disabled people as perfect, but only as real people. For this, writer and director Shonali Bose must be thanked.

The only negative thing that could be said about this movie is that the two lead actresses do not share their characters’ disabilities. However, they both play their roles to perfection. Perhaps disabled actors for disabled roles is the next step that Indian cinema needs to take- but this movie is proof that when it comes to tackling disability issues well, that is the only step that Indian cinema has left.

Daily JSA Sign On: Part Of ‘Help To Work?’

October 17, 2014

This is a report about having to sign on every day for jobseekers’ allowance – an entirely pointless “process” that seems to be taking hold:

On Wednesday, the Kilburn Unemployed Workers’ Group and I went to talk with JSA claimants at the North Kensington jobcentre.

Almost as soon as we got there, people brought a significant fact to our attention: the North Kensington jobcentre appears to have instigated a daily JSA sign on regime for some people. Daily sign on does, or at least is, pretty much what it says on the tin – it means that people must present themselves at their local jobcentre every single day of the week and sit and wait until they see an adviser for a brief time. Their attendance is noted and there’s a (very) quick catchup about people’s jobsearches. And that’s it.

Daily sign on was one of the platforms government’s ironically-named Help To Work platforms. The Help To Work scheme was launched in April to much fanfare (by government) and consternation (by reasonable people). I wonder if we’re seeing evidence now that it is underway, after a fashion. We’re certainly seeing evidence that people were right to dread it. The daily sign on exercise is nasty and utterly pointless – certainly as far as helping people into work goes. The three people who I talk about in this article reported that absolutely nothing happens at their daily signon appointments. I think we’ll say that again – absolutely nothing happens. JSA claimants must turn up at their jobcentre and have their attendance noted. One person reported a quick chat and check with a jobcentre adviser about jobs applied for – “and that’s ridiculous, because they can check everything that I am doing online,” he said. “They forced us to use [Universal] Jobmatch, so they can check everything already.”

Full story at Kate Belgrave.

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