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Labour Will Restore Legal Aid For Benefit Appeals

December 5, 2018

A Labour government will restore legal aid for people appealing against cuts to benefits such as universal credit, the shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, is to announce.

Those seeking to challenge decisions by the Department for Work and Pensions on welfare payments, many of which are incorrect, will be able to obtain legal advice to help them pursue appeals, Labour is pledging.

Burgon argues that restoring such financial support would encourage the DWP to get decisions right first time, thereby reducing costs for the Ministry of Justice.

More than two-thirds of appeals against DWP decisions on personal independence payments (Pips) and employment support allowance (ESA) are successful, says Labour, adding that those decisions have affected thousands of vulnerable people with illnesses, disabilities or in poor health.

Since the coalition government’s Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo) came into effect in early 2013, the number of people receiving legal aid to challenge benefit decisions has fallen by 99%. The MoJ spends more than £100m a year on tribunals disputing appeals against benefit decisions. In addition, the DWP has spent more than £100m on Pips and ESA reviews and appeals since October 2015.

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, warned last month that cuts to legal aid meant many could no longer afford “to challenge benefit denials or reductions” and were “thus effectively deprived of their human right to a remedy”.

Since Laspo came into effect, many expert benefit lawyers have left the field because cases were no longer funded. The MoJ has experienced the deepest cuts of any Whitehall department since 2010; its budget is to shrink further over the next two years.

Burgon said: “People should never be expected to navigate a complex appeals process all by themselves. That can force some to give up their claim altogether after a wrong initial decision. Others endure months of stress trying to prepare their own case. It’s bad now but will be even more difficult after universal credit’s rollout.

“Cuts to early legal advice have been a false economy. Ensuring that people are armed with expert legal advice to take on incorrect benefits decisions will not only help people get the benefits they are entitled to, it should make it less likely that flawed decision takes place in the first place, which would be good for the individuals themselves, and help to tackle the tens of millions of pounds spent on administering appeals against flawed decisions.”

The number of claimants granted legal aid in benefits cases has plummeted from 91,431 in 2012-13 to 478 in 2017-18, according to Legal Aid Agency figures.

A 2010 Citizens Advice report (pdf) concluded that for every £1 of legal aid expenditure on benefits advice, the state potentially saved £8.80.

Labour estimates that to restore early legal advice to pre-Laspo levels for benefits cases would cost £18m a year and help about 90,000 cases.

The party has already pledged to restore legal aid funding for advice in all housing cases, reversing far-reaching cuts imposed by the government five years ago. It has also promised to re-establish early advice entitlements in the family courts and to review the legal aid means tests.


SEN Provision A National Scandal Says Ofsted

December 4, 2018

Thousands of children missing out on support for diagnosed special educational needs in England is a “national scandal”, Ofsted has said.

There are 2,060 children in 2018 who have education, health and care plans (EHCs) setting out their needs, but who receive no support at all.

Some parents said a child is only assessed when they are excluded.

Ofsted chief, Amanda Spielman, also raised the issue of children disappearing from education.


Ms Spielman says: “Too often, children who have been assessed still do not receive the services they need.”

She uses her annual report to expose what she describes as a “bleak picture” of too many children “failed by the education system”.

The report raises concerns about support for the 1.3 million pupils with special needs.

She says between 2010 and 2017, the number of children with a plan designating their needs, but who received no provision, had increased fivefold.

It had been above 4,000 in 2017, but has now been reduced to 2,060.

The Department for Education says some of these young people will be in the process of moving between schools or colleges.

“One child with Send [special educational needs and disability] not receiving the help they need is disturbing enough, but thousands is a national scandal,” says Ms Spielman, England’s chief inspector of schools.

The report also says: “Most disconcerting is that the whereabouts of some of our most vulnerable children is unknown.”

It revisits serious concerns that some pupils are being moved off the school roll illegally, because they may be seen as difficult to teach.

The report suggests 10,000 pupils cannot be accounted for and may have been “off-rolled” by schools in Years 10 and 11, because they did not appear on the pupil list of another state school.

It acknowledges many of these may have switched to independent schools, moved elsewhere or have been taken out for home schooling.

But, it says, it is unlikely that all of this number would fit into these categories.

Battle for support

The report says that compounding the difficulties faced by children with Send and their parents is that demand for EHC needs assessments from local authorities has risen by a half since 2015.

In 2017, 45,200 children and young people were assessed, while 14,600 were refused an assessment.

EHC assessments and plans were introduced in 2014 amid a shake-up designed to streamline and reduce the burden on the special needs education system.

They replaced statements of special educational needs which were carried out by local authorities.

Many parents complained of the long and difficult battles they had to get their child’s needs “statemented”.

But campaigners say the same issues are being faced with EHCs.

At the same time, the costs of supporting more children with lower levels of special needs were handed back to schools, which have been facing budget pressures of their own.

There was also a stated intention to reduce the number of children diagnosed with lower levels of special needs.

‘Truly wrong’

Some believe these are part of the reasons why the EHC assessment and plan system has come under pressure.

Both local councils and head teachers have been grappling with huge rises in demand for high needs support – those children with the highest level of need.

The report says: “Too often, the identification of Send is inaccurate or comes too late. This only exacerbates children’s needs and puts even greater strain on the need for services.

“Often the worst hand is dealt to those who do not quite meet the threshold for an EHC plan.

“Understandably, parents feel that to do the best for their children they must go to extreme lengths to secure an EHC plan, which not every child will need.

“Something is truly wrong when parents repeatedly tell inspectors that they have to fight to get the help and support that their child needs. That is completely contrary to the ethos of the Send reforms.”

Last month, representatives of local authorities told MPs of the funding problems they face in their high needs budgets.

Surrey County Council revealed it faced £30m in pressures on its high needs budget for this year, adding this was enough to trigger formal restrictions on any further spending at the council.

The Ofsted report is published as the school watchdog in Wales, Estyn, publishes its annual report.

Inspectors say secondary schools in Wales could do better, with only half judged good or excellent.

A Department for Education spokesman said the report “shows we have a robust education system – one where parents can feel assured that the vast majority of schools, early years providers, children’s homes and local authorities provide a high level of education and care for young people, regardless of their circumstances”.

“One of the key functions of a good regulator is that it highlights areas of concern and we will work with Ofsted, schools, local authorities and others to address the issues this report picks out.”

Head teachers union, the Association of School and College Leaders, said funding pressures were making it more difficult to give children the individual support to help them to overcome challenges they face.

And that means schools are less able offer the early intervention which prevents challenging behaviour escalating to the point of an exclusion.

Disabled Candidates Grant Scheme To Return For 2019 Local Elections

December 4, 2018

People with disabilities are to be offered thousands of pounds to help them run for elected office in next year’s council elections as part of an effort to tackle under-representation in town halls.

Grants averaging £4,000 will be made available to some to cover costs of campaign expenses including specialist transport, screen reader software, sign language interpretation and braille transcription.

Only 10% of councillors have a disability, compared with about 20% of the UK population. The government is offering £250,000, which is expected to fund around 60 candidates. Almost 9,000 council seats will be contested in local elections in May.

Mayoral and police and crime commissioner candidates will also be able to apply to the scheme, which is to be relaunched by the equalities minister, Penny Mordaunt, on Monday three years after it was scrapped.

“Empowering people with disabilities leads to better decisions and more effective outcomes for all of us,” she said. “Unless every one of our citizens can reach their full potential, our nation never will.”

Officials hope the return of the scheme will encourage the main political parties to prioritise the selection of people with disabilities. Applications for grants will be accepted from January.

Disability rights campaigners called for the scheme to be expanded, but welcomed its return.

Sue Bott, the deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “Local councillors make decisions on a myriad of important areas which impact on disabled people. From social care to education budgets, we need to hear more voices from disabled people on local issues.

“We hope this is the beginning of something which will see funding increase. Political parties across the spectrum have a poor track record when it comes to selecting and supporting disabled candidates. They should be doing better.”

Representation is worse in parliament than in local councils, with five MPs out of 650 having declared themselves as disabled.

Studies have shown that cuts to welfare and local authority budgets have fallen disproportionately on people with disabilities. Last month the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, said austerity measures in the UK meant the government had breached its human rights obligations towards people with disabilities.

Alston cited figures from the Social Metrics Commission showing that a fifth of the population were living in poverty and nearly half of those were from families in which someone was disabled.

On 2 May, 281 councils in England and Northern Ireland are being contested. There are also six mayoral elections in England.

Disabled Palestinians Defy Challenges

December 4, 2018

Some laughed at him, others told him that he wouldn’t succeed. But with a strong will and positive attitude, Abdulrahman Abu Rawaa proved them wrong.

With just one arm and leg, he can easily ride his bike along Gaza’s sandy streets.

He took off the pedal and chains to adjust the bike to his needs, allowing himself to easily balance on the bike and push himself forward.

It’s the easiest way for him to get around his neighbourhood in the “Bedouin Village” in the northern Gaza Strip.

“Learning how to ride a bike has been my greatest accomplishment. It might not look so, but it really is,” Abu Rawaa said.

“Everyone told me it’s dangerous; some people criticised me [for trying] and even made fun of me at first. But I challenged all of that. I’ve proven to myself and to others that my disability isn’t really going to ‘disable’ me.”

For the 23-year-old, life has always been about trying.

Having been born without an arm and then losing his leg after two surgeries, he hasn’t allowed his physical disability to prevent him from trying to live life to the fullest.

Monday marks the International Day of Disabled Persons. Despite the immense obstacles, Palestinians in Gaza have shown a strong will to defeat their disabilities and achieve their dreams.

For the two million Palestinians living in Gaza under an Israeli-Egyptian siege, life is already difficult enough.

But for those with physical disabilities, they face additional challenges – something as simple as moving from one neighbourhood to the other in one of the world’s most densely populated areas is an immense challenge.

Most buildings are not accessible for the disabled people. There are no braille signs for the visually-impaired. With a dire economic situation, there are little to no resources to assist them.

Artificial limbs made in Gaza are typically of poor quality since the blockade has disrupted imports of prosthetic limbs and raw materials used to make them.

The limbs are made out of hundreds of different parts, but even if a single part is missing, it’s difficult for the limb to function.

Consequently, for many in Gaza, the prosthetic limbs that they use are for aesthetic purposes – to be able to put on a prosthetic leg or arm while taking photos for special occasions, for instance.

Rawaa had tried wearing an artificial limb, but it was terribly uncomfortable, despite costing $2,000 – an exorbitant amount for the average family in Gaza.

It was impossible for Rawaa to walk with it, as it pulled and scratched his skin.

In the first grade, he tried to use a wheelchair, which was also futile. He would fall to the ground and would have to push his chest against the wheelchair seat to push forward and move.

“But in fourth grade, I once saw my brother Tareq riding his bike and I asked him to let me try. It was a good try, although I fell. My father was impressed that I can balance myself on the bike, and I asked him for a bike. He bought me one. Step by step, I did just fine. And in the sixth grade, I totally depended on it to go to school, though my school was around two kilometres away from home.”

Stigmatisation and a lack of knowledge about disabilities persist in Gaza, Rawaa explained. Some ask him how he can cook or fix his bike on his own. For Rawaa, these are strange questions since he is entirely self-reliant.

“When my bike is broken, I’m the one who fixes it,” Rawaa said. “Some people say ‘You can’t!’ Immediately, to them I say, why don’t you try? It could work and it could not, but at least try. If you’re willing to try, you’ll succeed in one way or another. Everyone should have the will to try. Life is all about trying.”

‘They’ve amputated my leg, not my dream’

While misconceptions about disabled persons persist, Rawaa believes it has decreased over the years due to the three Israeli military assaults on Gaza and the Israeli attacks on the Great Return March demonstrations, which has left dozens of unarmed demonstrators disabled.

According to Gaza’s health ministry, at least 5,300 Palestinians have been injured by Israeli bullets since the start of demonstrations on March 30. AT least 68 Palestinians have had their legs amputated.

It has become a common sight today on the streets to see Palestinians with missing limbs. Unlike Rawaa, who was born with a disability, they face a harsh learning curve in adapting to their new life.

Alaa Aldali, 21, has been trying to persuade himself that he was born without a leg to adjust more easily. Israeli forces shot his leg with an expanding “butterfly” bullet on March 30, the first day of the Great Return March demonstrations. 

He says he was standing with his friends more than 300 metres away from the Israeli fence when he was suddenly hit in the leg. He found himself on the ground, with smoke coming out of his wound.

“It was scary… It wasn’t like a bullet; it looked like a grenade exploded in my leg,” Aldali said.

After undergoing eight surgeries in the hopes of saving his leg, it was amputated due to serious damage to his arteries and nerves.

“It’s quite hard, but that’s all I can do now. You know, just on the way home, while I was getting out of the taxi, I thought my right leg was still there and I almost fell,” Aldali said from his bedroom in Rafah, in southern Gaza.

Trophies, medals and plaques decorate his table. For the past four years, he has spent practically every waking moment on the move, cycling, and would mostly come home just to sleep.

Ranked third in the occupied Palestinian territories, Aldali’s dream of representing Palestine internationally presented itself with an invitation to compete in the international cycling competition that took place in Indonesia in late August.

But his dream was crushed that fateful afternoon. Since then it’s been an uphill battle – mentally and physically.

Aldali says he’s determined to keep fighting for his dream of competing for Palestine as a cyclist, even if it’s just with one leg.

“They’ve amputated my leg, but not my dream. I’m coming back to do my favourite sport. We’ll also return to our home. Those sacrifices are not going to no avail,” Aldali said.

Heavy unemployment rate

For others, such as 27-year-old Abeer Elhorokly, the Israeli occupation affects them before they’re born.

During the First Intifada in 1992, her then-pregnant mother was subjected to gas inhalation by Israeli forces. Consequently, Elhorokly was born with deformed nervous cells, which left her in a wheelchair.

Like Aldali, Elhorokly found her passion in playing competitive sports – basketball and tennis. Her team has achieved first place in the Gaza Basketball League for the third time in a row and she aspires to compete internationally in tennis for disabled athletes.

However, with the siege on Gaza now in its 12th year, many Palestinians – disabled or not – are deprived of such opportunities.

Gaza’s job market remains stagnant with an unemployment rate of 44 percent, but for the disabled population, it’s at 90 percent.

Elhorokly graduated two years ago with a BA in Public Relations and Media, and is determined to find work. Palestinian labour law stipulates that five percent of its workforce must include disabled people. However, this isn’t applied on the ground, Elhorokly said.

“I want to be a big journalist and prove that we’re capable. To be a journalist and have a disability at the same time is a real challenge and I love challenges,” Elhorokly said.

Rawaa has been raising chickens in his backyard for a living. He would like to eventually afford a new home as his family’s house becomes flooded in winter.

He has been approaching various institutions with his proposal, trying to find funding to expand his chicken-raising project. Rawaa has yet to find support, but he says he will keep trying.

“Never let anyone or anything stay in your way. If you think you can’t take the stairs by yourself, ask yourself – did I try? You can always find ways. Create your own solution,” Rawaa said.

“One should always have the hope and courage to jump over life’s challenges – to try at least.”

Carly Barton, 32, First UK Patient Prescribed Cannabis, For Fibromyalgia

December 3, 2018

A 32-year-old woman is believed to be the first person prescribed cannabis in the UK after it was made legal for medicinal use last month.

Carly Barton, from Brighton, who suffers constant pain from fibromyalgia following a stroke in her 20s, was given a prescription by a private doctor who specialises in pain management.

The NHS is not funding the treatment, so she is having to pay £2,500 for three months’ treatment herself.

She hopes that if she can show it is helping her chronic pain, it could “open the floodgates” for the government to decide to pay for the treatment for herself and others.

“In terms of money this is going to cost me everything I have, so two and a half grand for three months’ supply,” she said in a Facebook video.

“The reason I’m putting this on the line is I feel this is a route to getting an NHS prescription.”

The drug is having to be imported from the Netherlands and Ms Barton is unsure when she will be able to collect her medication – which consists of two flower-based cannabis products.

She will take a gramme of each product every day.

Ms Barton said doctors need clearer guidelines on when and how they can prescribe the drug, and she is also worried a “two-tier system” will emerge where people who cannot afford to pay for the treatment have to continue buying it illegally.

“I shouldn’t realistically have to pay this amount of money,” she said.

“It’s going to last me three months and then I’m back in the same situation… I will be back to being a criminal unless i can convince the NHS specialist to rewrite the prescription.”

Talking to Sky News last month, she described how she has previously had to go out “in agony in the dark” to buy the drug from strangers.

Ms Barton said the high cost of the drug is down to the cost of importing it and that the cannabis flower itself – produced by Dutch company Bedrocan – only costs around six euro a gramme.

Doctors got permission to prescribe cannabis products on 1 November after a summer of campaigning by parents including Charlotte Caldwell, whose son Billy has severe epilepsy.

She went to Canada to procure the cannabis oil she says controls his seizures, but was not allowed to bring it back into the UK.

Her fight to keep the drug led to a policy review by Home Secretary Sajid Javid who brought in the law change after advice from experts on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and the UK’s chief medical adviser.

The new guidelines say doctors should only prescribe cannabis-based medicine if other options have been exhausted, for conditions including rare childhood epilepsy and multiple sclerosis as well as to help deal with nausea from chemotherapy drugs.

Today Is The International Day Of Disabled People

December 3, 2018

Same Difference asks you to spend it celebrating yourself or the disabled person in your life!

Here’s more information from the UN.

2018 Theme: Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality

This year’s theme focuses on empowering persons with disabilities for an inclusive, equitable and sustainable development as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 2030 Agenda pledges to “leave no one behind”. Persons with disabilities, as both beneficiaries and agents of change, can fast track the process towards inclusive and sustainable development and promote resilient society for all, including in the context of disaster risk reduction and humanitarian action, and urban development. Governments, persons with disabilities and their representative organisations, academic institutions and the private sector need to work as a “team” to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This year, the UN Secretary-General will launch on the Day a flagship report, entitled “UN Flagship Report on Disability and Development | 2018 – Realizing the SDGs by, for and with persons with disabilities”. Events at UNHQ on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities at UN Headquarters will bring together Member States, UN entities, Mayors, national and local policy makers, civil society organizations, academic institutes and organizations of persons with disabilities to discuss the way forward for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development. Read more about the events.

Disabilities day logo

Trump’s ‘Wall’ For Disabled Immigrants

November 30, 2018

At the signing ceremony for the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, President George Bush observed that the legislation had much in common with the fall of the Berlin Wall the year prior. The new law “takes a sledgehammer to another wall,” Bush remarked, “one which has for too many generations separated Americans with disabilities from the freedom they could glimpse, but not grasp.” Our current president, infamous for mocking Americans with disabilities and unraveling the social safety net, plans to rebuild that wall, putting America’s promise of freedom again further out of reach for people with disabilities.

The Trump administration’s proposed regulation, released in early October, would unfairly harm people with disabilities and their families in their efforts to live permanently in the United States. The “public charge” regulation would apply to immigrants already on the lawful road to citizenship, including applicants for permanent residence (a “green card”) living in the United States, and individuals outside of the United States, such as family members of American citizens seeking admission to the United States. While the concept is older than today’s modern immigration law, President Trump’s regulation would radically expand it in dangerous ways. (Public charge is a term used to describe a person deemed to be primarily dependent on government assistance.)

Harkening back to the dark history of anti-immigration policies, the public charge proposal spells out five “heavily weighed negative factors” that would make having a disability a strong basis for denial. In typical Trump fashion, the proposal privileges wealth, fast-tracking individual applicants who can provide evidence of annual incomes 250 percent above the federal poverty line, which for a family of four is about $63,000 annually. Thus, the proposal’s fundamental injustice of deliberately excluding people with disabilities, who are disproportionately likely to live in poverty, is compounded by the abuse of equating wealth with worth.

The proposal also attacks some immigrants with disabilities and their families already living in the United States who are already contributing to the culture and economies of American communities. As The Times has reported, the regulation would put a person’s lawfully obtained immigration status at risk if he or she uses — or even applies for — Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps), Section 8 housing assistance or other public programs.

The regulation would also consider whether a person has private insurance that covers all of his or her health care costs, again rigging the system against people with disabilities. Private insurers don’t cover community living supports like meal preparation, household care and maintenance, and help with bathing, eating, dressing and other routine activities. For many people with disabilities, Medicaid is the only financing available for those basics, but the public charge regulation would mean that using Medicaid could put immigration status at risk. No one should have to choose between the basic needs of life and living in the United States with loved ones.

Mr. Trump’s assault on the disability community isn’t confined to immigrants. All Americans with disabilities — immigrants and citizens alike — would be harmed by the public charge regulation, because of its consequences for the health care and personal care provider work force. According to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, about one-fourth of direct care workers in America are immigrants. And about 40 percent of all direct care workers meet their own basic needs with help from Medicaid, SNAP or other public programs. If finalized, the public charge regulation will mean fewer people able to provide the care that seniors and people with disabilities need to live full lives and contribute to their communities.

Children would also be hit especially hard by the public charge regulation — again, citizen and immigrant alike. One-fourth of children in America have at least one immigrant parent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Though most are not immigrants themselves — an overwhelming majority were born in the United States — they would suffer the denial of basic needs alongside their parents. Children eat at the same table as their parents, and they sleep under the same roof, so if parents are too afraid to apply for help, their children will be no less hungry and no less homeless.

The proposal also weighs childhood as a “negative factor” because children are not self-sufficient. Since children with disabilities are often judged as incapable of growing into self-sufficient adults, they would be considered a public charge more often than their nondisabled peers.

Fortunately, the proposal has not yet been approved. And those who oppose this attack on American families with immigrants, including people with disabilities, can work together to stop it.

All Americans have a right under the law to speak our minds on federal regulations. And the law requires the Trump administration to consider what we say. Our organizations are taking a stand against the public charge regulation and urging others to speak out, too, by leaving a comment on the proposal before the Dec. 10 deadline.

At the Americans With Disabilities Act signing ceremony nearly 30 years ago, President Bush remarked that America had inspired other countries, with pledges to right historical wrongs with legislation of their own to open doors for people with disabilities. As Mr. Bush said then, the A.D.A.’s “passage has made the United States the international leader on this human rights issue.” And this leadership has not been maintained without a fight. The disability community has proved time and again — in fighting to protect the law, in pushing back against judges who don’t believe in bodily autonomy — that we will meet every attack with equal force to preserve our rights and our dignity.

We must continue to push back. Mr. Trump’s proposed public charge regulation says people with disabilities aren’t valuable members of American society. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that Americans with disabilities and our families are a powerful force that will fight back when he mocks or marginalizes. We must recommit to being a country where everyone is valued, where people with disabilities can fully contribute and where all can thrive.