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A Tribute Post For Sir Bert Massie

October 22, 2017

I am very sad to have heard yesterday of the recent death of Sir Bert Massie. We never met in person but were Facebook friends for some time. RIP Sir, thank you for all your hard work for disability rights before and during my lifetime, and for your Facebook friendship.

AFTER contracting polio at three months old, Sir Bert Massie spent his life fighting for discrimination against disability to be outlawed and making the world a more accessible place for wheelchair users and those with long-term physical or mental impairment.

His drive for change came from both “a personal need and an appreciation of what was wrong”.

During the 1960s he explained that he often used to go to restaurants and “people would say: ‘We don’t serve wheelchairs’.

“And I would say: ‘Well, that’s okay, I don’t eat wheelchairs’.”

It was a typically humorous response from the fiercely proud Liverpudlian but he was the first to admit life could often be a battle.

Sir Bert turned out to be a “great champion of the possible”.

He was a leading light of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 – now replaced by the Equality Act 2010 – which makes it unlawful to discriminate against people in respect of their disabilities.

The son of Herbert and Lucy Massie, young Bert spent the first five years of his life at Liverpool’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.

He then moved to the Children’s School of Rest and Recovery and Sandfield Park Special School at the age of 11.

As disabled students were not expected to study for O-levels, he left school without qualifications.

Sir Bert Massie spent his life fighting for discrimination against disability to be outlawed
His first job was operating a lift but having been told that he was unemployable he was concerned other wheelchair users were facing the same discrimination and joined the Liverpool Association for the Disabled.

He was unable to study for A-levels in his home city because none of the night schools had an accessible entrance.

Instead, he attended a specialist college in Coventry and returned to take a degree at Liverpool Polytechnic.

After obtaining a postgraduate diploma in social work from Manchester Polytechnic he joined the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation (Radar) in London from 1978 to 1999, becoming chief executive in 1990.

Sir Bert served as chairman of the Disability Rights Commission from 2000 to 2007 and was founding commissioner of its successor, the Equality and Human Rights Commission. 

He was awarded the OBE in 1984, CBE in 2000 and a knighthood for “services to disabled people” in 2007.

His wife Maureen survives him.


Do Blind People Care About Colour?

October 20, 2017

Ambulances were white when Damon lost his sight over 30 years ago and Lucy’s mental image of her sister, Alice, hasn’t changed since she went blind in 2013.

Having been born blind, Emma has no real interest in what colour represents.

The three blind journalists take a light-hearted look at what colour does and doesn’t mean to them with the help of token sighted person Beth.

There’s a full transcript available here.

The Universal Credit Helpline Is Free, But Nothing Else Has Changed

October 19, 2017

In the latest development around universal credit the work and pensions secretary, David Gauke, announced this morning that all Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) helplines will be free from the end of the year.

It’s remarkable how much pressure it took to achieve this concession. Indeed, from the beginning, the response to news that universal credit claimants are being charged up to 55p a minute to call the government helpline has had an air of “let them eat cake” about it.

New figures suggest that benefit recipients could be spending over £50m a year calling the DWP helpline but until Gauke’s announcement the prime minister’s spokesman had simply stated that anyone worried about the cost could ask for a call back. Some commentators, meanwhile, point out that a call costs only 9p a minute on a landline.

That many families struggling on low incomes can’t afford to have a landline in the first place has been widely ignored (government figures show the helpline received 31.8m calls from mobiles last year). So has the fact that people relying on benefits – at the mercy of the DWP – have little power to get a government worker to call them back.

At a time when policies continue to target the most marginalised members of society, we are seeing this attitude more and more. It’s the same thinking that responds to a mum scraping by on poverty wages as a zero-hours cleaner by asking: why can’t you just get another job? Or that points to hardship payment as a solution to a Parkinson’s patient having his benefit sanctioned but ignores the fact that, without his benefits, he can’t afford the bus fare to the jobcentre to fill out the forms.

It’s inequality washed out – a version of current events told from a position of blissful ignorance. This outlook fails to recognise that the most basic things – being believed by someone in authority, or having enough change for a phone call and a meal for your kids – come from a place of privilege.

It projects the standards of that privilege on to people – the working class, ethnic minorities, benefit claimants – who have never had it. It assumes that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the game is fair for every player. In fact, what we have is a system that pushes people into debt through a faulty benefits system and then charges them to ask for help.

The politicians cutting social security by billions have not filled out a 42-page form for a disability benefit that they need to keep the heating topped up. The media commentators downplaying concern over the UC phone charges have never been looked down at by jobcentre staff nor expected to wait for six weeks for their only income.

This is where the effects of the narrowness of the British political class – white, wealthy, non-disabled and male – come home to roost. Experiencing a situation first-hand isn’t a prerequisite for empathy, of course, and there are many diligent journalists and politicians. But overall, the disconnect is striking: the very people responsible for shaping social and economic policy in this country often have no understanding of what it is to live at the sharp end of it.

This doesn’t only lead to a failure to comprehend the impact of something like universal credit; it creates a state of disbelief around the reality experienced by certain sections of society. Disabled people, for example, have been reporting grave problems with benefit assessors for years, but it’s only this month MPs are launching an inquiry into alleged widespread dishonesty in the system.

In a different way, the mocking of Laura Pidcock MP – still going on, weeks after her comments about viewing Tories as “the enemy” – has the unpleasant undertone of rounding on the outsider; belittling a working-class, northern woman who articulated a solidarity with her community that those untouched by austerity can’t understand.

It’s in part why support for current Labour party policies, or the radical extension of universal services, is often greeted with bewilderment – despite the fact they chime with the British public’s support for greater levels of state intervention. It’s easy to dismiss hopes for change as “far-fetched” when you’ve never struggled to find your next meal or pay the rent.

The appointment of Marsha De Cordova as the new shadow disabilities minister – a former disability charity and union worker who is registered blind – is a small sign of what it means to have a representative politics: where, say, in contrast to paternalism from non-disabled ministers, someone in power can speak about the impact of disability cuts from experience. This has to be the way forward. As social security cuts, squeezed wages, and Brexit uncertainty hit, it’s the poorest and disabled citizens who are going to be in the firing line. The need for a political class that grasps the damage being done has never been greater.

Confessions Of A Universal Credit Case Manager

October 18, 2017

With many thanks to Benefits And Work.

A Universal Credit (UC) case manager has confessed to the Independent that DWP staff “cruelly close claims” of “tens of thousands of very vulnerable people” and that threats of suicide are a “frequent occurrence”.

The case manager, using a pseudonym, said that lack knowledge about UC regulations by DWP staff “can have an especially devastating impact on care leavers, the disabled and those with mental; health conditions”. He explained that it is often left to charities and support workers to explain the regulations to DWP case managers.

Amongst the allegations made by the claims manager:

  • Full-time case managers on average handle in the region of 300 claims each. As a result of the overwhelming caseload, many crucial tasks are not completed “until claimants contact us when their payments are inevitably paid incorrectly or not at all”.
  • If a case manager goes on holiday, their claimants are “completely neglected” as staff are told only to send out payments for people they manage themselves.
  • DWP staff are told that “claimants are entirely responsible for their own claim”. So the system only alerts staff after a deadline has been missed “allowing us to cruelly close claims and stop that person receiving any money. Tens of thousands of very vulnerable people have their lifeline switched off with a click.”
  • Claimants who state that they are facing eviction are “a penny a dozen. We are told that legal proceedings can take months so a claimant is ‘never really facing eviction’. That’s how we’re told to justify it.”
  • Staff are well-trained to deal with threats of suicide “simply because it’s such a frequent occurrence”.

You can read the full confessions of a UC case manager on the Independent website.


PIP And ESA Assessments- Parliament Wants To Hear From You

October 18, 2017

With many thanks to Benefits And Work.

The Commons Select Committee on Work and Pensions would like to hear from you if you have had an assessment, or are waiting for an assessment, for PIP or ESA.

So far over 500 people have posted their comments on the parliament website about their experience of PIP and ESA assessments.

We’re sure that there are many more claimants who could help Frank Field and his committee understand just how bad the system is.

The committee wants to know:

  • Did you feel that the right decision on your entitlement to ESA/PIP was reached as a result of your initial assessment?
  • If not—what do you feel were the reasons for this?
  • If you have experience of Mandatory Reconsideration, did you find this stage effective and useful? How might it be improved?
  • Overall, how “claimant-friendly” did you find the assessment process?
  • What steps would you recommend taking to improve it?

You can post a comment on the parliament website here.

Para-Swimming: New Details Emerge From Confidential Report Into ‘Climate Of Fear’

October 17, 2017

New details have emerged of the “climate of fear” GB Para-swimmers were subjected to by their former head coach.

Among the findings of a confidential final report obtained by BBC Sport, investigators found Rob Greenwood inappropriately disclosed an athlete’s medical information, and banned swimmers from leaving hotels “as punishment”.

Paralympians were left “visibly distressed” when recounting their experiences to the safeguarding experts looking into allegations of bullying.

It was also concluded that “there was a lack of nurturing, empathy and appreciation for athletes’ general well-being”.

British Swimming last week apologised to athletes and their families for “unacceptable behaviours”.

The governing body released a statement summarising the findings of the investigation, but the BBC can now reveal the full details of the heavily redacted final report.

Greenwood left his job before the investigation began, and it is not known whether he disputes the allegations.

When contacted by the BBC, he declined to comment.

The report is heavily redacted to protect individuals’ identities, but the BBC can reveal one member of staff – understood to be Greenwood – was said to have:

  • “acted in an intimidating manner towards athletes”
  • “used derogatory terms to describe athletes owing to their disability”
  • “inappropriately disclosed medical information of a Para-swimmer”
  • “asked an athlete to perform a task they were unable to do due to their disability”
  • banned athletes from leaving hotels and confined them to a resort “as a punishment… leaving them unsupervised and unattended whilst abroad or on a training camp”.

This, despite investigators highlighting the young age of some athletes, and a “wide range of often complex medical conditions and disabilities”. The report notes many athletes had no experience of living or travelling independently.

It added that “when recounting their experiences… in the squad under the tutelage” of an unnamed member of staff – understood to be Greenwood – “a number of athletes became visibly distressed. Their recollection was vivid and the impact on them palpable”.

According to the report, “there is evidence to show that [Greenwood] used inappropriate language to describe the physical disabilities of athletes which at best is unprofessional. Treating individuals with dignity is the very least skill/quality that you would expect to find in an elite level Paralympic coach”.

It also noted that the British Athletes’ Commission, which was representing the swimmers, advised that some of the complainants would only talk to a female investigator.

Greenwood has not responded to a request for comment in light of the latest revelations.

British Swimming said last week that a second unnamed member of staff – understood to be National Performance Director Chris Furber – had been disciplined after his management and communication was criticised and found to have showed a “lack of empathy”.

British Swimming said he “acknowledged mistakes had been made” and he remains in post at the Manchester-based organisation.

He is not accused of abuse or discrimination, and when contacted by the BBC he also declined to comment.

According to the final report, Furber;

  • “had the benefit of previous experience in managing individuals with disability. He may have felt more accomplished in pushing the boundaries of challenging athletes and encouraged [Greenwood] to do so. Whilst that was a wholly appropriate objective the methodology was flawed”
  • “demonstrated a lack of empathy towards athletes, particularly if they did not perform well or were unwell”
  • “failed to ensure enough management control was exercised over methods of training particularly the use of ‘pressure sets'”

Furber has not responded to a request for comment in light of the latest revelations.

According to the investigators, it was suggested to them by members of staff that “the complaints made by athletes have been motivated by retribution for de-selection. In addition it is intimated that because the athletes have complained ‘en masse’ there has been an element of collusion prior to reporting their concerns”.

However the experts say they are “not minded to conclude that either of these assertions were the simple driving factor for athletes making a complaint”, making the point that several complainants remained part of the squad.

The investigators said the timing of the complaints after the Rio 2016 Paralympics “seems logical and wholly understandable”. They believed that before a Games “an athlete will mentally put aside and be prepared to endure any level of negative treatment to focus on achieving their dream”.

In March, BBC Sport revealed Britain’s Para-swimming squad – which includes some of the country’s youngest and most vulnerable athletes – had become embroiled in a bullying controversy after multiple complaints against a coach.

In February, an independent investigation into the allegations began, and 13 athletes and 10 members of staff were interviewed.

British Swimming says it has committed to a robust action plan in a bid to overhaul its culture.

Disabled Children Hate Crime Reports Increasing

October 17, 2017

Reported hate crimes against disabled children are rising, a BBC investigation has discovered.

Figures from police forces across the UK show there were 450 incidents reported last year, up from 181 in 2014-15, 5 live Investigates found.

Families with disabled children described being targeted online and verbally abused in the street.

The Home Office said the rise was due to better reporting and more victims willing to come forward.

‘They wished she was dead’

Bethan Germon’s 23-month-old daughter Lydia has hydrocephalus, or water on the brain, which causes her head to swell.

It means at one point Lydia’s head was double its natural size. She also has cerebral palsy and is fed through a tube.

“You see a really ugly side of people online to the point where they say they wish she was dead or why don’t we kill her,” Bethan said.

“The online commenting has easily been the worst and my husband has actually made sure that I come offline for a couple of days when things have been said.

“He really does try to protect me as much as he can.”

The 29-year-old from Swansea said that while the family was most regularly targeted through social media, abuse was also doled out in the street.

“Some of my friends have had the word cabbage used against their children.

“This isn’t unusual for us.”

A disability hate crime is defined as anything from online abuse to physical violence in which the victim was targeted because of their disability.

5 live Investigates sent Freedom of Information requests to all 45 police forces in the UK, to find out how often these incidents were happening, and 29 of them provided full responses.

Overall the number of disability hate crimes increased by 101%, from 1,531 in 2014-15, to 3,079 in 2016-17.

But the crimes against children increased at an even greater rate.

The incidents reported to police range from verbal and online abuse to arson and even violent, physical attacks.

Prosecutions rising

Amanda Batten of the Disabled Children’s Partnership said the findings echo a new survey it carried out of nearly 2,700 parents of disabled children which revealed hate crime and abuse was commonplace.

“Families often feel like they can’t go into busy public spaces or post images onto social media for fear of being publicly shamed or having to be submitted to people telling them that their child must lack quality of life because of their disability.

“The idea that so many parents and children with a disability are facing such a lack of support and outright abuse from the general public is truly heart breaking.”

The Crown Prosecution Service for England and Wales has seen year on year rises in prosecutions and convictions for disability hate crime.

A Home Office spokesman said: “All forms of hate crime are completely unacceptable and the UK has some of the strongest laws in the world to tackle it.

“Our hate crime action plan has improved the response of law enforcement and the criminal justice system to these horrendous attacks.

“We are still concerned that disability hate crime is significantly under-reported by victims, and that is why the government is working with community groups to raise awareness of how to report it amongst, disabled people, their carers and families.”

5 live Investigates: Hate Crimes against Disabled Children is broadcast on Sunday 15 October at 11:00 BST. If you missed it you can catch up on the iPlayer.