|Here’s the latest e-newsletter from Disability Rights UK – as ever it’s an excellent selection of topical and useful info:
Government messages on exemptions to face coverings need to be stronger
New research from King’s College London has highlighted how face coverings have become a flashpoint for many people. Roughly 1 in 8 people in the UK – equivalent to around six million people – say they have been involved in confrontations or reports to authorities about people not wearing face masks. The research did not ask if respondents were disabled people or unable to wear masks for reasons related to a disability or medical condition. However, we know that some disabled people have been confronted over not wearing a mask, and that fears of being confronted are having a chilling effect on some disabled people going to shops or using public transport. Confronting people who are not wearing masks does nothing to support and encourage good public health practices, and we strongly condemn such acts of vigilantism.
Fazilet Hadi, DR UK’s Head of Policy said “Hostility towards disabled people is not acceptable. We need stronger messages from government, police and civic leaders, making it clear that there are exemptions to wearing face coverings for some disabled people. Too often messages stress that face coverings are mandatory for all, which is not the case.”
The full research findings, a survey of 2,237 adults from across the UK, is available on the King’s College London website.
Government fails to commit to accessible homes
The government has announced sweeping changes to the planning system, with a view to making it easier to build homes and hospitals. The proposals would designate areas for protection, renewal or growth. In the latter two areas, automatic permission to build would be granted. Councils are challenging whether such changes are needed. The government’s vision for the future speaks of beautifully designed houses and tree- lined streets, however, there is no mention of homes being built to accessibility standards.
Fazilet Hadi, DR UK’s Head of Policy said “The government’s failure to require homes to be built to accessibility standards is a huge omission. It makes sense to build homes which we can all live in, whatever our age or disability. Currently millions of disabled people live in homes which are not fit for purpose. At a time when the government are developing a National Disability Strategy, the lack of commitment to accessible new build homes is deeply worrying.”
Read more on the BBC website.
New regulations issued excluding disabled students from Universal Credit entitlement
New regulations have been issued to “restore the policy intent” that a disabled student must already have been determined to have a limited capability for work (LCW) before making a claim for Universal Credit.
DR UK has been lobbying against the denial of access to Universal Credit for disabled students since 2017. Under UC, disabled students are not given the opportunity to establish their LCW through a work capability assessment. This is a significant change from the system under ESA where disabled people in receipt of DLA or PIP were automatically determined as having LCW.
DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser Ken Butler said “The new regulations are a really bad news for disabled students. The timing of their publication could not be worse – a few weeks before many disabled students are set to embark or continue on new higher education courses. They will cast doubt on the Government’s commitment to ensure disabled people’s access to education. In addition, they will in turn cast doubt as to the Government’s commitment to increase the number of disabled people in employment. However, DR UK will not give up on this issue and will lobby for the rescinding of these new regulations and for direct entitlement to Universal Credit for disabled students.”
Read more on our website.
On our site, Ken Butler outlines a way around the unfairness of this policy whereby disabled students can make a claim for contribution based New Style ESA (NSESA). Despite not meeting the national insurance contributions entitlement conditions, this process can still eventually lead to a work capability assessment being held. If a LCW decision is made, means tested Universal Credit can then potentially be awarded.
Ken also adds however that “This torturous route is absurd. Worse, it undoubtedly has the effect of deterring Universal Credit claims by some disabled students. Some will not know to claim NSESA ‘workaround’ if refused and some may even not pursue their higher education course.”
Changes needed to youth employment proposals to benefit disabled young people
More than half a million disabled young people will be hit by a double disadvantage as they try to move from education to employment unless urgent action is taken, disability groups including DR UK have warned. Discrimination and more competition in the post-COVID-19 world will leave disabled young people struggling to access jobs.
In a joint letter to Government ministers, a coalition of nine organisations, led by the National Deaf Children’s Society, has asked for changes to the Government’s Plan for Jobs to avoid a looming employment crisis among disabled young people. Figures from last year already showed a 28.6% gap between the employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people. Disabled people face “years of being left behind” if their needs aren’t met, but minor changes could “unlock a generation of potential”
Among eight suggested changes, they want to see the Kickstarter Scheme expanded, Careers Advisors trained to work with disabled people and online job searching made more accessible. They also want to see the number of Disability Employment Advisors doubled and the £1,000 incentive for businesses taking on apprentices extended to all disabled young people, rather than just those with Education, Health and Care plans.
The letter is available on the NDCS website.
Potential threat to judicial review process
The government has set up a panel to consider the use of judicial review. This is a process which the citizen can use to challenge decisions of the government and other public bodies, where the decision or the process by which it is reached is believed to be unreasonable.
Judicial review has been used very effectively during the coronavirus crisis by disabled people and their legal representatives – to challenge government regulations and decisions which have had a detrimental impact on disabled people.
Fazilet Hadi, DR UK’s Head of Policy said “Judicial review is a vital safeguard on the way the state exercises its powers. Public bodies need to be answerable to citizens and the courts when they have made unreasonable decisions. We would be extremely concerned to see any dilution of the right of citizens to challenge decisions of government and other public bodies.”
Read more on the Law Gazette website.
Universal Credit failing millions says House of Lords Committee
The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee has called for wide-ranging reforms of the Universal Credit system. This follows an inquiry where Disability Rights UK provided written evidence and testified before the committee.
The inquiry found that cuts to social security budgets over the last decade are causing widespread poverty and hardship. Universal Credit needs urgent investment just to catch up and provide claimants with adequate income. The temporary increase in the standard allowance in response to the Covid-19 pandemic shows that the previous level of awards was too low. Other conclusions include that the Government is using Universal Credit to recover debt, mostly £6 billion of historic tax credit debt. Deductions of up to 30% of the standard allowance, and in some cases more, can be taken from claimants. This has left many households with less money than they are entitled, often at no fault of their own.
The five-week wait for the first Universal Credit payment is the main cause of insecurity. This wait entrenches debt, increases extreme poverty and harms vulnerable groups disproportionately. The Government should introduce a non-repayable two-week grant to all claimants. The report is also critical of the very punitive nature of the Universal Credit sanction regime, which does not help people into work but is the cause of significant financial insecurity and needless stress.
The full report can be downloaded as a PDF, or read online.
Recession fuels employment discrimination against disabled people
Citizens Advice have seen a huge increase in demand for advice from people facing redundancy from their job, according to their latest report. They report that 1 in 6 working people (17%) face losing their job, but that rises to just over 1 in 4 disabled people (27%), and more than a third of disabled people who report being severely limited in daily activities (37%). Likewise, almost half (48%) of people who are clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 report facing redundancy. The end of support for people shielding means many will be forced to “choose between their life and their livelihood“, and risk losing their job if it cannot be done from home and they do not feel safe at work or getting to work.
Fazilet Hadi, DR UK Head of Policy said “Employers need to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people under the Equality Act when they are making changes to their workforce. It can be hard for disabled people to find new jobs and employers should do everything possible to support disabled people to retain employment. Government needs to take early action to ensure that disabled people are supported to gain and retain employment.”
New research by the Social Metric Commission also found that those the furthest below the poverty line were the most likely to experience a loss of earnings due to COVID-19. This includes the finding that disabled people are 4 percentage points more likely than non-disabled people to have experienced a negative labour change (reduced hours, earning, furlough or job loss).
The full report from the Social Metric Commission is available on their website.
Government rejects call to increase ESA
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey has rejected the call from the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) to award Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants the same £20 week increase of those receiving Universal Credit.
The SSAC says that it was of the “of the strong view that it is increasingly untenable for this group of claimants to be excluded and to continue to have a lower level of income than those in receipt of Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit”.
The Secretary of State’s response included confirming that “DWP has no plans to increase ESA, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Income Support. These benefits were increased by 1.7% in April 2020 following the government’s announcement to end the benefit freeze. It has always been the case that claimants on legacy benefits can make a claim for Universal Credit (UC) if they believe that they will be better off”. She also stated that “Prospective claimants are signposted to independent benefits calculators on GOV.UK. Neither DWP nor HMRC can advise individual claimants whether they would be better off moving to UC or remaining on legacy benefits.”
DR UK’s Welfare Benefits and Policy Adviser Ken Butler said
“This response by the Secretary of State is unacceptable. While ESA, JSA and income support were increased by 1.7%, Universal Credit was also subject to a similar increase. What the Secretary of State fails to mention is the four-year benefit increase freeze that preceded this. Or that since April 2017, the £30 per week limited capability for work addition was no longer payable to new claimants of ESA. In addition, since January 2019 those who receive the severe disability premium have been barred from even claiming Universal Credit. It seems even those who may be eligible to claim Universal Credit cannot seek advice about this from the DWP itself. Many disabled people cannot access or use the internet and since lockdown access to advice agencies has become much more difficult. Both the DWP and HMRC should have a legal duty to advise people of their potential benefit entitlements. By restricting the £20 week increase only to Universal Credit, the Government continues to discriminate against the millions of disabled people on other benefits.”
Read more about the Secretary of State’s response and DR UK’s views on this issue.
Roundup of recent DWP announcements on Coronavirus
Individuals who are clinically extremely vulnerable will no longer be required to shield from 1 August. This means those who are unable to work from home but can work on site should do so, providing the workplace is COVID-safe. Employers are encouraged to help their employees to transition back to work safely and support them to follow strict social distancing in the workplace.
Individuals will no longer be eligible for SSP on the basis of being clinically extremely vulnerable. If shielding guidance is reintroduced, either in the case of local lockdowns or nationally, and individuals receive a notification advising them to shield, they will be eligible to receive SSP again if they meet all eligibility criteria.
There have been changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) from 1 August 2020. The scheme will no longer fund employers’ National Insurance (NI) and pensions contributions. Employers will have to make these payments from their own resources for all employees, whether furloughed or not. Further information can be found on GOV.UK. HMRC has also published guidance for anyone who has claimed too much or not enough from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
DR UK has a detailed coronavirus page with information on a range of topics including human rights, benefits, housing, shopping, medical and NHS services, social care and employment. Please visit www.disabilityrightsuk.org/coronavirus.
Disability Rights UK contribute to ‘Advising Londoners’ report
The Advice Services Alliance, the umbrella body for advice services across the UK, has recently published the ‘Advising Londoners’ report. The report identified what was suspected already in the capital (and across the UK) – that the provision of social welfare advice is insufficient to meet the needs of those who need it. The research that supported the report was carried out pre coronavirus pandemic – and will be even more resonant now.
Read more about the report, and DR UK’s role in it, on our website.