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Paralympian Jonnie Peacock Confirmed For Strictly Come Dancing

August 22, 2017

At last, readers, a Paralympian on Strictly! A disabled competitor on Strictly! Our editor has waited ages for this moment. She’ll be watching, and hoping Jonnie Peacock does very well in the competition.  She’s thrilled!!!

TV personality Debbie McGee, singer Alexandra Burke and Paralympian Jonnie Peacock are the final contestants to be announced for Strictly Come Dancing.

Peacock has won two Paralympics sprinting gold medals and is the first celebrity hopeful to have a disability.

His appearance follows that of former Royal Marine and fellow amputee Cassidy Little, who took part in a “people’s” edition of Strictly in 2015 as well as that year’s Christmas show.

The 24-year-old had his right leg amputated below the knee after contracting meningitis as a child.

“The opportunity to be the first contestant with a disability to take part in Strictly’s main show was too good to turn down,” he said.

“I’ve got no previous dance history outside of the occasional ‘worm’ at a mate’s party and I know this will be a challenge and a new experience.

“I can’t wait to see what I can achieve and how far I can push myself.”


Storytelling Live: Tales Of The Misunderstood

August 21, 2017

Awkward! This week’s podcast, the first of two recorded live in Scotland, is all about a badly timed dislocation, a wheelchair user who stunned a nun by walking and the depressed man who got too good at pretending to like people.

BBC Ouch recently took five listeners and two comedians to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where they told awkward tales relating to their disability or mental health difficulty to a live audience.

It happened to Abbi Brown, when she stunned a praying Parisian nun by getting up and walking away from her wheelchair.

Angela Clarke forgot to tell a masseuse that her bones regularly dislocate, with predictably humorous consequences.

Mark Granger’s social butterfly persona masks his depression and difficulty around people so well that even the briefest of interactions can give them the wrong impression – especially single ladies.

And awkward interactions with people won’t stop comedian Juliette Burton talking about her mental health and eating disorders at gigs.

Lack Of Empathy At Benefits Assessments “Heartbreaking”

August 21, 2017

Downing Street claimed that “no disability applicant will lose out as a result of the changes to personal independence payment (Pip)” but, in my experience, hardly a day has passed without hard evidence to the contrary. It’s heartbreaking.

Pip is a benefit that helps with the extra costs of living with a long-term health condition or disability for people aged between 16 and 64. It is gradually replacing the disability living allowance (DLA) but, for many, navigating the new assessment system is an ordeal. Benefit recipients and those acting on their behalf are struggling to ensure that claims are correct and being made in full.

Claiming Pip is time-consuming. The application form is a monstrous 40-page document that needs to be handwritten. And Pip is assessed using a completely different set of criteria to DLA. You now need to score a certain number of points in relation to 12 activities. These comprise 10 daily living activities – including preparing food, washing and bathing, managing toilet needs, dressing and making decisions about money – plus two mobility activities: planning and following a journey, and moving around.

The application usually also requires a face-to-face consultation with a health professional to confirm individual needs.

What I have found particularly hard, in my experience of assisting claimants, is the apparent lack of understanding or empathy from healthcare professionals and telephone representatives at Atos and Capita, the two private companies that carry out the assessments. For someone with a physical or mental health condition, for example, there are challenges involved in simply travelling to the assessment. A client who lives in Cardiff was asked to attend an assessment in Swansea, with no recognition that this could be difficult.

Claimants are also forced outside their comfort zone during the appointment. Often they are asked lots of personal questions, many of which they don’t fully understand because they have very little insight into their own health conditions. Someone with a mental health condition may present as very capable at an assessment but in reality needs a high level of support.

At one recent assessment, in a hot, cramped room in Croydon, I had to sit on an examination bed because there were no spare chairs. The heating was stuck on high, so the health assessor had an electric fan on the table. I asked how he could work in such conditions. When our 90-minute assessment drew to a close I overheard him complain to a colleague that he’d had no lunch break.

The following day a support worker came to me in tears after being turned away from an assessment with a client. She was terrified that the client might lose his benefit. He didn’t fully understand the situation and began to behave in a challenging way. We complained and the client eventually received compensation, but many of those affected have no access to professional support, either to help fill in the application form, go to an assessment or appeal an unfavourable decision.

With all this going on, it is tricky to reassure people – especially those with mental health issues – that their benefits are being properly dealt with, and even more of a challenge trying to explain why it takes so long for the government to process a claim. Sometimes, when a phone call is not enough to allay their concerns, I have to write to them as well, even if there’s nothing new to report.

While it’s easy to understand the role of benefits in ensuring basic conditions for living, people also rely on them to fund activities vital for their quality of life. Pip enables them to take up a hobby, travel to visit friends and relatives, or take part in unpaid voluntary work that can be a route into paid employment.

One recent decision under the new regime meant a man with an acquired brain injury lost his motability car. For him this meant a total loss of independence. Even going to the supermarket is now fraught with difficulty.

The new mobility guidelines make it harder in particular for people who experience psychological distress when they undertake a journey, perhaps as a result of phobias or anxiety, to have this taken into account as the basis for a claim.

The changes mean that those with learning disabilities, autism, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, cognitive disorder due to a stroke, dementia, depressive disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias and OCD will all be affected. How can the government claim nobody will lose out?

Regard is offering advice and support to other providers struggling with the new process and its implications for individuals they support. Official government guidance for Pip can be found here.

More Than 5000 ESA Claimants Sanctioned For At Least 6 Months

August 21, 2017

More than 5,000 sick and disabled people have had their benefits sanctioned for at least 6 months, new figures show.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has revealed the extent of punishments used against people on disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance.

ESA is slowly replacing the ageing Incapacity Benefit and is now paid to 2.4million people.

Between December 2012 and December 2016, 71,543 ESA claimants have been sanctioned – which normally involves stopping their benefits.

Just over half of those claimants (40,288) had their benefits sanctioned for less than four weeks and the average length of a sanction was 28 days.

But 5,739 suffered a sanction for 27 weeks or more.

Another 6,579 claimants were sanctioned for between 14 and 26 weeks, statistics published yesterday show.

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams said: “It is abhorrent to see the Tories sanction thousands of sick and disabled people for up to six months, depriving them of much needed financial support and causing them further stress.

“The figures confirm that disabled people are not receiving the proper support from Jobcentres to navigate the complex social security system.”

Sanctions are only made against ESA claimants deemed fit for “work-related activity”, not those in the more serious support group, a DWP official said.

ESA sanctions are made for a fixed period of one, two or four weeks.

But they are open-ended and carry on indefinitely if people are still unable or refuse to take part in ‘work-related activity’.

DWP officials insist this means no one will be sanctioned for six months if they play by the rules.

But campaigners argue assessments that deem people fit for work-related activity in the first place are flawed.

The vast majority of ESA sanctions – more than 90% since December 2015 – have been a punishment for people refusing to take part in that activity.

Meanwhile the rate paid to the work-related activity group has axed and made the same as Jobseekers’ Allowance – a cut of £30 a week.

Yesterday’s figures showed the number of people on Jobseekers’ Allowance or ESA being sanctioned is falling.

However the number of sanctions for people on Universal Credit, the all-in-one system that’s slowly being claimed by more and more people as it replaces the old benefits – hit an all-time monthly high of 9,119 in December 2016.

More than 100,000 Universal Credit claimants have now been sanctioned since August 2015, 2,313 of them for six months or more.

A DWP spokesman said: “Only a very small proportion of people on ESA are sanctioned every month – just 0.6%.

“ESA sanctions are designed to encourage people to fulfil their requirements, so they remain in place until someone re-engages with their work coach or employment support.

“It’s only fair to ask claimants to do their part and there is a well-established system of payments available for people who need support to meet their immediate and most essential needs.”

DWP To Cut 800 Jobs

August 21, 2017

The department for work and pensions is set to make more than 800 staff redundant, union chiefs say.

A programme of office closures and the implementation of a new “corporate centre hub strategy” will see the positions axed as early as February next year. 

The Public and Commercial Services union, which represents civil servants, said under new protocols its period of consultation with the department had been limited to just 45 days, and that the plans were “unwelcome and unnecessary”.

General secretary Mark Serwotka said: “At a time when workloads are at record highs, DWP should be recruiting new staff, not forcing loyal and experienced staff onto the dole.  

“PCS will continue to campaign against these redundancies using every means at our disposal.

“This is a dreadful announcement from the DWP.  The government are forcing through unprecedented cuts on the civil service. We shall intensify our campaign against office closures and job cuts.”

At-risk staff will be offered the chance to put themselves forward for voluntary redundancy in the first instance.

The department, headed by secretary of state David Gauke, will offer redundancy packages based on the terms of the 2010 civil service compensation scheme, after a new, less generous 2016 scheme was ruled unlawful following a court battle.

Theresa May has previously drawn criticism from some senior civil service officials, who warned the PM would need to “change her management style” if she is to steer her minority government successfully through Brexit.

Pink Cricket Ball Discriminates Against Colour Blind Fans Says Campaign Group

August 18, 2017

The governing body of English cricket has been accused of discriminating against colour blind people after introducing a pink ball for the first day-night Test match on Thursday.

Colour Blind Awareness has written to the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) demanding it review the use of the ball which it says is very difficult to spot for people with the condition.

In a strongly worded letter seen by The Telegraph, Kathryn Albany-Ward, the founder of the organisation, warned that the ECB could be even failing colour blind cricketers under equality employment legislation because the visual impairment is seen as disability.

“In the UK there are approximately three million people with colour blindness,” the letter says, adding that that equates to possibly one colour blind cricketer in each team, 1,125 spectators at this week’s England vs West Indies Test at Edgbaston, and thousands watching the match on television around the world.

“So, it would be extremely difficult to argue that it is reasonable to use a pink ball when so many people are potentially adversely affected,” it continues. “This is an issue that urgently needs to be investigated in more detail, including adequate and detailed testing of the ball in different light conditions both by players and spectators with normal colour vision and those with different types and severities of colour blindness.”

The letter concludes: “I would like to know what consideration was given to the use of a pink ball. ​More importantly, I would ask you to review the use of the ball to ensure that steps are taken to ensure that colour blind people, whether players or fans, can also enjoy the sport. 


“I would expect broadcasters and sponsors may wish to seek reassurance from you that fans are not turning away from the game due to an inability to follow the ball as this could have a negative effect upon their receipts.

“Colour blind people watching the match had contacted her to say that they were struggling to see the ball.

Recently, Gary Ballance, the left-handed Yorkshire county batsman, said his colour blindness has meant he has struggled to see the pink ball in trials, although he recently said he found it easier to see after a modification.

Nearly three years ago, Chris Rogers, the Australian Test opener, was forced to withdraw from a day-night match when they were testing out the pink ball in Australia because he has the condition.

All of the England players were given eyesight tests to ensure the pink ball would not be a problem for them.

One in 12 men and one in 200 women are colour blind. Professor Andrew Stockman, honorary consultant at Moorfields Eye Hospital and professor at UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, said: “Pink is not the best colour choice for colour deficients. If the pink ball is of the same brightness as the green or brown grass or a grey background, people with red-green colour deficiencies will have much more difficulty in discriminating it than people with colour vision.”

Cricket fan, Dave Dunbar, who is colour blind, said he struggled to see the ball when watching the match on television.

“It was not easy to see at all,” Mr Dunbar, 51, from Worcestershire, said. “When it was on the field I had to really focus. Even then it was not easy to pick out.

“In the air it was very difficult to see. I often had to rely on the direction the fielders were running towards to try to spot the ball. At the moment, the ball is new and quite shiny, which helps. But, when the shine has worn off during the Test it could be much worse. When the floodlights come on at sunset I suspect it will be even harder to see.”

A number of people also complained that the pink ball was difficult for normal sighted people to spot when it appeared against a pink background used on an advertising hoarding for life insurance.

Mrs Albany-Ward said: “There have been a lot of colour blind people contacting us complaining that they can’t see the pink ball. There simply isn’t contrast between the colour of the ball and the background.”

An ECB spokesman said: “Staging this match fits within one of our core aims to continue to broaden the opportunities for people to watch and enjoy cricket. We have looked to test the ball thoroughly beforehand. As with any new activity we will seek feedback after the match from players, coaches, officials and fans on their experiences after the game.”

Davey V Oxfordshire County Council- The Hearing

August 17, 2017

Same Difference was invited by Inclusion London, who are supporting Luke Davey in his case against Oxfordshire County Council, to cover part of today’s tribunal hearing in the case, at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Luke Davey, 40, has quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy. He is currently fighting to get back the care package he has had throughout his adult life, which has been cut almost in half after the closure of the Independent Living Fund. The care package he is used to allowed him to live independently with the support of Personal Assistants/carers who he has known and liked for 20 years.

We heard the arguments presented by Luke Davey’s solicitor in support of his case.

Mr Davey, the Court was told, tried to accommodate the cuts to his care package but these have negatively affected his wellbeing. The Court was asked to consider the consequences, for Me Davey, of cutting his care package.

The cut meant that Mr Davey only had care for 18 hours a day, rather than 24. This was because he was found not to need ‘waking night’ care.

For Mr Davey, the cut meant that he had to pay less to his carers than he had been paying, and they had been used to being paid. Mr Davey’s team of carers threatened to leave their jobs until his mother topped up their pay, which allowed him to afford 20 hours of care daily rather than 18.

The cut affected Mr Davey’s personal care, particularly his toileting needs. It also affected his social life as he needs support in the community.

Mr Davey’s is the first case under the Care Act to reach the Court of Appeal. The Act was heavily referenced and mentioned in the arguments. The important point was made that under the Care Act, two things must be considered when providing care, for the well being of the adult receiving care. These are the location of the care- the community or a residential care setting- and the identity of the care team.

The Care Act requires social workers to consider the future well being of an adult receiving care under care plans. When the case was heard at the High Court at the end of 2016, the Judge, Mr Justice Morris, highlighted the Care Act as a major Act in this area. He recognised that it is formal and prescriptive about care plans.

The solicitor argued, however, that the Judge didn’t highlight the importance of involving the adult who needs care in their care planning. The core purpose of care plans, the Court heard, is to allow the adult needing care to achieve outcomes relevant to them.

The importance of considering how, where and by who care is provided was highlighted for the Court. The solicitor made the point that the individual needing care is best placed to judge these. The importance, for the individual, of enjoying social care was also highlighted.

Local authorities, the Court heard, must decide if an individual has social care needs and what these are. A needs assessment must include ways to try to achieve outcomes important to the individual but there is no duty to achieve these outcomes.

Needs are defined as the inability to achieve an outcome because of physical or mental impairments. An individual has a need if achieving an outcome would take them too long because of an impairment, or if an impairment would leave the individual unable to achieve the outcome without harming themselves or someone else.

Local authorities cannot ignore needs that are already being met by volunteers when carrying out assessments. When a local authority is satisfied there are needs they must determine whether these meet eligibility criteria to be met by the local authority.

Mr Davey’s Local Authority says he does not have needs, but he does.

The Care Act recognises the difference between identifying and meeting needs.

The Care Act also tries to reflect the individuality behind the phrase ‘significant impact on well being.’ What is significant to one person may not be to another.

Under the Care Act, the Local Authority must prepare a Care and Support Plan, tell the adult which if any needs are going to be met and help the adult decide how needs are going to be met. The Local Authority must take reasonable steps to involve the adult in the way  needs are going to be met.

The Care and Support Plan must include the personal budget for the adult concerned including how much the adult is required to contribute.

The Local Authority should refrain from any action that would restrict choice or affect flexibility.

Mr Davey’s case is about ensuring that he can keep his current care team, because that is the outcome he wants.

The individual must know the amount they will receive as a Personal Budget and be confident that this amount will meet all their needs. Using Direct Payments is not a reason to be less clear about how Personal Budgets will meet needs.

The Court was presented with an assessment carried out on Mr Davey in January 2015 which found that the most important thing in his life was that the same team of carers should continue to care for him. This assessment found that Mr Davey is reliant on his family and his team of carers for emotional support. It also found that continuing with the same carers would benefit his mental health and emotional well being.

The decision to reduce Mr Davey’s care package by 42% was made by a panel in February 2015.

Mr Davey has told his Local Authority that he doesn’t want live in care, even if it is provided by his mother, because he doesn’t want to make his team of carers redundant.

An Occupational Therapist’s assessment found that Mr Davey had become too dependent on carers being with him all the time. The OT addressed his anxiety about being at home on his own by cutting his care. However Mr Davey was allowed to organise the hours he spent without care each day himself.

Mr Davey was used to paying his carers double time on Bank Holidays and weekends. The Local Authority made a payment which allowed him to pay double time on Bank Holidays last year.

However the Local Authority set significantly lower rates of pay than Mr Davey was paying before. Mr Davey agreed some of the changes, but not all of them. In particular he did not agree to stop paying double time at weekends.

Mr Davey’s relationship with his team of carers was very significant to him and keeping it was the most important outcome to him. He was very worried that the lower rates of pay would break up the team.

However, the Court heard that, at the High Court, the Local Authority said the breakup of his team would be positive because it would allow Mr Davey to reduce dependence on specific carers, and therefore that it would be the best outcome. They also said that the breakup of the team would not pose any risk to Mr Davey’s well being.

At the High Court, the Local Authority said there was insufficient evidence that Mr Davey’s current team of carers would break up as a result of the cut, when, Mr Davey’s solicitor told the Court today, there was a lot of evidence for this.

Mr Davey’s solicitor said that waiting until the current care team broke up and Mr Davey was experiencing the consequences goes against the need for planning under the Care Act.

Mr Davey consistently says that he is happy with his team, and he finds the Local Authority’s suggestion that this is wrong difficult.

At the High Court, the Local Authority said Mr Davey had become less independent as an individual and blamed the care team for this. They said this because Mr Davey has finished college and stopped voluntary work.

At the High Court, the Local Authority gave evidence that other disabled people in Oxfordshire were easily able to recruit new carers, but Oxfordshire is large and Mr Davey lives in a remote part of it.

The Local Authority said that Mr Davey had previously recruited at minimum wage. This is true, but only for some of the time and never for weekends, as the new budget would require.

The cut has a social impact on Mr Davey because it means that he cannot choose what he does each day as his care hours are broken up. He can no longer take occasional day trips or, in fact, do anything that takes longer than three hours. The social activities he is still able to do are not enough.

Same Difference will follow this case closely and update readers on the final ruling as soon as possible.