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The Challenges Facing The New Minister For Disabled People

July 30, 2014

Britain has a new Minister of State for Disabled People - Mark Harper, MP for the Forest of Dean. As he gets to grips with his new brief – the fourth person to do so in this government – Kate Ansell outlines some of the responsibilities he has inherited.

The coalition is making substantial reductions to welfare spending, as well as making significant budget cuts elsewhere, as part of its reforms.

The new disability minister will be responsible for overseeing the wide-ranging changes to disability benefits, from the high living costs some disabled people have, to support for those who can’t work at all, or those who find themselves temporarily unemployed.

He’ll be taking on board recent rule changes to allowances which enable disabled people to work more effectively, and the narrowing of entitlements to funds which allow disabled students to access assistive technology and other services.

The government says they currently spend 50 billion pounds on disability benefits, and that Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claims alone have increased by 35% in the last decade. There may be some agreement that reform was needed, but campaign groups believe disabled people have been hit disproportionately by the changes.

Though often reported separately, it is possible that individuals are affected by more than one reform. For example, many of those who lose their entitlement to Employment Support Allowance (ESA) are likely to find themselves hit by cuts to DLA too.

Beyond benefits

The Independent Living Fund (ILF) – which gives financial support so that severely disabled people can live independently – is earmarked for closure next year. The government says that the money will be transferred to local authorities who will be solely responsible for care provision in the future, but the funds won’t be ring-fenced, meaning local authorities could use it for other services.

Sue Elsegood from Greenwich is 47 and has received ILF since the early 90s. She has a team of five paid personal assistants on rota and says she is “terrified” that her local authority will put her in residential care rather than pay for the level of support she currently receives with help from the ILF.

She has a room for her assistants at home and had to apply for a discretionary housing payment so she didn’t have to pay what critics have dubbed the “bedroom tax”. “It turned out fine, but it takes time and effort,” she says.

DLA has been given to disabled people since 1991 to pay for extra costs related to disabilities. Now changing to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) the government says they want to help those with the greatest need. As a result, some people will lose the benefit.

Lisa Egan, who runs the campaigning blog Where’s The Benefit? believes she meets the criteria for PIP, but is worried about being reassessed every few years – everyone will be, which is one of the major differences between DLA and PIP. She fears she will be turned down and have to appeal against the decision and is worried she won’t receive support in the interim.

Egan most fears the removal of Severe Disability Premium (SDP), a payment made to some disabled people on low incomes, which is being gradually cut as part of the changes to Universal Credit.

“My impairment causes overheating. I’m sitting here with three fans pointed at me. I forked out for a half-price air conditioner a couple of years ago.” She also bought a dishwasher because she lacks the energy to cook and wash up – extra costs she says she couldn’t have afforded without SDP, or DLA.

Access to Work

The government says the benefit changes are designed to help get disabled people into work and have also set up a programme to give employers confidence in employing disabled people, the other side of the employment problem – only 49% of disabled people have a job.

Those who can work but need support to do so can currently claim an Access to Work grant. Recently, however, criteria have been tightened and the system changed. The government says it has increased the funding available overall, but the changes have not been welcomed by everyone.

One of the groups hardest hit by these changes is deaf people. Charlie Swinbourne, editor of the Limping Chicken blog, says: “Our readers have told us that when they’re trying to get support from Access to Work, they are often told to phone which is crazy considering they are deaf.

“People are finding their jobs in jeopardy because they’ve had support taken away, or reduced, or because they’re waiting too long to know if they’ll get support.”

Last month, the government announced it was reviewing the changes, including the impact on deaf people, suspending some of the measures which affect deaf people in the meantime. Although this review has been welcomed, [Swinbourne says] uncertainty remains and adds to other work and welfare anxieties.

Local cuts

Outside the national benefits system, disabled people report that cuts to council and NHS budgets have had a huge impact on their lives. Jemma Brown has had direct experience of this. She is both blind and has mental health problems. She has been assessed and it has been agreed that she needs care but her local council will only pay a small proportion, indicating she will need to pay the rest. Brown says she can’t because they haven’t taken her debt into consideration. She says: “I was awarded seven pounds a week for care – putting me in a position where I can’t afford the basic care I need to live a normal life.”

Brown has also been waiting over a year for a major needs assessment from an occupational therapist, but says that, on an everyday basis, cuts to council services have created a string of difficulties. She regularly walks into trees with overhanging branches because she can’t see, she says this didn’t happen before the council changed the way it manages open spaces to save money.

On a national level, the DWP told the BBC they carry out thorough impact assessments on all their policies, as well as equality impact assessments on any policies that might have a disproportionate affect on disabled people.

There’s a general election next year, and the indications are that welfare reform will be a huge issue. Nick Clegg has withdrawn his support for the so called “bedroom tax” in its current form, stating he doesn’t believe disabled adults should have to pay. This is a significant change, considering that it was his own party that helped vote the reform through in the first place, and commentators have speculated this U-turn is to win back votes.

It is another policy which has contributed to the much-reported general unrest in the disability community. “One of the biggest fears is uncertainty,” says Sue Elsegood. “Things are very stressful at the moment. I’m anxious at not knowing what will happen. There are so many bureaucratic barriers.”

More cuts are expected though charities and campaigners have already voiced concerns that disabled people have been too harshly affected by the austerity measures. It remains to be seen how Mark Harper will take on the challenge.

Kate Ansell is a disabled journalist specialising in social affairs. She has directed two Panorama films about the way welfare reform is affecting disabled people.

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How People With Learning Disabilities Are Expected To Live

July 30, 2014

With many thanks to Kate Belgave.

Yesterday, I went to the home of a Kilburn man who is 51, has mild learning difficulties and currently signs on. He has worked all his life in hotels and in kitchenwork, but found it harder to get and keep work during the recession. He’s been out of work for four years now and is depressed about it. He doesn’t read or write very well and thinks that is the reason he’s finding it difficult to get another job. More on that soon.

For now, he wanted to show me his flat. It’s the tiny, single room in Kilburn you see here – so small that it was difficult for the four of us who were there to fit into all at once. His rent is paid in housing benefit – which means that his landlord gets housing benefit for renting this tiny little room out as a flat.

 

 

 

 

There was a bed, a broken fridge, another fridge in the middle of the room that this man had bought to keep his diabetes medication in, because it must be kept cool, and a broken oven. He’d got a second smaller oven with two hotplates to sit on top of the broken oven so that he’d at least have hotplates that worked. You can see that in the video. This man has complained to his landlord about the mice and cockroaches that live under the broken oven, but nothing has been done.

There are no windows in this “flat” – just a door that leads to a shared path down the side of the house. In the heat, the room has been nearly uninhabitable. To cap things off, he says he has to do a jobsearch of about seven to ten jobs a week and has been threatened with sanctions if he doesn’t. He has been sent on the work programme. He wants another job. I’ll add to this story and have a lot more video to post, but – have this to think on for now. Here we are in 2014. Austerity’s over, you know. For some.

 

Case Of David Clapson Sparks Calls For National Inquiry

July 29, 2014

Some have asked if this would have happened if David Clapson had not been a former soldier.

I, however, see this as a very small piece of progress. I’m always grateful for progress, whatever the reasons for it.

The case of a diabetic former soldier from Stevenage, who died after his benefits were sanctioned, has led to calls for a national review.

Last week, the Advertiser told the story of David Clapson, who could not afford electricity to keep his insulin cool after his jobseeker’s allowance of approximately £70 a week was suspended on June 28 last year.

Just three weeks later – on July 20 – he died aged 59 at his home in Hillside from fatal diabetic keto-acidosis, which the NHS calls “a dangerous complication of diabetes caused by a lack of insulin.”

Talking to the Advertiser, leader of Stevenage Council Cllr Sharon Taylor said the case was “the most tragic story I have heard in 18 years of being a councillor.”

She also revealed that she had forwarded letters about the case, sent between David’s sister Gill and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), to Dame Anne Begg.

In one letter, the DWP – which administers jobseeker’s allowance – said it was “confident that the correct procedures were followed for the administration of benefit.”

Dame Begg is the chair of the work and pensions select committee, which examines DWP expenditure, administration and policy.

Following our exclusive coverage of the story last week, The Mirror carried the case on its front page on Monday.

Talking to the Mirror, MP Debbie Abrahams – a member of the work and pensions select committee – said “For this poor man to die in such a disgraceful way is a scandal.

“But it is sadly not a surprise to hear that the sanctions regime has cost another life.”

She also said that she had pushed for an independent inquiry into sanctions, but the government had published only a limited inquiry on the last day before its summer recess, preventing discussion.

“If Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey have nothing to hide, they should not fear a focused, independent inquiry,” she added.

Cllr Taylor said: “I want the DWP to carry out an inquiry into how they get vulnerable people in touch with local organisations that can help them. We need a review of that at the national level.”

David’s sister, Gill, told the Advertiser: “You have made a huge difference. You helped me get there because your story started it when it was shared by Sharon Taylor.

“I just want them to have a look at their procedures.”

How can the arts be more inclusive?

July 29, 2014

Originally posted on artwithheartuk:

After thinking about how we could work more inclusively at Art with Heart to make sure every person who sees our work can experience it equally, I joined Graeae Theatre Company (www.graeae.org) for the day…

I’m currently completing my A-level equivalent in British Sign Language (BSL). I am learning more and more about how hearing and deaf cultures differ and how difficult it is to access the arts as a non-hearing person. For most, those who use BSL, English is not their first language and reading captions is tiresome and lacking in expression. I have come across some fantastic interpreters, but also some who I feel, don’t really capture what is happening on stage, meaning that even though a BSL user has access they end up having a lesser experience to their hearing peers.

I have always been fascinated by how spoken words, multiple meanings, chemistry, inflections and nuances can take…

View original 727 more words

‘ATOS Discriminates Against Disabled People- And The DWP Allow It’

July 29, 2014

With many thanks to the Welfare Neews Service and Mr John Lockett.

 

I became aware of your website last year and have been a weekly visitor ever since. I myself have been experiencing the joy of Atos – and now the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – for over a year now.

Leaving aside that I was wrongly assigned to the ‘Work-Related’ Activity Group (WRAG) and had my case illegally sent for Mandatory Reconsideration by the DWP, those may be stories for another time.

My immediate concern is the fact that DWP allowed Atos to blatantly discriminate against disabled people and yet refused to acknowledge this, let alone actually do anything about it! It is now clear why – they are indulging in this themselves.

When I was first contacted by Atos, I made clear that, due to fatigue caused by my disabilities, that I must sleep in the afternoon. Atos continually sent me afternoon appointments and despite DWP being copied to any correspondence, I never heard from them on the matter.

Eventually, after two formal complaints, Atos finally sent me a morning appointment which was cancelled shortly thereafter and the process promptly began again! Again, deafening silence from the DWP.

When I pointed out to Atos that they were calling people for assessments they knew to be disabled and yet provided no disable parking, they responded by stating that disabled parking was available in the street immediately outside the centre.

When I again challenged this and provided photographic evidence that it was a lie, they lied again and essentially re-stated the original lie. Again, deafening silence from the DWP.

As stated above, DWP have been copied into all correspondence between myself and Atos yet, when I received the appointment letter for Jobcentre Plus this was not only for four days hence (two of which were a weekend) at a time of year when many people are away on holiday, but yet another afternoon appointment.

I immediately telephoned and explained (again) why a morning appointment was necessary and they sent me yet another afternoon appointment. It took a formal and quite strong letter before I received a suitable appointment.

I have not been in a Jobcentre since 1995 when DWP or whatever it was called at the time, gave me a little green card and classified me as disabled.

My local Jobcentre has, I believe moved twice since then. I had to attend my first WRAG (Work Related Activity Group) interview this morning and, despite having written three times to ‘Marion’ at the Burnley Jobcentre, they have provided no details as to the location (other than the postal address) and no details on parking availability at all, let alone parking for disabled drivers.

That aside, the visit was actually a pleasant surprise as ‘Marion’ patiently explained to me that I was now in the Support Group and that it would be unnecessary for me to visit again for three years! In that hour, I received more information that was actually relevant to my case and more sensibly explained than any other thus far. I do however, as I explained to her, intend to pursue the discrimination issue.

To minimise the chance of error and lateness, I located the Jobcentre on a map and went out early yesterday (Sunday) morning to locate and scout the location and found that:

  • The entrance to the Jobcentre is not on the street stated in the postal address, but another street, which provides no on-street parking whatsoever, let alone for disabled people.
  • The street stated in the postal address is, at its closest more than thirty metres from the entrance to the building and, while there is parking available on this street, it is usually all taken unless one is very early or lucky.
  • The building itself has a car park which has two disabled spaces, but this is controlled by a keypad and barrier and appears to be for staff only. The car park to the east of the building is contract parking only on weekdays.

How simple would it have been for them to have answered my queries on this or to have taken Atos to task for their failure? Yet in their arrogance, incompetence or both, the DWP appear to believe that the Equalities Act and Disability Discrimination Act do not apply to them.

You might ask: Why hasn’t he contacted his MP? I have, and not only has he proven to be of less practical use than a unicycle, he does not even bother to respond, but then he is a Lib-Dem and part of the odious coalition who compounded this Labour-initiated mess.

You might also ask: Why hasn’t he contacted the Equalities Office? I have, three times. The last time I directed the complaint to the principal Minister (now ex-Minister) Sajid Javid, castigating him for his Ministry’s failure to respond. Not even an acknowledgement was received at any time.

Regards,

Mr John Lockett

 

Alison Lapper Given Honorary Doctorate From Brighton Uni

July 29, 2014

Artist Alison Lapper, who was born without arms, has been awarded an honorary doctorate for her contribution to the arts and as an ambassador for those with disabilities.

Lapper said she was “completely overwhelmed” as she accepted the honour from the University of Brighton to a standing ovation at a ceremony held at the Brighton Dome on Friday.

Lapper, who graduated in 1993 with a first-class honours degree in fine art from the university, said: “I never thought or imagined in all these years that I would be back here to receive this amazing honour.”

She said she had promised herself she would not become emotional but there were tears as she praised those who had helped her in her career, including university staff, from caretakers to lecturers.

Lapper said: “The fact that I came away with a first-class degree still blows my mind. But I never felt like I was the only disabled student, although I was. I was able to do everything everyone else did.”

She is also well known after posing for Marc Quinn for the sculpture Alison Lapper Pregnant, which appeared on the fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square.

Lapper is known around the world for her work but said her son Parys, who was in the audience, is “my greatest piece of art work and creation”.

Presenting the award, Professor Bruce Brown, pro vice-chancellor (research), described the artist as a “Titan of the human spirit” and a “force for everything that is good”.

He said: “Alison’s creative intelligence has served to challenge and change our notions of physical beauty, normality, disability and sexuality.”

Despite her significant challenges, he said, academics at the then Brighton School of Art recognised her talent and said she “removed every obstacle standing in the way of her ambition to become an independent fine artist – if not a famous one”.

Born without arms and with shortened legs, Lapper uses photography, digital imaging and painting to question physical normality and beauty. A member of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists of the World, she has used her body as subject matter for artworks.

In one she put herself into the image of the world’s best-known symbol of femininity, the Venus de Milo.

What The Five Week Wait Will Mean For Families With Deaf Children

July 29, 2014

From the ToUChstone blog:

The proposal to increase the waiting time for financial support when people lose their jobs, as part of the Universal Credit scheme, does nothing to help claimants find work. Combined with the delays in processing claims it is likely to be 5-6 weeks before many claimants receive any Universal Credit. At the National Deaf Children’s Society we are particularly concerned about the likely impact on families with deaf children.

The financial costs of having a deaf child may not be as obvious as for other disabilities, but they are very real. For example, children may have to attend frequent appointments with audiologists and a young child may need new hearing aid moulds several times a year. Attending these appointments is not only likely to involve travel costs, but may also require parents to take time off work, in some cases without pay. Deaf children often fall behind with their education, and many parents of deaf children use their disability living allowance to pay for extra tuition in core subjects. Suitable childcare and out of school activities are often hard to find and may involve extra expense on travelling or paying for an extra child to attend to help with communication.

If the parent of a deaf child becomes unemployed and has to claim Universal Credit, a wait of 5-6 weeks before receiving benefit is likely to place them in the position of having to choose whether to use their DLA to meet the child’s needs or whether to use it to keep the household running while they wait for benefit. Parents may be unable to afford to take their child to audiology appointments, or may have to cancel extra tuition or after-school activities. Many deaf children already fall behind their hearing counterparts in education, and delays in getting the aids they need, or the extra tuition that helps to redress the balance, will have long-term effects compounding this.

The situation could be even worse for families with older children due to the lengthy delays being experienced by claimants for the Personal Independence Payment that has replaced DLA for over-16s. Families in this position may have nothing to fall back on while they wait for one of these two new benefits to finally be processed and put into payment.

The National Deaf Children’s Society Stolen Futures campaign highlights the many services for deaf children and young people that have already been reduced or withdrawn as a result of spending cuts. This increased delay before benefit is paid only makes a bad situation worse. We urge the Government not to implement the longer waiting period and to ensure that all benefits are processed efficiently and paid on time.

Saving Our Safety Net logo (75px)Saving Our Safety Net is a new campaign from the TUC that aims to defend a decent welfare system that provides help to those who need it, when they need it. You can find out more at the www.savingoursafetynet.org

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