Disability Rights UK Newsletter, 14 May

Queen’s Speech fails to deliver on social care, democracy, building and employment

The Queen’s Speech, effectively the Government’s current ‘to do’ list, has failed to deliver on Boris Johnson’s pledge to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all” which he made when he became Prime Minister in July 2019.

Only a passing mention was made of plans to address the social care system. The Prime Minister said that proposals will be brought forward “later in the year”.

A health bill will be implementing planned changes to the structure of NHS England for “a more integrated and  efficient health and care system”.

The Elections Integrity Bill will require voters to show photographic proof of identity when voting in elections. The move has been criticised by MPs from all parties with Tory grandee David Davis claiming it is an “illiberal solution for a non-existent problem”. Just six instances of voter fraud were identified in the last general election.

DR UK’s Fazilet Hadi said: “This is another hurdle in the democratic process for many Disabled people who will struggle to obtain, remember or produce such ID. If you can’t afford foreign travel or a car, you won’t have passports and driving licences, the main forms of photo ID. It’s effectively a way of excluding those already most marginalised in society from the democratic process. The Government has already removed centralised funding to support Disabled candidates from standing for election. Removing ease of voting for Disabled and poorer citizens is yet another barrier put up against equal participation.”

A planning bill is also being introduced to make it easier to build housing and hospitals. Fazilet Hadi said: “The Government has yet to fully grasp why much stronger M-Regs – the rules which say how accessible properties must be – are needed to create truly lifelong housing which takes into account that Disabled people need practical accessibility, not tickbox accessibility. New-build, affordable modern housing is often small, doesn’t allow for manoeuvrability of wheelchairs and scooters inside, bathrooms are not fit for purpose, and houses built with such adaptations in place from scratch save Councils money down the line, and ensure that all households can accommodate Disabled family members, friends and visitors. A fifth of the UK’s population is Disabled. DR UK, as part of the HoME coalition, is calling for all new builds to be built to much higher accessibility standards. Cutting red tape to allow a rush of new builds which can’t be accessed by 14 million people is ridiculous.”

The lack of an employment bill has been criticised for missing an opportunity to change laws which currently only allow staff to request flexible working, not have a right to flexible working. Fazilet Hadi said: “With lockdown proving to employers once and for all that flexible working benefits both workers and employers, the lack of employment bill keeps Disabled people’s right to work in ways that works for them harder to make a reality. Despite the Equality Act’s insistence that firms must make reasonable adjustments for Disabled people, many still face barriers, including being rejected at interview, on the record, for a lack of skills, but in practice, often for more discriminatory reasons. The lack of employment bill also misses the opportunity to bring into law the need for Disability pay gap monitoring.”

The Online Harms Bill could result in social media platforms which fail to protect people from bullying being down. In an article in the Daily Telegraph, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said social media firms have “no excuses” and “must face the consequences” if they fail to remove harmful content, and could face fines of up to £13 billion. Fazilet Hadi said: “This Bill primarily has children in mind, but we are aware of vast amounts of disability discrimination and trolling of Disabled people which takes place online. These are strong words from Government. Time will tell if this is rhetoric or whether we will see results.”

Call for Inquiry after 80 Disabled benefit claimants die after DWP stressors

Cases where Disabled people claiming benefits died or came to serious harm have led to more than 150 government reviews since 2012, a BBC investigation has found.

Internal reviews are held by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) when it is alleged its actions had a negative impact, or when it is named at an inquest.

The BBC investigation also reveals that 82 claimants to have died after some alleged DWP activity such as termination of benefits.

It says that mental health vulnerabilities were a contributing factor in 35 of those people’s deaths.

Three families of Disabled people who have died – Phillipa Day, Errol Graham and Jodey Whiting – are hoping to take the DWP to court in separate cases within weeks.

Michael Buchanan BBC social affairs correspondent said: “It’s been 11 years since the government was first made aware there was a problem with the tests it used to assess benefit claims after a coroner wrote to the DWP following the suicide of a man. During all that time, the government has simply marked its own homework, doing internal reviews.”

Ken Butler, DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser DR UK, said Disabled people had their benefits cut and suffered “fear and anxiety” due to “poor and inaccurate medical assessments” carried out on behalf of the DWP by the private contractors Capita, the Independent Assessment Services (formerly called Atos) and Maximus.

DR UK is backing calls for an independent Inquiry into the deaths.

Read more on the Disability Rights UK website.

Philippa Day death: family launches legal challenge against DWP

The family of Philippa Day, who had a personality disorder and who died from a deliberate overdose after her benefits were wrongly cut off, is to seek compensation from the Government.

An inquest concluded in January 2021 that authorities made 28 errors in managing her case and that her experience with the system was a “stressor” in her decision to take the overdose.

The Assistant Coroner issued a so-called Prevention of Future Death (PFD) report to the DWP and private contractor Capita, requiring them to explain what action they might take to improve.

That was the fourth PFD sent to the DWP by coroners since 2013.

Ms Day’s family says that the handling of the case by the DWP and Capita, the private firm to carries out some benefits assessments, was negligent and breached Day’s human rights.

The DWP and Capita have three months to respond and if a settlement cannot be reached, the family is expected to sue for compensation in the high court.

Imogen Day, Philippa’s sister, said the benefits system had made her sister feel “inhuman” and powerless during the last few months of her life:“It was like watching a car crash in slow motion … we helped her emotionally, financially and practically and we could see the tragedy in front of us but couldn’t do anything more to stop it.”

The DWP faces two other court challenges over its handling of the benefit system.

Read more on the Disability Rights UK website.

DR UK: PEEPs must be non-negotiable outcome of post-Grenfell consultation

After almost two months of delay, the Government has responded to DR UK’s calls about a national lack of legally enforceable Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) for Disabled people living in tower blocks by inviting us to participate in a consultation.

After the first phase of the Grenfell Inquiry, the Government committed to greater safety measures but has thus far been dragging its feet. 72 people died, nearly half of whom were Disabled people and children and 85% of whom were from non-white backgrounds.

The correspondence we received from the Home Office said: “The Fire Safety Bill… is a necessary first step to ensure we have a firm foundation to bring forward legislation necessary to implement a number of the Inquiry’s recommendations calling on new duties on building owners and managers for information sharing on cladding and inspection of fire doors.

“The Government’s commitment to implementing the Grenfell Inquiry’s recommendations remains undimmed. It is important that we get this right and ensure the voice of residents and those likely to be affected by the proposals are heard. That is why we have decided to undertake a new consultation this spring to seek additional views on the complex issue of personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs).”

DR UK’s Fazilet Hadi said: “Phase One of the Grenfell Inquiry, which reported in October 2019, proposed the following recommendations:

  • That the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to draw up and keep under regular review evacuation plans, copies of which are to be provided in electronic and paper form to their local fire and rescue service and placed in an information box on the premises;
  • That the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to prepare personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) for all residents whose ability to self-evacuate may be compromised (such as persons with reduced mobility or cognition);
  • That the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to include up-to-date information about persons with reduced mobility and their associated PEEPs in the premises information box.

“The Fire Safety Bill unfortunately addresses none of these issues. We wrote to Government before the Bill received Royal Assent at the end of April, to insist that these points were included.

“We are well aware that industry is lobbying to ensure that government thinks PEEPs are complex and impractical. The creation and enforcement of PEEPs must be non-negotiable. The cogs of change are moving far too slowly on this, as the recent fire at New Providence Wharf in Poplar shows.

“We implore the Government to listen to Disability groups, to those who survived, and those who lost loved ones in the Grenfell fire, and those who had to use smoke-filled stairwells in absolute life-wrecking terror from Poplar, including older people and children on higher floors. We must ensure that we never again have to hear of people being effectively put to death with ‘stay put’ policies borne of zero advance safety planning.”

Grenfell Inquiry hears of ‘years of buck passing’ leading up to fire

Evidence from the Tenants Management Organisation (TMO) to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry continues to highlight a catalogue of errors and buck passing in the years and months leading to the fire in June 2017, where 72 people lost their lives. 41% of Disabled people in the Tower died in the fire and 85% of all deaths were people from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Flat front doors with no self-closing mechanisms, lack of ventilation in the main stairway and gas pipes laid through the main stairway and into flats, were all shared in evidence, as was the inaction to put things right.

Information on the needs of Disabled tenants was on two different IT systems and at no point were Disabled residents advised that they were entitled to Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs). It was acknowledged in a TMO policy document that provisions for PEEPs were ad hoc and that residents could self-nominate to have one. However, it was also acknowledged that at no time were residents informed that they could request a PEEP.

There was a total failure to consider and plan for the possibility of evacuation in the event of fire, with no evacuation plan for the high-rise block and no individual plans for Disabled residents unable to self-evacuate.

DR UK Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “Despite the Fire Safety Order 2005 clearly saying that there must be regular fire risk assessments and action taken as a result, the level of inadequate assessment and failure to take even the most basic of actions is breath-taking

“The TMO had detailed information on the needs of Disabled residents, yet failed to take any responsibility for what could happen to Disabled people in the event of fire, using as their justification that the London Fire Brigade would be responsible should any evacuation be required”

“The Government needs to act quickly to place clear legal duties on building owners and managing agents to develop PEEPs for Disabled residents unable to self-evacuate, as recommended by the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Current guidance to local authorities saying that PEEPs are impractical needs to be urgently withdrawn.”

Get Yourself Active contributes to new report from the National Outdoors for All Working Group

On 11 May 2021 the National Outdoors for All Working Group (NOfAWG) released a report highlighting the inequalities that certain communities face when accessing parks and natural spaces near to where they live. Developed by a group of 23 charities and organisations – including Disability Rights UK, the ‘Out of Bounds: Equity in Access to Urban Nature’ report has found that, while people from all walks of life value and see the importance of regular access to nature, not all places and spaces are equal in what they can offer local communities. The purpose of the report is to examine the evidence on which groups use parks and greenspaces the most, and highlight the barriers that prevent people living in deprived areas, the elderly, Disabled people, and people from black and minority ethnic communities from accessing their local outdoor provision.

In addition to contributing to the report, the Get Yourself Active team collated some personal stories and case studies of where Disabled people and people with long-term health conditions have encountered barriers to accessing their local green spaces and have successfully challenged, or worked with organisations to overcome them. See the Get Yourself Active “Stories” page for more details and to read the case study stories; a new story will be released to the website each week.

King’s Fund report paints bleak picture of social care

The King’s Fund’s annual assessment of the state of the social care sector paints an overall picture is of deep decline, with many key indicators continuing to move in the wrong direction.

Between 2015/16 and 2019/20, 120,000 more people requested social care support but around 14,000 fewer people received either long- or short-term support.*

Report author Simon Bottery said: “Following a decade of neglect, there is a continuing gulf between what people need and what they receive.

“The latest data paints a bleak picture with few causes for optimism. Even where measures have improved, there are often caveats. Local authority spending on social care has finally returned to the levels of 2010/11 but not if you take population growth into account; spending per person has fallen. Care worker pay has improved but is not rising as fast as other sectors so vacancies remain high.

“Demand is likely to go on increasing but local authorities do not have the money to meet it. If we are to avoid reporting on a further bleak round of indicators in future years, we urgently need the long-term, wide-ranging reform for adult social care that the Prime Minister promised after the general election.”

The report highlights six key actions that will be needed to improve and reform social care in the years ahead:

  1. More money is needed to fund the current system, with an estimated £1.9 billion extra needed simply to meet demand for adult social care by 2023/24. Funding is also needed to meet unmet need, improve the quality of services and cover the additional costs of Covid-19.
  2. Eligibility should be widened so more people are entitled to support.
  3. Workforce reform is essential to deliver better pay, training and development for staff.
  4. People need more control over the services they use, with government action needed to increase the number and quality of direct payments and support other ways of promoting choice and control.
  5. Prevention should take centre stage, with more investment in services such as reablement.
  6. Carers have taken on an even greater burden during the pandemic and need more support.

Read the report on the King’s Fund website.

Young Disabled people’s research project

Scope and University of Sheffield’s iHuman research team have co-produced a research model to explore and identify connections and priorities in Disabled young people’s lives. ‘Making connections: for Disabled young people to live their lives’ is a new way of understanding what resources and relationships Disabled young people need to live their lives in ways that meet their hopes and aspirations. Top priorities identified were:

  • Promote inclusive environments to help give Disabled young people a sense of belonging, enhance their mental health and well-being, and raise aspirations around employment and education
  • Enhance digital lives by making digital content inclusive and accessible
  • Develop inclusive technology to promote Disabled young people’s freedom, independence and mobility.

You can find out more about the research and download a plain English summary report on the Scope website.

More restrictions eased for care homes

Care home residents will be allowed five named visitors, up from two, from Monday 17 May, as the roadmap continues to open up social living in the UK.

Self-isolation will no longer be required following visits to GPs, dentists and day centres and visits will only pause for a minimum of 14 days rather than 28 days following an outbreak.

A maximum of two of five named visitors will be allowed at any one time or on any given day.

Care Minister Helen Whately said: “I have heard first-hand from those living and working in care homes how difficult the restrictions have been.

“The new guidance allows more family and friends to reunite and reduces the need to self-isolate, which I know many have found incredibly challenging.  As we turn the tide on this cruel virus I want to make visiting as normal as possible by the summer, and this is an important step on that path.”

Systemic problem with the Healthcare Professional PIP and ESA assessment process, suggests President of Appeal Tribunals (Northern Ireland)

In many PIP and ESA appeals the medical notes and records viewed by the Tribunal causes it to alter the DWP’s decisions and suggests a systemic problem with the Healthcare Professional (HCP) PIP and ESA assessment process, the President of Appeal Tribunals (Northern Ireland) reports.

In his newly published Report on Standards of Decision Making by the Department 2017/2018, the President highlights “overall levels of incorrectness” in DWP initial decision making and makes three major points.

The number of ESA and DLA (and now PIP) decisions being overturned as a result of the provision of further medical evidence; possible continuing problems with the HCP assessment process; and the provision of relevant and focused extracts from GP notes and records remains fundamentally important for the proper determination of DLA and PIP appeals.

Read more on the Disability Rights UK website.