Disability Rights UK Newsletter

Lockdown easing plans put CEV people back in jeopardy

Psychology experts, health professionals and Disabled People’s Organisations are expressing grave concerns about the Prime Minister’s announcement that the majority of remaining COVID-19 regulations are set to end in England on 19 July.

The wearing of face coverings will no longer be legally required, distancing rules will be removed, and the rule of six inside private homes will also go. Work from home guidance will be revoked and limits on the number of people allowed at sporting events and in entertainment venues will be abolished.

Boris Johnson said his aim is to: “move from a universal government diktat to relying on people’s personal responsibility”, with the only remaining regulation being the requirement to isolate after testing positive for Covid-19, plus restrictions on international travel and mandatory social distancing at airports and other ports.

DR UK’s CEO Kamran Mallick said: “On 5 July last year, in full lockdown, there were 517 new cases of Covid and 19 deaths. On 5 July this year, there were 27,334 cases of Covid and nine deaths.

“Only two-thirds of over 18s have been fully vaccinated. Nearly 18 million adults in this country have yet to be vaccinated. 14 million under 18s cannot yet be vaccinated. That’s 32 million people, just under half the population, not yet fully vaccinated.

“The Prime Minister seems to have forgotten that many people do not recover as well as he did from Covid, with many going on to develop Long Covid, with ongoing fit-to-drop exhaustion, chronic pain, and brain fog.

“Plans to remove the compulsory behaviours which keep the public safe effectively reframes the disease as a post-vaccine slight sniffle. This is unequivocally not the case. Disabled people, and people with compromised immune systems, those formerly known as Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) people, will be faced with the choice of shielding under their own determination with no support, or facing increased risk of infection by going out in wider society.

“The CEV list had around four million people on it. Add in people in vaccination group six and the number of people vulnerable to the virus, even with vaccines, is swollen by millions more.

“The Government has once again dismissed the lives and voices of millions of Disabled people with plans for the reckless removing of safety measures. We have learnt that for the vast majority of people, it is no hardship to distance in public spaces, and to wear a mask, a practice which in many Asian countries is standard during non-pandemic times.

“These planned moves feel very much as though they have been made with no thought for those who stand to lose the most if they contract a virus which is still very much present in our midst.”

Professor Stephen Reicher, who sits on the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B) which advises government, warned that the announcement risks causing “huge damage primarily to young people because they’re the ones that aren’t vaccinated”.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, British Medical Association council chair said the proposals were “incredibly concerning”, and Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer said that the lifting of all restrictions at once is “reckless”.

School bubbles to be popped, raising fears for Disabled children

Covid rules that require whole classes in England to isolate are to be dropped, raising questions about the safety of clinically vulnerable pupils, especially in mainstream schools.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the ‘bubble’ system which saw whole groups of children needing to isolate if a positive case was found in a class will finish at the end of this school term.

Teaching unions are calling for a continuation of safety measures in the face of rising cases, and the Health Secretary, Sajid Javid warned that once lockdown measures end, the country could see cases in the 100,000s per day.

Face coverings, social distancing and staggered start and finish times will also be dropped from the start of the autumn term.

DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “There is a balancing act right now between ensuring that pupils are not disadvantaged with too much time off school, and recognising that there is still a substantial population of Disabled children who are clinically vulnerable, who go to school, and need protecting.

“Schools are well known for being petri dishes when it comes to this disease. There are 299,000 children with a learning disability in the UK, and well over a million with special educational needs and disability. People with learning disabilities have been at greatly increased risk of Covid throughout the pandemic. A one size fits all ruling on bubbles does not mitigate this significant risk.

“We are seeking urgent clarification from the Education Minister about how schools with pupils known to be clinically extremely vulnerable will be able to protect these children, while ensuring they are not academically disadvantaged.”

Scrapping £20 week UC uplift slams the door in the face of six million

The Minister for Work and Pensions Thérèse Coffey has announced that the “temporary” £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit (UC) – that has been in place since April 2020 – will come to end from October this year.

She told the MPs that she would be writing to all six million UC claimants before the planned withdrawal, warning them that they would see what she euphemistically termed an “adjustment in their payments”.

Later, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, when told that the ending the uplift would leave jobless benefits at the lowest level in real terms for 30 years and push 500,000 people below the poverty line, said: “I think that the answer to that is to get people into work.”

A call to keep the £20 week UC uplift had attracted widespread cross-party support, including from six previous former Conservative Secretaries of State for Work and Pensions, who said that while “work remains the best way out of poverty for those who can work… we want to make sure that those who cannot work are supported with dignity.”

Right-wing think tank, the Centre for Social Justice has also said that the costs of removing the increase would outweigh any savings.

However, while the cut will force thousands of UC claimants into poverty and must be resisted, it should not be forgotten that ESA and other legacy benefits have remained fixed at the same level throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.

There have been continuous calls throughout the pandemic by a widespread number of groups and organisations for not just the £20 week UC uplift to be made permanent but for it to be extended to all those receiving legacy benefits.

DR UK has previously reported on and supported numerous such calls from groups including the: Work and Pensions Committee, the APPG of MPs on PovertyAPPG of MPs on HealthJoseph Rowntree TrustTrussell TrustFabian Societya coalition of over 60 organisations and bishopsKey health and care bodies, and the Disability Benefits Consortium.

The DBC report highlighted that as of May 2020 there were over two million people claiming legacy benefits, the majority of whom are Disabled people on ESA.

In addition, heading into the pandemic, Disabled people were already more likely to be facing financial difficulty, with nearly half of Disabled people in poverty.

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said: “The scrapping of the £20 week uplift is wrong but will not just leave 500,000 UC claimants below the poverty line.

“By restricting the uplift only to UC the Government has been discriminating against the millions of disabled people on other legacy benefits. Even before the Covid-19 crisis, benefit cuts and austerity hit disabled people the hardest.

“By withdrawing the uplift the Government is in effect slamming the door in the face of two million Disabled people who have had hope of a similar uplift dashed.

“Many disabled people, including those who get the severe disability premium are not better off on UC so will not have been better off claiming it during the pandemic.

“The only official justification given for removing the uplift is that people can now “get in to work”.

“This completely forgets the longstanding Disability employment gap between disabled and non-disabled workers of 28 per cent.

“Disabled people should not have to live in poverty until this gap is reduced.

“Especially as a recent Fabian Society report recently highlighted a groundswell of support for increasing benefit payments made to Disabled people.

“DR UK asks all MPs to demand a Parliamentary vote on ending the £20 week uplift and to vote to keep and extend it to those on legacy benefits.”

DR UK CEO Kamran Mallick said: “The calls for the uplift to stay are now universal and unequivocal. When senior figures on both the political right and left are as one voice on this issue, it is time for the few key decision makers in the middle to do the right thing and end the uncertainty for those living on Universal Credit. The time is now to commit to extending the uplift.”

For more information see High Court challenge to exclusion of nearly two million Disabled people from £20 week benefit uplift.

Discriminatory Abortion Act needs urgent change

Disability Rights UK strongly supports the important legal case being taken by Maire Brady, her son Aidan and Heidi Carter (nee Crowter) against the discriminatory provisions of the Abortion Act.

The Act sets a time limit for abortions of 24 weeks and then says that this can be overridden if there is a severe disability. This provision is completely unacceptable and denies the value of the lives of Disabled people.  The rules on abortion should apply equally to all.

Not only is the law discriminatory and in contravention of the UN CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) but Maire speaks powerfully about how she was urged by doctors to have a termination after the 24 week limit, once it was discovered that her child would have Down’s Syndrome.

Fazilet Hadi, Head of Policy at Disability Rights UK  said: “The law is discriminatory and being interpreted in discriminatory ways. This important legal case is challenging a fundamental discrimination, the lack of value placed on our lives as Disabled people.

“We saw how this failure to value our lives played out during the COVID pandemic, with Disabled people  being de-prioritised, our experiences denied and our voices dismissed.

DR UK would ask the Government to bring forward changes to the Abortion Act as a matter of urgency.”

A judgment will be announced in due course.

DWP’s PIP assessment “torture” helped cause my son’s suicide, says Disabled mum

A young Disabled man took his own life, just weeks after the DWP slashed his benefits, despite being warned he was severely depressed, malnourished, could not face leaving his flat, and had made several suicide attempts, the Disability News Service (DNS) reports.

In a January 2019 letter, the DWP were told by his parents that Ker Featherstone had barely left his flat in two years, that he would often pass out when he stood up because of malnutrition, and even that his teeth had started to crumble.

It was also told that his anxiety and depression were so severe that he could not cope with visits from his own brothers and sisters, and that he had not washed in nearly 18 months.

Despite this, and the evidence from his previous benefit assessments, the DWP forced Ker to undergo a PIP face-to-face assessment in April 2019, carried out by a healthcare professional from outsourcing company Atos.

The subsequent assessor’s report, which the family have never seen, led to DWP cutting his PIP payments by about £90 a week.

The decision to reduce his daily living PIP payment from enhanced to standard, and to remove his mobility payment completely – even though he had been found eligible to be in the support group for out-of-work disability benefits – had left him “distraught”, said his mother.

Ker agreed to ask DWP to carry out a mandatory reconsideration of its decision, but when he was told that he might have to appeal the decision to a tribunal, he said: “Mum, I can’t do it. I can’t face that.”

Just two weeks after the PIP decision, his parents discovered that Ker had been self-harming and had large, severely infected ulcers on his arms, chest and back.

With his mental health continuing to deteriorate, he agreed to be admitted voluntarily to a mental health ward at Salford Royal Hospital.

Nine days later, he was discharged and returned home. He took his own life the next day, on 29 June 2019. He was 21 years old.

His Disabled mother Helen wrote to the DWP saying:

“How many more lives have to end before this government stops the torture of vulnerable individuals, punishing them for being unwell? I have no doubt whatsoever that Ker’s mental health and wellbeing suffered as a direct result of that visit from the healthcare assessor and the subsequent DWP decision. I have no doubt that this was a contributory factor in my son’s death.”

A DWP Complaints Resolution Manager replied and said “it is not open to me to comment on or interfere with decisions or the evidence that is used to make them.”

Just a few days later, DWP reversed its decision to cut Ker’s PIP payments, with an adviser telling his mother: “If we had known and realised how vulnerable he was, we would have been more careful.”

In January 2020, Helen’s statement to the inquest into her son’s death spoke of the impact of DWP’s actions on her son, but the coroner made no comment about those concerns, before ruling that Ker had taken his own life.

Helen said this week that she believed there was a “systemic” problem within DWP – despite DWP’s claims to the contrary in the High Court – and that the Department and its assessment system needed dramatic reform. Read more here.

Top ten accessible beaches revealed

Nearly all of the top ten most accessible beaches are in just three counties, according to new research.

Keep Moving Care analysed 30 top-rated UK beaches against 10 criteria points – whether the beaches had received a Blue Flag award; existence of ramps, slopes, or slipways; step-free access to beach; step-free access to water; disabled toilet facilities; number of disabled toilets; disabled parking; beach accessible wheelchair hire; availability of beach accessible wheelchairs for hire; and Mobi-mat hire – to determine the best accessible beaches in the UK. Dorset, Cornwall and West Sussex beaches all appeared in the top ten, with Norfolk, Essex and North Yorkshire beaches  appearing in the top twenty.

Kent, which has one of the longest coastlines in the country, didn’t make the list at all.

DR UK’s Fazilet Hadi said: “Everyone deserves access to sun, sea and sand. While we can’t guarantee the sun in this country, there is no reason why councils should not be making more efforts to make beaches truly accessible for Disabled people under their Equality Act obligations.”

Channel 4 unveils Tokyo Paralympics line up

Almost three quarters of the 2021 Paralympic presenting team identify as Disabled, Channel 4 has announced – the largest number of Disabled presenters ever seen on UK TV.

Presenters lined up include wheelchair basketball player Ade Adepitan, who will host the highlights show Today in Tokyo from Japan, as well as TV presenter Sophie Morgan, former Royal Marines commando and Strictly Come Dancing star JJ Chalmers, and former rugby union player Ed Jackson. Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, Steve Brown, Liam Malone, Danny Crates and Liz Johnson will join in with commentary.

Adam Hills, Alex Brooker and Josh Widdicombe will present The Last Leg every day from London and comedian Rosie Jones will join them from Tokyo.

The Channel has scheduled over 300 hours of TV coverage from Tokyo, Leeds and London; More 4 will become a dedicated channel for team sports throughout the Paralympics, and16 live streams will be available on its Paralympics microsite.

Channel 4 and More 4 will run live subtitles, and the opening ceremony will have live signing and an enhanced open audio-description/commentary simulcast on 4Seven. Most of the content on the Paralympics microsite will also have subtitles.

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games runs from 24 August to 5 September.

Northern Ireland Ombudsman finds ‘systemic maladministration’ in further evidence use when assessing PIP

The Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman Margaret Kelly has recommended significant changes in how further evidence is used in assessing and awarding entitlement to PIP.

The recommendations came following publication of a very detailed investigation report which found that repeated opportunities were missed to make the right payment as early as possible in the process.

The report highlights that a failure by both the Department for Communities and Capita to seek and use further evidence, including that from medical professionals, meant claimants had to continually challenge the decision, often all the way to appeal, before the correct decision was made.

The repeated nature of these failures, the Ombudsman concludes, constitute “systemic maladministration”. Read more here.

Northern Ireland to scrap the “six months rule” for terminally ill benefit claimants

“Special rules”’ apply to benefits such as PIP, DLA, AA, ESA and Universal Credit.

Terminally ill people can apply for a claim under “special rules” if their doctors say that they can reasonably expected to die within six months.

However, Northern Ireland Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has today outlined plans to extend this terminal illness provision.

Announcing the reform to the Northern Ireland Assembly the Minister said: “My priority is to reform the current rules to improve the support we provide to terminally ill people. I will extend the current six months criterion to twelve months and will bring forward legislation within this current Assembly mandate to do this. The changes I will make will apply to all of the five social security benefits to which the special rules apply.” Read more here.

Sport England strengthens Code for Sports Governance

Last Friday, Sport England announced changes to the Code for Sports Governance. The code has been modified to ensure that any bodies receiving substantial public funding from either Sport England or UK Sport have a detailed and ambitious diversity and inclusion plan.

The Code, which was launched in 2016 has been applied to over 4,000 organisations that receive government or National Lottery funding from either organisation. It requires that organisations set plans and publish them publicly to encourage transparency about where organisations are making progress and where they are falling behind.

Following a detailed review process, the original code has been updated to put further emphasis on pushing organisations to have greater ambitions regarding diversity and inclusion. The new provision for diversity and inclusion action plans means that each partner will be required to agree to a diversity and inclusion action plan (DIAP) with Sport England and UK Sport. The aim is to ensure that all plans are both ambitious and robust and allow for clear road-mapping of how partners will achieve their aims.

These plans will be published annually for greater transparency, and organisations will be supported to introduce relevant benchmarks and metrics to keep track of progress. Organisations are expected to publish their first DIAPs by the end of Summer 2022 – and meaningful progress must be made within two years.

Barry Horne, Chief Executive at Activity Alliance had this to say on the update: “Activity Alliance welcomes the strong commitment to diversity and the proactive inclusion of Disabled people in all aspects of sports governance and delivery.”

For more information on the changes to code the code, including updated provision for Welfare and Safety in sport, Good governance standards, and stakeholder impact, read the announcement here.