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A Conversation with a Jobcentre Advisor

November 21, 2014

Originally posted on REALFARE:

Thomas Barlow – @tbarls

Like many people I have been in and out of work over the past couple of years.

Every job is temporary, or low paid, or unspecified hours, or all of them together.  And all of the jobs come to an end.

Recently I decided that I was going to stop this cycle and follow my dream of becoming a writer.  This is it,  this is what I will do, or die in the process.

So when I was told, suddenly, by my advisor, that I had to come in every day to the jobcentre for the next two weeks at least, I finally felt confident enough to speak back.

Though not at the time I was told.  As my interview was ending my advisor told me

“Oh, and you have to come in every day for the next two weeks, starting tomorrow”

“Really?  Oh ok” I…

View original 943 more words

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Three Children Who Were Bullied Because They Are Disabled

November 21, 2014

Research shows disabled children are much more likely to be bullied. Three young people who were once victimised tell their stories and share tips on tackling the problem.

This year’s Anti Bullying Week has been asking schools to give particular attention to children with disabilities or special educational needs. The organisation behind the campaign, the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA), has published new research on attitudes to disablist language this week and cites other recent research which shows eight out of 10 children with learning disabilities have been bullied, and that disabled children at primary school are 50% more likely to be victimised.

Rebecca, Maxine and Ammaar were at the receiving end of bullying. They explain how they got through it in the hope that their stories will help those having trouble now.

‘Speak up’

More than 90% of parents of children with Asperger Syndrome told the ABA that their child had been bullied in the past 12 months. Rebecca Parkin is 17 and has the condition. She was bullied regularly from the age of six until recently, when becoming a campaigning voice for others in her situation boosted her confidence. Rebecca says she was an “easy victim” for bullies. “I rarely spoke to anyone. I was really shy and kept to myself, even saying hello to someone was really difficult for me,” she says.

The problems began in primary school, where she was called names and excluded from friendship groups, but she describes high school as “a living hell”. “I was called fat, crazy, weird, stupid, ugly. When I was about 12 a gang of 16-year-olds came up to me in a park and tried setting my hair on fire. In school I got hit and tripped up, I had food and water thrown on me. One day a boy cornered me and said he was going to find me after school and kill me. I also got abuse online and someone set up a fake account on YouTube in my name so people could leave nasty comments on my videos.”

Rebecca was so badly affected that she began self-harming and needed help from mental health services. Things only changed for the teenager when she managed to speak up about what was happening to her. She says that she bugged teachers “until they did something about it” and that helping others in the same situation taught her that “you need to speak up so things will change”.

“I know it’s hard but if you can’t vocalise what’s wrong, write it down or draw it,” says Rebecca. “Do whatever you can to show how you are feeling and what is going on.”

Rebecca is now an anti-bullying campaigner with Ambitious about Autism, NSPCC and Ditch The Label.

‘Take precautions’

Maxine Young is 22 and acquired a learning disability as the result of a brain tumour at the age of three.

“He called me brain tumour kid,” says Maxine Young, referring to one boy who bullied her. She was consistently called names and teased about her size and appearance throughout primary and secondary schools, and then at college. Telling teachers led to bullies getting temporary exclusions from school, but the bullying only stopped completely when Maxine was physically assaulted at a bus station, and went to the police. The attacker got a two-year suspended sentence and was ordered to pay compensation. This, coupled with how seriously the police took her situation, has helped her grow in confidence. Maxine has now developed strategies to avoid being targeted in the future.

“If I do get bullied now, I say to them, why are you doing this? What’s the point in bullying people when you won’t get anything from it? I carry a personal alarm with me in case I do get assaulted again,” says Maxine, who has also received self-defence coaching from the police.

Maxine now helps Mencap to give anti-bullying training to parents and carers of people with learning disabilities .

Mencap are keen to stress that Maxine’s story is an exception to the rule. The charity says that in the last two years there were 124,000 disability hate crimes, but only 3% of these were recorded by the police, and only 1% resulted in prosecutions.

‘Don’t believe them’

Ammaar Hussein is 16 and has been a victim of bullying in the past because of his deafness. He recently made a video for the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) giving tips for ways to tackle bullies. One tip he offers is, “Don’t believe the bullies”.

They would “speak very slowly, stretching their mouth and making fun of me” says Ammaar. It reached the stage where the bullies’ words affected how he went about his daily life. “I kept thinking that I couldn’t communicate properly and that people wouldn’t understand me if I tried. I felt embarrassed.

“One boy called me a robot because I was wearing my hearing aids,” he continues. “I felt really annoyed and ignored him but I kept thinking ‘Do I really look so different?’”

He says his biggest mistake was to listen to what bullies told him. “I did not realise that they were trying to ruin my confidence,” he says. “Remember, bullying is never your fault.”

Ammaar is now an anti-bullying ambassador at his school and he helps other deaf young people who are being targeted because they can’t hear.

Learning Difficulties and Signing On? The System Can’t Be Bothered

November 20, 2014

Back to Kilburn jobcentre this morning for a Thursday signon session with Eddie, the 51-year-old man with learning and literacy difficulties who I’ve been working with as he’s tried to get his fortnightly jobsearch done and avoid sanctions.

The jobcentre was pretty chaotic this morning – understaffed, I think, and tense. Most of the seats in the waiting area were occupied by people who were waiting to sign on. A number of people were pacing around.

Eddie was one of them: “I want to get out of here,” he kept saying to me. “Let’s get it [the signon] done and go.” Eddie hates the jobcentre and he seemed fraught this morning. He said there’d been some sort of fight between a claimant and adviser and/or Security just before I arrived. I knew something was up, because I’d seen four or five coppers climbing out of their car and heading into the jobcentre just as I turned up at about 9.30am. By the time I got upstairs, the police were all hanging around on the first floor in the waiting area and I could see a couple of coppers talking to people in a side room.

Full story at Kate Belgrave.

Support Group Chances Increased By Upper Tribunal Decision

November 20, 2014

With many thanks to Benefits And Work.

A recent upper tribunal decision may have significantly increased the chances of employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants being placed in the support group rather than being forced to carry out work-related activities that cause a substantial risk to their health. The decision has come about because, just two months after taking power in 2010, IDS did away with one of the stages of the work capability assessment in order to push through the transfer of incapacity benefit claimants to ESA as hastily as possible.

The work-focused health related assessment (WFHRA) was a ‘second medical’ at which an Atos health professional looked at what capability for work you still had and ways in which it could be improved by the taking of steps in relation to your physical or mental condition.

The subsequent report was passed on to your personal adviser who used it to decide what kind of work-related activities you might be capable of. It was a vital part of the WCA because it was the only way the DWP passed on information about the way your condition affects you to the person supposed to be preparing you for work – they have never been allowed access to the medical assessment itself.

WFHRAs were suspended for two years in July 2010 due to their having achieved only ‘mixed results’ and because of the increasing backlog of ESA medicals. They were subsequently abolished altogether.

A recent three judge upper tribunal hearing, however, has almost reinvented the WFHRA.

The tribunal were hearing a case in relation to regulation 35(2). In essence, this says that if because of your health condition or disability, there would be a substantial risk to the mental or physical health of any person if you were required to carry out work-related activities, then you should be placed in the support group.

The tribunal judges held that where a tribunal is considering whether a claimant should be covered by regulation 35(2) the onus is on the DWP to provide a significant amount of additional evidence if they think the claimant should not be placed in the support group.

This includes evidence about what activities work providers in your specific location send people on, which ones it would be reasonable to require you to do and what mechanism the DWP can point to that will give the tribunal confidence that the information will be effectively communicated to the work programme provider and acted upon.

If the DWP can’t do all this to the tribunal’s satisfaction then it must find that you are eligible for the support group.

Not surprisingly the DWP are very unhappy about this and are appealing the decision to the Court of Appeal. In the meantime, the DWP appear to be trying to get all appeals to first tier tribunals that raise the issue of regulation 35 stayed until the Court of Appeal has heard the case and reached a decision – which could be many months away.

We’ve updated both of our guides to claiming ESA to take account of this decision.

Meanwhile, if you are an ESA claimant, we’d be very interested to see your comments below on what work-related activities you have been forced to do and whether they were appropriate.

Welfare Delays Behind Increase In Foodbank Use Finds Study

November 20, 2014

Delays and gaps in the welfare state are behind the soaring numbers turning to food banks, according to new research into those relying on charity in Britain.

Minor adjustments to the benefits system could prevent many from needing emergency food, research commissioned by Oxfam, Child Poverty Action Group, Church of England and The Trussell Trust has found.

The research was conducted using a combination of surveying more than 900 clients at three Trussell Trust food banks, as well as 40 in-depth interviews at seven food banks across the UK. The majority of food bank users surveyed were there as a last-resort. They also typically needed help after something happened to completely stop or dramatically reduce their benefits.

For more than half of those interviewed, the immediate trigger which sent them to a food bank was linked to problems with welfare, including waiting for benefits to be paid, sanctions, problems with Employment Support Allowance or missing tax credits.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said: “Food banks have boomed not because they‘re an easy option but because people haven’t got money to eat – often because of problems with claiming and the payment of benefits. A delay in a benefits decision or a period pending a review can force hunger and humiliation on families, leaving them no option but the food bank. Rather than protecting these families from poverty at the time when they most need help, the system leaves them with almost nothing to live on.”

Improving access to short-term advances in benefits and simplifying the claims process would curtail the numbers falling through the cracks, researchers said. They also recommended a reform to the sanctions system, which stops benefits punitively for long stretches of time, often after minor mistakes, such as not attending a meeting.

Around one in five of those attending food banks had household benefits stopped or reduced because of a sanction and more than a quarter were waiting for a benefit claim which had not been decided.

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Rev Christopher Chessun, said: “This report offers a picture of people facing acute crises in their lives with fortitude and dignity. That this happens is no surprise to thousands of Church of England parishes around the country who help to provide care and relief for their neighbours by running and supporting food banks.

“It is vital that the measured and practical recommendations set out in this report are actively considered and acted upon by politicians of all parties to ensure that more and more people are not forced into relying on emergency food aid.”

Reliance on emergency food handouts has soared in the last two years. More than 900,000 people were given emergency food by the Trussell Trust in the last financial year, up from fewer than 130,000 in 2011-12.

David McAuley, Trussell Trust CEO said: “This new evidence brings into sharp focus the uncomfortable reality of what happens when a ‘life shock’ or benefit problem hits those on low incomes: parents go hungry, stress and anxiety increase, and the issue can all too quickly escalate into crippling debt, housing problems and illness. The Trussell Trust has consistently said that too many people are falling through gaps in the social security system. The voices of food bank users heard in this report have informed the united call from four respected anti-poverty bodies to implement simple fixes to the welfare system.”

A Government spokesman said: “This country has been through the deepest recession since modern records began, and sticking to this Government’s long term economic plan is the only way to improve living standards.

“The report itself concludes it can’t ‘prove anything’ – it uses self-selecting data and recognises there are complex underlying issues. We have a strong safety net in place, spending £94bn a year on working age benefits, and we provide a wide range of advice and assistance for anyone in need of additional support.”

Raising awareness of disability-related bullying

November 19, 2014
Featured Image -- 18902

Originally posted on Scope's Blog:

This week is national Anti-Bullying Week, and this year’s theme is disability-related bullying.

Research by the Institute for Education shows that disabled children are twice as likely as other children to experience persistent bullying. This can take many forms including physical abuse, name-calling and cyberbullying.

We’ve teamed up with Ambitious about Autism and the Anti-Bullying Alliance to highlight some of the issues faced by disabled children and young people.

Jack sitting on the edge of a fighting ring

Seventeen year-old MMA fighter Jack

Jack’s story

Jack is doing an apprenticeship and is also possibly the only disabled mixed martial arts fighter in the UK – but part of the reason he took up the sport was as relief from the bullying he experienced at school.

“It started in year eight. Words like ‘spastic’ were thrown around at me and those words got me into trouble at school, because I wouldn’t stand for it.

“It was hard. I don’t…

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Disabled students able to design 3D objects with their eyes

November 19, 2014

A press release.

 A disability college has pioneered new technology which allows students to design and print 3D objects using only their eyes. This is part of a recent global push to adapt new technologies to assist disabled people as seen with mobile phones, exoskeletons and now with art and design. 


See the film here:


SHIVA (Sculpture for Health-care: Interaction and Virtual Art in 3D) is a 3D design and printing project which allows disabled people to design an object or sculpture in 3D, which is then printed as a 3D model.

Initiated in 2010, SHIVA was designed by a group including Mark Moseley (Assistive Technologist at Victoria Education Centre), Dr Leigh McLoughlin and Professor Alexander Pasko and his team at the National Centre for Computer Animation at Bournemouth University in the UK. They were also helped by researchers from the University of Lille.

The technology was tested at and is now used by Victoria Education Centre (VEC), a school for children with physical disabilities, which is part of the national disability charity Livability

How does it work?

Some disabilities can make interacting with a touchscreen interface a challenge due to varying levels of dexterity and control.  The team needed to create an interface that was highly customisable for a variety of disabilities.

-          First, the interface is set to suit the particular user’s needs. They may not be able to use a touch screen, for example, so they may require an eye-gaze system instead. Eye-gaze technology then tracks where a user is looking and translates it into screen coordinates so that on screen cells or buttons can be selected.

-          The user is then able to build an object of their choosing using the program. They do this by selecting a number of objects and placing them onto a single stick, like a totem pole. These objects can be modified and rotated to suit their design preferences.  Students can select shapes using their interface of choice and combine it with other shapes, manipulate the scale, and even remove portions of the shapes. The stick is also completely removable if the users or educators have no use for it.

-          You can find out more about SHIVA at the Applied Shapes website

o   This is the company that will support and distribute SHIVA when it is made fully open to the public.


What are the benefits to disabled people?


SHIVA allows a variety of disabled people to engage in creative design projects in ways which they may not previously have been able to. It breaks down the barriers between art and ideas and provides a new passage for creation and design.


-          Coordination and muscular control: The SHIVA program can be customised depending on the specific needs of the individual. The eye-tracker function benefits some disabled people who have issues with coordination and muscular control, alleviating the problem of using ones hands on a design or artistic project.

-          Visual impairment: The display is also customizable, so cells can be rearranged to suit different disabilities. The screen colours and cell size can be adjusted in order to assist people who are visually impaired, for instance it could have a black background with yellow controls, making it easier for someone with a visual impairment to see.

-          Any settings that have been tailored to a specific individual can be saved and easily retrieved at the start of each session within the program.

-          Professor Pasko thinks that it helps to ‘give children the tools for creativity’ because they ‘have great imaginations but almost no tools to express themselves.’ He says, ‘a piece of software which can help someone create something independently, or make them proud of what they have created is going to build self-esteem, that’s going to make them feel better and have fun.’


Results at VEC


The project has enabled young disabled students at VEC to design digitally and print in 3D. The models have been 3D printed to give the children tangible models of their creativity – “it brought the whole thing alive”, says Professor Pasko.


-          The software will continue to be used, and it is hoped that funding will be acquired so that the software can be further developed.

-          To date, around fifteen pupils with varying levels of disability have used the software and many models have already been produced. Professor Alexander Pasko said, ‘Suddenly the entire school realised “Wow it’s a different world now.”’

-          The software has been used for a project inspired by artist Andy Goldsworthy


Who created it and who funded it?


-          SHIVA was designed by a team of people including Mark Mosely (Assistive Technologist at Victoria Education Centre) Dr Leigh McLoughlin, and Professor Alexander Pasko (National Centre for Computer Animation of the Media School at Bournemouth University in UK).

-          They were assisted by researchers from the University of Lille and the National Centre for Computer Animation at Bournemouth University.

-          It was funded by INTERREG IVA 2 Seas Programme ( an international organisation that supports cross border cooperation between schools, charities and businesses from England, France, Belgium-Flanders and the Netherlands. They help fund projects that involve economic development, environmental issues and quality of life issues.

-          Many from VEC were involved, especially the Speech and Language Therapy Department. Mark Moseley was VEC’s technical lead for the project and was the primary consultant for accessibility. He created the user interface designs which were later implemented by BU. Mark worked closely with Sarah Gilling (Head of Speech and Language Therapy at VEC) who helped define how the software would be used and what aspects of therapy it could be linked to.


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