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PIP: Mental Health And Mobility Update

January 15, 2018

With many thanks to Benefits And Work.

Just before Christmas claimant RF won a vital high court challenge against changes to the law relating to PIP mobility. However, the victory could still be overturned on appeal, meaning there has not been any change to the way PIP is awarded yet and there is another case know as MH which could also have an effect.

Early in 2017 an upper tribunal of three judges clarified the law relating to ‘Going out’ in a way that was favourable to claimants who become very distressed when attempting to plan and follow journeys.

Amongst other things, the tribunal decided that claimants who need help with familiar routes because of overwhelming psychological distress could be eligible for the enhanced mobility component.

However, the government almost immediately changed the law in an attempt to reverse this decision.

They also appealed against the decision, in a case known as MH, which is likely to be heard in June 2018.

The change in the law consisted of adding the words ‘For reasons other than psychological distress,’ to three descriptors

The aim of the DWP was to ensure that claimants who have difficulties with following journeys because of psychological distress are less likely to get an award of PIP on those grounds.

The RF case
On 21 December 2017 the changes to the legislation were found to be unlawful by the high court in a judgement known as RF.

The high court found that the changes discriminated against people with certain disabilities, in breach of the Human Rights Act. The court also found that the government broke the law by not consulting on the changes first.

The DWP can seek to appeal against this decision and we should find out fairly soon whether they have been given leave to appeal.

Until leave to appeal has either been refused, or the appeal has been granted and heard, the law will stay as it is currently and claimants with mental health conditions will continue to be discriminated against.

The MH case
However, matters are further complicated by the fact that, as explained above, the DWP have appealed against the original upper tribunal decision that prompted the DWP to change the law. That case is known as MH

If the DWP win the appeal in MH then it will no longer make any difference whether they lose RF or not.

In other words, things will not improve for claimants unless the DWP lose both the appeals in MH and in RF. If they win either then the law continues to discriminate against some claimants with mental health conditions.

On the bright side
There is a positive side, however.

The high court came down very strongly in support of the claimant in RF. So, even if the DWP do manage to get an appeal heard there is a strong chance they will lose RF again.

Meanwhile, the arguments relating to discrimination in MH are very similar to the ones in RF, so there is a good chance that the DWP will fail in their attempt to overturn the upper tribunal decision.

So, there is a real possibility that claimants will win both cases.

But, the complexity of the legal situation, and the option of further appeals to even higher courts, does mean that the law may not change for a long time yet.

Lodging your own appeal
In the meantime, if you lose out as a result of the changes to the law, then it would definitely be worth seeking advice about appealing the decision.

It is likely that any appeal on these grounds will be put on hold until the current legal mess is untangled, but if the claimants succeed in both cases then your appeal will eventually be heard.

There’s more information about the changes to the law in our guide to claiming PIP in the members area.

You can read the full judgement in RF here

You can read the full judgement in MH here


People Accept That I’m Gay, But Not That I’m Disabled

January 15, 2018

I am not sure that I had a true moment of realisation when it comes to being gay; it is just something I have always been.

I assumed that what I felt for certain girls was just what every other girl felt for her special friends … and didn’t we all want to marry Pocahontas? My parents teased me mildly about having “intense” friendships with a different girl every few months, but they are incredibly liberal and have enough gay people in their lives that it never felt that special when I hit my early teens and started wanting to kiss girls.

I don’t think my family expected me to be one way or the other, so being an out lesbian was probably the least interesting part of my teenage years.

Being aware of my disabilities was also gradual – I had a lot of problems with my hearing as a baby, including my eardrums bursting on a number of occasions. After a few operations on my ears and eardrums, I was able to hear relatively well from the ages of five to 15 – so the songs I know best are, sadly, very late-90s/early 00s – although adults often complained that I was “dreamy” and “not listening” when I realise now I just couldn’t hear them. I started to lose my hearing again at 16, but didn’t realise it until I began university three years later.

It seems funny to think that I didn’t realise, but I was struggling with a lot of other health problems at the time and as I spent most of my time in bed – either at home or in hospital – the only thing that noticeably changed was the volume at which I watched TV.

When I finally managed to make it to university and started interacting with people who were not my immediate family, it was painfully obvious that I couldn’t hear what they were saying and that, when it came to conversation, I had pretty much been operating on guesswork for quite a while.

I am not profoundly deaf and, obviously, can hear more with my hearing aids in, although they only make things louder, not clearer. I can’t hear any high-pitched sounds and, with my hearing aids in, I only properly catch one word in three.

When I was 17, I was diagnosed with hereditary neuropathy with liability to pressure palsies (HNPP), which results in extreme palsy in my arms as well as patches of skin being numb, difficulty gripping things, weakness in limbs and severe fatigue. I also have mixed connective tissue disorder (MCTD), an autoimmune disease in which the body’s defence system attacks itself. MCTD causes chronic joint pain, muscle inflammation, hypermobility and pulmonary hypertension alongside a long list of other symptoms.

My disabilities can hamper everything I do, but they are often invisible, although I don’t think the days I have to use a wheelchair or wrist splints make them visible – they are just my aids.

I often have to explain myself when strangers think I am just being difficult. I get scoffed at in the street when I don’t hear someone behind me or I walk into them because they are on my blind slide. I have been called out loudly by non-disabled people for using disabled toilets or parking spaces, challenged for being a picky eater when I cannot eat an ingredient in their food and yelled at for being inconsiderate. It doesn’t matter when I explain that I am not just dozy or silly, but have a disability, because they have already worked themselves up into a self-righteous rage and nothing I can say will stop that.

It also hurts to have to explain painful, long and complicated reasons behind injuries when people expect a light-hearted story. “What happened to your hand? Accident while out on the town?”

“No.” Deep breath … “I have a disability that affects my nerves and …” Although, to be honest, often I just lie. 

When someone confronts you, asking what right you have to use a disabled toilet or why you were so stupid you didn’t hear them asking you to get out of the way, your only options are to stand there and let them yell at you (plus points of being deaf: turn your hearing aids off and you only have to see the yelling) or you attempt to explain that you are disabled, which can be a pretty personal thing to share with a mean stranger who might not believe you anyway.

I understand that I look fine, but when most of the difficulties in my life come from the very fact that I look fine while actually needing help, that is not really a bonus.

Telling someone I am gay is instantly accepted, no questions asked, generally with a smile. Telling someone I am disabled comes with, “No, really? You don’t look it”, and a scrutinising look. Nobody has ever accused every single gay person of “scrounging off the state”, but people have openly said that about disabled people, in front of me. 

I definitely feel that there is a desexualisation of disabled people. When I was still dating, I could see the moment in my date’s eyes when I explained my condition and suddenly stopped being an interesting potential prospect. I think disabled people are not just taboo when it comes to sex, but also dating, relationships and life in general. My wife is often told that she is a saint for marrying me or that she must be such a good person – as if I am a terrible burden and not the woman she loves. Businesses, the media and politicians need to start seeing disabled people for what we are: useful members of society who have something to bring to others. 

I have always been an out-there dresser. I have probably toned it down now – I am less eccentric than I was. It has always felt important to spend time on my style because it is one thing about my body that I can control.

I believe in soft activism rather than shoving a message in people’s faces and telling them they should change their opinion. I think it is better to subtly insert small changes into our everyday lives, such as having more disabled characters featured in the media – and in instances where being disabled is not the main story. We should have more disabled MPs, because although almost one in five people in the UK are disabled, we are underrepresented, especially since the Conservatives shut down the access to the elected office fund, which helped people with disabilites to go into political jobs.

I missed most of my teenage milestones because I was either in hospital or lying in the dark. I was too ill to open my eyes, to sit up or to eat, and I was made to feel like a burden, as if my presence was a hindrance to other people’s lives.

I was never a problem to my parents or brother, but they would be told, “How good you are to look after her” while I was in the room. But there were some amazing people who stepped into my lonely space, took my hand and helped me through those rough years. They didn’t mind helping out physically or spending time making me laugh and always let me know it was no big deal. I was never a burden to them.

I am so much better than I was but I still need help and I know the best way to repay that help is to live the best life I can – to be brave, to be bright, to be happy. I am proud of everything I have achieved and where I am now.

What Literature Tells Us About How We Treat Disability

January 12, 2018

The controversy over Toby Young’s appointment to, and then resignation from, the Office for Students, and especially his comments about wheelchair ramps in schools, dyslexic students and accessible assessments, indicates how rife disability oppression remains in our cultural and educational institutions. There is a direct connection between negative writing about disability – stereotypes, prejudices, hate speech – and the treatment of disabled people in society. Reading literature provides one window on to the narratives about disability that circulate across cultures and throughout history.

King Richard’s soliloquy at the start of Richard III is one of the most dramatic openings of any piece of literature. From the play’s very first lines, Shakespeare stresses that his central character is vengeful, vindictive and morally vacuous. Richard tells us that he is “determinèd to prove a villain”, and everything that follows, it is made clear, will be part of the pursuit of this determination. But Richard spells out specific details that help us understand his hatred. He is, he observes, “not shaped for sportive tricks”, but rather is “rudely stamped”, “deformed, unfinished”, “scarce half made up” and “cheated of feature by dissembling nature”. Richard is disabled, and the fact of his disabled difference is given as an explanation for his desire to be “subtle, false and treacherous”.

Many literary villains are disabled, providing a metaphorical shortcut to ideas of deviance, bitterness or desire for revenge. So Richard’s soliloquy is not actually signalling that the play is a text about a man with disabilities. Here an “unfinished” body is more about Richard’s character than any real sense of embodied experience. It is treachery, rather than disability, that his “deformations” signify.

Disability is everywhere in literature, across all periods and genres, whether in medieval saints’ narratives, the sentimentality of the 19th-century novel, modernist obsessions with eugenics or contemporary preoccupations with mental health. Often in these stories disability appears in the same way as it does in Richard III, namely as a narrative device that illuminates what appear to be more “important” elements of plot or character. Often it exposes the anxieties or preoccupations of the historical moment. So, for example, Tim Cratchit, the disabled child in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, facilitates that novel’s meditation on greed, wealth and charity even though he barely features. Likewise, Bertha Mason, Charlotte Brontë’s “madwoman in the attic” in Jane Eyre, has been read as expressing the outrage of gender- and race-based oppressions, while Rochester, who loses a hand and is blinded at the end of the novel, allows for the exploration of questions of romance and care. Captain Ahab’s prosthetic leg in Melville’s Moby-Dick is not simply the sign of a historical encounter with the great white whale; it is far more meaningful as a marker of the mania and obsession that will lead Ahab to pursue his quarry to the point of his own death.

In these texts and others disability is fundamentally transparent, something to be looked through to discuss other concerns. The lens that disability provides might make readers think more about “being human”, or provoke ideas of shock, fear, deviance or pity, but at heart these are understood as “universal” issues rather than anything specific about disability experience. In Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Clifford Chatterley’s paralysis and wheelchair use are both a commentary on the barbarity of the first world war and the sterility of the Chatterleys’ marriage that licenses Constance’s explorations; Clifford’s actual experience of his wheelchair is less important than the wider contemplations it makes possible.

Disability has so often been represented in such metaphorical terms that it can seem almost invisible. Every crime novel with a scarred villain, or melodrama whose sentimentality relies on a “retarded” child, doesn’t require an actual engagement with the details of such difference. Readers, well attuned to the conventions of genre, understand that the lives of such characters are not as important as what they symbolise. As such, literature can mirror and perpetuate those social processes by which people with disabilities are marginalised and excluded.

But just as the end of the last century saw the rise of disability rights movements, so it heralded changes in the ways literature presented physical and cognitive difference. Life writing about disability and mental health formed a major part of the memoir boom of the 1990s, while fiction, drama and poetry embraced the narrative possibilities that came with disability viewpoints. Writing from within first-person disability perspectives is not a contemporary phenomenon: people with disabilities have always written about them – think of Milton or Joyce on blindness, and indeed the very shift in our thinking about literature that comes from seeing these two writers as having disabilities; while Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is a famous example of experimental disability writing from the 1920s.

But it has become a more common technique in the last few decades. Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love, for example, is narrated by a performer in a freak show, enabling a subversive and satirical commentary on the exclusions and prejudices of American society. Arguably the best known text that uses cognitive difference to shape its narrative viewpoint is Mark Haddon’s hugely successful The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The novel, recounted by its protagonist, is full of alternative perspectives and ways of seeing the world that autism, a condition seemingly beyond biomedical knowledge for most of the 20th century, is now understood to possess. In such writing, disability is conceived as difference and not deficit. It is not seen as a tragedy to be overcome or a disaster to be feared. In the best contemporary writing about disability, such difference is shown to be often mundane and ordinary. A disabled life is one among many.

Representation matters. In a time when the logic of austerity demands endless efficiency, and with Brexit threatening to reshape everything from local economies to human rights legislation, it is more important than ever to think about how disability is represented in our society: in the media; in fiction; in television and film; in political discourse and public policy. People with disabilities are frequently used as scapegoats, blamed for being a drain on stretched resources in order to mask insufficiencies in health, education and welfare provision. Media hysteria around the idea of benefit scroungers has fuelled a resurgence of Victorian ideas about the undeserving poor. People with disabilities are unproductive, cheat the welfare system, are a burden and should not be supported by the state. In the spirit of nationalist pride, we are invited to celebrate the achievements of our “supercrip” Paralympians while (as many activist athletes point out) “ordinary” disabled people are losing their income and their housing to cuts.

These ideas, and the policies they underpin, are not new. Literature gives context for understanding such confused and conflicting contemporary discourses. It helps trace where stereotypes and oppressions have come from and how they have evolved. Dominant ideas about disability don’t necessarily reflect the reality of lives and capabilities, but fit the political agendas of particular times and places. We can find in literature endless examples of the prejudices that surround disability, but we can also encounter the complexity of the world of people with disabilities and the rich and vibrant histories they make. Reading, as an engagement with imagined possibilities, makes for better understanding of the shades of human difference that disability highlights.

Billy Monger

January 11, 2018

This time last year Billy Monger was being tipped by many as the next Lewis Hamilton.

He was 17 and a star of Formula 4 racing but after a horrific accident in April 2017, he had both his lower legs amputated.

Billy spoke to BBC Breakfast about making a comeback as a stunt driver.

Esther McVey Is New DWP Secretary Of State

January 10, 2018

With many thanks to Benefits And Work.

Esther McVey, the deeply detested former minster for disabled people and employment minister, has become the new secretary of state for work and pensions in the current cabinet reshuffle.

McVey lost her Wirral West seat in the 2015 general election.

She was one of the few high profile tory losses and her failure to hold her seat was blamed in large part on her deep unpopularity with claimants whom she had been happy to portray as bogus.

In March 2013, following her appointment as minister for disabled people, a Daily Mail article with the headline: “I will go after the bogus disabled . . . some of the DO get better” went on to explain:

“She says many who get DLA and are officially classed ‘disabled’ are no such thing: ‘Only three per cent of people are born with a disability, the rest acquire it through accident or illness, but people come out of it. Thanks to medical advances, bodies heal.’”

But it was her comments in a debate in December 2013 that caused the greatest outrage.

McVey was left to speak in a debate about food banks after IDS left the chamber half way through and was accused by the press of ‘smirking’ whilst Labour MPs told of the plight of their constituents.

McVey told MPs:

“In the UK it is right that more people are… going to food banks because as times are tough, we are all having to pay back this £1.5 trillion debt personally which spiralled under Labour, we are all trying to live within our means, change the gear and make sure that we pay back all our debt which happened under them.”

McVey was parachuted into the safe Tatton constituency of George Osborne following his resignation in 2017.

The work and pensions post was originally offered to former education secretary Justine Greening in the current reshuffle, but she resigned sooner than accept it.

McVey replaces David Gauke, who only became secretary of state for work and pensions in June 2017.

McVey is the fourth person to hold the post in less than two years and the third to be appointed by Theresa May, giving a clear indication of how little importance is attached to the role.

Toby Young Resigns From Universities Watchdog

January 9, 2018

Toby Young has resigned from the board of a new university regulator after criticism over controversial comments.

Writing for the Spectator, Mr Young said his appointment had “become a distraction” from the “vital work” of the Office for Students.

The right-wing journalist unreservedly apologised for his past comments which he said were “ill-judged or just plain wrong”.

A petition calling for his dismissal gathered almost 220,000 signatures.

The Department for Education said it remains confident the Office for Students will deliver for students.

Mr Young faced a backlash after his appointment was announced, with critics attacking his suitability for the role.

The columnist co-founded the West London Free School – which opened in 2011 – and runs the New Schools Network.

The charity promotes free schools in England – of which there are currently 475.

‘We made a mistake’

Following his appointment to the OfS, Mr Young deleted up to 40,000 tweets posted since 2009, including references to the size of women’s breasts.

Comments made about working class students, about “inclusivity” in a Spectator column in 2012, and remarks aimed at gay people, were also criticised.

Who is Toby Young?

Toby Young started out as a journalist founding the culture magazine Modern Review with Julie Burchill.

Following the collapse of the magazine he was recruited to work on Vanity Fair in New York, an experience that inspired his book “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”.

As a Spectator columnist, Mr Young made a number of controversial comments including a description of wheelchair ramps as part of “ghastly” inclusivity in schools.

In 2011 he set up the West London Free School which placed importance on discipline, ambition and “a competitive atmosphere”.

After resigning from his position as CEO of the West London Free School Trust, he said he hadn’t “grasped how difficult it is to do better” and that he regretted his earlier criticism of teachers.

His experience with schools led to his appointment to the Office for Students regulator – a move critics argued he was neither suitable nor had the right expertise for.

Chair of the Commons education committee Robert Halfon said remarks Mr Young had made on disability, eugenics and working people went too far.

“If we are to stand up as the Conservative party for what is right,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, “we also have to accept when we have made a mistake”.

Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of Buckingham University, said it was “utterly unacceptable” to have such a person on a public body, involved with education.

In his resignation article, Mr Young said “the caricature” drawn of him during the past week was “unrecognisable”.

He wrote: “I am a passionate supporter of inclusion and helping the most disadvantaged, as I hope my track record of setting up and supporting new schools demonstrates.

“But some of the things I said before I got involved in education, when I was a journalistic provocateur, were either ill-judged or just plain wrong – and I unreservedly apologise.”

Mr Young thanked Prime Minister Theresa May and the former education secretary Justine Greening for their support.

Mrs May has said she was “not at all impressed” by his previous remarks.


An ‘unwelcome distraction’ for May

By BBC political correspondent, Alex Forsyth

Toby Young wasn’t appointed directly by the prime minister, but the pressure was on her to sack him when the details of his previous remarks emerged.

Her decision to defend his position – while criticising his past comments – allowed opponents to once again question her judgement and authority.

Mrs May’s supporters have pointed to Mr Young’s achievements in the field of education and said his resignation was a matter for him.

It’s unlikely it will have huge or lasting consequences for the prime minister, but just two days into Westminster’s new year it’s an unwelcome distraction from the authoritative image Mrs May wants to portray, and it adds to the overall perception of a government where things don’t tend to run too smoothly.

The Office for Students has been established to hold universities to account on issues like vice chancellors’ pay and free speech on campus.

It has powers to fine universities which fail to meet the required standards.

Critics have welcomed the resignation. Angela Rayner, Labour’s education spokeswoman, said events “cast great doubt” on Mrs May, who, she said, had failed to sack him in the first place.

University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said Mr Young was right to resign and the “whole sorry episode poses serious questions about the appointments to the board of the Office for Students”.

Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable, called the appointment “a serious mistake“.

But others have scorned the furore.

Piers Morgan said Mr Young had been forced out by the “howling Twitter mob”.

“I don’t defend his more offensive tweets or columns,” the Good Morning Britain presenter wrote, “but I do think he would have brought a valuable and distinctive perspective to university education”.

Universities minister Jo Johnson said Mr Young’s resignation and apology “reflects his character”.

Sanctuary- A Review

January 9, 2018

Irish movie Sanctuary is the story of a group of learning disabled people from a day centre.

Close to Christmas, the group are taken on a trip to the cinema by their care worker, Tom (Robert Doherty).

Tom has arranged for two members of the group, Sophie (Charlene Kelly) and Larry (Kieran Coppinger) to sneak out and spend some time alone together in a hotel room. There, he learns that they plan to have sex. However, it is illegal for unmarried learning disabled people to have sex in Ireland. There is a good reason for this law, and this reason is explored in some detail in the film.

Sanctuary raises some very interesting questions about love, sex and disability, as well as safety and responsibility.

What makes someone a good carer for people with disabilities? Is it taking responsibility for them and enforcing rules, or standing up for their human rights and treating them like human beings?

Can learning disabled people really feel and understand love? Can they really understand what it means to consent to sex? Sanctuary shows us that when they feel safe, the answer to both questions is a loud, clear yes.

What is responsibility and what makes someone responsible?

Is it really important to stay safe and keep the rules? Or is it more important to leave your sanctuary and have an adventure?

With moments of humour and an upbeat, yet romantic soundtrack, this is a film that has something for everyone.

The questions and themes it raises are handled with a rare sensitivity to disability that I, as a person physically disabled since birth, was very pleased to see. The hopeless romantic in me loved its romance, too.

I recommend it highly.