Disability Rights UK Newsletter – 7 May

Met Police officer fired after assaulting black child with learning disabilities

A 17 year-old who was an inpatient at a mental health unit was repeatedly struck by a Metropolitan (Met) police officer and had CS spray used on her after she became distressed after becoming separated from an escorted group on a day out.

PC Benjamin Kemp tried to handcuff her, then used CS spray in close range to her face and hit her 34 times with his baton.

The BBC reports the family’s solicitors saying it was a “deeply disturbing case where a black child with learning disabilities was brutalised”. The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has said that there is no evidence that race was a factor.

The girl’s family released a statement saying: “Rather than helping her as he should have done, he violently assaulted her, using up to 34 baton strikes and CS spray.”

A disciplinary panel heard that a member of the public had called the police after seeing the girl and being concerned. The girl also flagged down a police car, and body-cam footage shows her telling its occupants she had mental health disabilities. She agreed to get into the car, but then got out.

Chief Superintendent Richard Tucker said the force used was “utterly inappropriate”.

IOPC Regional Director Sal Naseem described the incident as “shocking”. He said: “Immediately resorting to use of force without considering other de-escalation tactics, and particularly where the person involved has mental health issues, is of concern…PC Kemp’s immediate reaction when the girl exited the police car was to try and handcuff her, even though he didn’t have her under his control…The poor communication by this officer got the incident off to a bad start and, once he started to use the baton, he was unable to change tack.”

DR UK’s Kamran Mallick said: “That a Disabled child who has sought help and even clearly disclosed their disability to a trusted authority figure can be abused in this way is truly shocking. It must have been an utterly terrifying experience for her and will highly likely cause ongoing trauma.

“It is evident that the Met’s diversity and equality training is sorely lacking if an officer’s instinct is to behave in this way towards a Disabled person in distress. We are urgently seeking clarification from the Met about the nature and duration of its training with regards to how it approaches and deals with Disabled people, and from the Minister for Crime and Policing about the training provided to other UK police forces.”

PC Kemp has been dismissed from the Met without notice and without prosecution.

High Court challenge to benefit uplift exclusion for Disabled people

The High Court is to decide whether it was lawful of the Government not to give nearly two million people on disability benefits the same £1,040 a year increase that it has given Universal Credit claimants.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the Government announced a £20 per week increase to the standard allowance of Universal Credit, but this vital increase to support was not extended to those on legacy benefits, the majority of whom are Disabled people.

Two ESA claimants have now challenged this difference in treatment by way of an application to the High Court for judicial review.

They argue that is it discriminatory and unjustified. The High Court has agreed it is arguably unlawful and will decide the case later this year. The claimants have asked for the trial to be heard before the end of July 2021.

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said: “By restricting the £20 per week increase only to Universal Credit the Government has discriminated against the millions of Disabled people on other benefits. The judicial review action is great news and if successful will hopefully lead the way for the £20 uplift to be awarded and backdated to all legacy benefit claimants.” Read more here.

School academisation threat to Disabled children

Education Minister Gavin Williamson has announced he wants to see an ‘end to pick and mix’ and see more schools become academies and part of Multi-Academy Trusts.

The move is of concern to parents of Disabled children given the statistics on the number of children ‘off-rolled’ (where children leave schools without being excluded) and excluded from academies compared to schools under Local Authority control.

DR UK’s Fazilet Hadi said: “Children deemed difficult, or those less likely to obtain high academic grades, are often in need of extra support due to hidden, neurological  and behavioural Disabilities such as ADHD and autism spectrum conditions.

“Exclusions happen to the detriment of children’s emotional and educational wellbeing. Rather than focusing on eradicating a ‘pick and mix’ system which gives parents greater choice, the Minister should focus on creating a culture of person-centred inclusive education which embraces diversity and choice. He would do well to remember that schools are there to serve children – all children – regardless of ability, background, or need.”

Care home petition calls for visits to be enshrined in law

A petition calling for a change in UK law to allow visits to care homes in the event of another lockdown has been signed by almost a quarter of a million people.

Over 230,000 people are calling on the government to ensure that care home residents do not end up isolated again as many have been during the past year.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights led by Harriet Harman is proposing laws to  ensure all residents have access to an “essential care giver” as an extension of the paid care team.

From earlier this week, care home residents have no longer been required to isolate for 14 days after visiting friends and family outdoors or going for a walk. Care home residents are allowed two named regular visitors, but this is guidance, not a right enshrined in law.

The Guardian reports that people are still being denied substantial visits to loved ones in care homes. You can sign the petition here.

RAD survey highlights barriers to work for D/deaf people

New research by the Royal Association for Deaf people (RAD) has highlighted the challenges faced by deaf people when securing and progressing in work.

The survey, which polled the experiences of D/deaf people in relation to employment and career progression, was carried out at the end of 2020. Among the issues raised by respondents were a lack of deaf awareness amongst employers, communication issues and barriers to voluntary work.

When asked about careers advice, only a quarter of respondents said they had received this in sign language, whilst of those who received careers advice at school less than half (41%) said the careers advisor thought they could do the job they wanted.

When it came to career progression, the majority (60%) of respondents said they had not been given progression opportunities during their career, with several citing a lack of deaf role models within work as a key barrier.

Significant issues were also raised in relation to workplace accessibility and inclusion, with nearly two-thirds (63%) reporting they had not been given equal opportunities in the workplace and just over half (53%) did not feel supported at work. Added to this, 83% of respondents had been excluded from conversations with colleagues; two-thirds (69%) reported feeling lonely at work, whilst over half (59%) had been left out of social events. Shockingly, a third (34%) had experienced bullying or acts of unkindness at work because they were deaf.

DR UK’s Fazilet Hadi said: “The level of discrimination that this report reveals is truly shocking. That people actively exclude colleagues because they are D/deaf is shameful. This report is a wake up call to careers advisors, employers and colleagues. It is completely unacceptable that D/deaf people are denied opportunities to fulfil their ambitions and contribute fully within the workplace a decade after the Equality Act came into force.”

Train company launches online forum

Avanti West Coast has become the first UK train operator to offer Disabled passengers a dedicated social media forum.

The Accessible Rail Travel with Avanti West Coast facebook group aims to provide a support network to share advice, tips and offer feedback.

DR UK’s Rail Ambassador Stephen Brookes said: “I am in favour of any moves by rail companies to improve access to their services for Disabled passengers, and am pleased that Avanti has made this great step forward to enable Disabled people to have more confidence to travel on their services as lock down restrictions ease.

“I do though remind Avanti and all train companies that there are a great many Disabled people who either are unable through a range of disability or economic reasons to access ‘smart’ technology and we must not create a system which only benefits those who can access this.”

The forum will be managed by Avanti West Coast’s social media team.