Disability Rights UK Newsletter

BBC and Sky find over 100 disabled people held in specialist hospitals for at least 20 years

The BBC and Sky News have discovered that more than 100 people with learning disabilities and autism have been held in specialist hospitals and assessment and treatment units for over 20 years.

The figures came to light as the media organisations successfully overcame a court gagging order to highlight the case of Tony Hickmott, who was sectioned under the Mental Health Act in 2001. He was deemed fit to leave in 2013, but statutory services have been unable to develop a package of care suitable for his needs.

According to the BBC, the anonymity order was lifted by a judge, who described the delays in supporting Mr Hickmott to live in the community ‘egregious’ and ‘glacial’. He was found ‘fit to discharge’ in 2013.

The government launched its Transforming Care programme in 2015 in the wake of the abuse and neglect scandal uncovered by the BBC at Winterbourne View specialist hospital near Bristol. But data suggests the initiative has had minimal impact.

Ministers pledged to reduce the number of patients in such hospital settings by 35% by March 2020, with the aim of people being back in their communities with tailored support packages. But, by March last year, there were only 300 fewer patients detained – a reduction of just 13%.

Kamran Mallick, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK said:

“It’s time for the government, local authorities and NHS organisations to stop making excuses about the difficulties of ‘supporting people with complex needs’. Instead, they need to act now to divert the hundreds of millions of pounds wasted on incarcerating and torturing disabled people in unsuitable facilities and spend it on targeted, personalised housing, care and health services.

“Tony Hickmott’s case is the modern scandal of our times and shames us all. There are over 2000 people in similar circumstances. It’s time they all had a place they can call home.”

ADASS warns of growing social care problems

A new survey from The Association of Directors of Social Services (ADASS) is warning that almost 400,000 disabled and older people are waiting to be assessed, or are due to be reassessed, for social care support.

The survey also showed that over 1.5 million hours of home care had not been delivered between August and October because of staff shortages.

The president of ADASS Stephen Chandler said:

“This survey confirms our worst fears. Red lights are flashing right across our dashboard”.

He added that social care services are failing to meet everyone’s needs and called on the government to address staffing issues by funding a £1,000 bonus for social care workers.

Down Syndrome bill concerns

The government looks set to pass legislation to support people with Down syndrome after the former cabinet minister, Dr Liam Fox, introduced proposals in the House of Commons.

The new bill says it will place a duty on local authorities to assess the needs of people with Down syndrome.

The new proposals have received widespread political endorsement, with health minister Gillian Keegan arguing it would lead to better support for people with Down syndrome.

The legislation is supported by the National Down Syndrome Policy Group and other learning disability organisations, but some campaigners are concerned that the focus on one impairment group (it is estimated that there are around 47,000 people with Down syndrome), may be at the expense of others with learning disabilities, of which there are over a million.

Andrew Lee from People First (Self Advocacy) told the Disability News Service (DNS) that the bill “just singles out a small group of people with learning difficulties…and forgets the rest of us”.

Others point out that the provisions in the bill are already in place for disabled people but need to be better enforced. Disability rights barrister Steve Broach said that the proposed legislation would make little difference, pointing out the government has similar powers under a raft of other legislation, including the Care Act and the Children’s and Families Act.

Select committee criticises Government response to report on the disability employment gap

The Department for Work and Pensions select committee has criticised the government’s response to its recommendations on how to tackle the disability employment gap, calling it ‘lacklustre’.

The committee made a number of recommendations on improving disabled people’s opportunities to work, including a call to reinstate the target of halving the disability employment gap (which is the almost 30 percentage point difference between the employment rate of disabled people and non-disabled people).

Head of policy at Disability Rights UK Fazilet Hadi said:

“The select committee report made a series of pragmatic recommendations that would increase employment opportunities for disabled people. It’s extremely disappointing that the Government response offers little in the way of concrete actions and outcomes.”

Other recommendations of the select committee were: that government should improve the way it collects data on disabled people and employment; require larger employers to publish data on the number of disabled people they employ ;and improve the services offered to unemployed disabled people through JobCentre Plus. It made further recommendations around improving the Access to Work scheme, evaluating the much criticised Disability Confident scheme, and ensuring a statutory right for disabled people to work from home.

Chair of the select committee Stephen Timms MP said that disabled people were dealing with barriers to employment that “nobody who is simply trying to earn a living should have to face”.

He added:

“The failure by Ministers to commit to a more stretching target to reduce the disability employment gap is symptomatic of the Government’s lacklustre approach. A reliance on goals rather than firm targets leaves the option open of moving the goal posts when it comes to efforts to increase the number of disabled people in work.”

Mental health impact of leaseholder cladding scandal

Leaseholders caught up in the cladding scandal following the Grenfell fire disaster are experiencing increasing levels of mental distress, according to a new report from the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence. It says that affected leaseholders are experiencing anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts because of the combination of fears about fires breaking out and the strain of the financial impact of replacing dangerous cladding and building materials.

The report featured in a BBC article which said an estimated half a million people are living in flats with dangerous cladding and building materials. It calls on the government to increase financial support to leaseholders, many of whom are facing bills that run into tens of thousands of pounds.

Disabled leaseholders are at a double disadvantage, as they are likely to have fewer resources than non-disabled people. They are also more likely to have difficulty finding alternative accommodation that is accessible.

Sarah Rennie is the co-founder of Claddag, the Leaseholder Disability Action Group, which is campaigning on behalf of disabled leaseholders. She’s unsurprised by the report’s findings, with many disabled leaseholders talking to her about increasing levels of mental distress.

“We can’t move because we can’t sell our homes, and even if we could, accessible accommodation is in such short supply it’s really hard to find somewhere suitable. We need better financial help to meet building replacement costs, support to find accessible accommodation and funding to ensure disabled people can be evacuated safely in the event of an emergency.”

The UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence report calls for a taskforce to pursue residential developers and manufacturers of cladding materials for compensation.

New report says flexible working could add £55 billion of benefit to the economy

An increase in flexible working could lead to £55 billion of benefit to the economy, according to a new report.

‘Flexonomics: The economic and fiscal logic of flexible working’ says that a new approach from employers on workloads, working patterns and a choice of workplace, including working from home, would lead to a healthier work/life balance.

The report also points out that flexible working increases productivity, improves motivation and opens jobs up to a wider range of applicants.

Fazilet Hadi, Head of Policy at Disability Rights UK said:

“The pandemic has shown that flexible working can be advantageous for workers and employers.

“Flexible working enables thousands more disabled people to take on paid employment, opening the job market to a new pool of talent.”

DR UK has responded to the Government’s consultation on flexible working, making the case for flexible working to be promoted in job advertisements and through the recruitment process.  Disabled people need to be confident they can work flexibly, in advance of starting employment.

All PIP claimants to be offered apply online option

The number of claimants able to be offered the option of completing their PIP claim online is currently around 500 per day. They are sent an email containing the link to its online version of the PIP2 claim form (HTML PIP2).

In an email to its stakeholder organisations, the DWP has announced, that from 30 November 2021, its outsource telephony contractors SERCO will begin ;upskilling’ all New Claims Agents to offer the e-mail service.

Upskilling is set to be completed within a week and by 6 December the email service will be offered to all customers who make a claim in their own right. However, appointees will still not be eligible to access the HTML PIP2 service.

The DWP estimates that around 1,000 claimants per day will take up the claim online offer.

A sample copy of the HTML PIP2 is not yet available.

A sample copy of the paper version of the PIP2 is available here

The initial PIP1 claim form that asks basic information will still be completed over the telephone by ringing the PIP Helpline on 0800 121 4433.

More information about PIP can be found in our PIP Guide.

Civil servant says DWP wants to merge PIP and universal credit

A DWP civil servant has told a disability charity that the Government plans to merge PIP with Universal Credit, although not for at least six years, Disability News Service has reported. The admission from a DWP civil servant – albeit not a senior executive – is the first time that anyone from the Department has explicitly stated that it has plans to scrap PIP and combine it with Universal Credit.

The comments were made during a presentation about Universal Credit given to the disability organisation DASH in Hillingdon, north-west London, earlier this month.

In advance of the meeting, the DWP partnership adviser had been shown the link to a Disability News Service (DNS) article which reported suggestions that ministers were considering creating a new single benefit through merging PIP and Universal Credit.

He appeared to confirm that when he told the meeting that the Department’s vision was for all benefits to be included in the means tested Universal Credit system, including PIP, which is intended to contribute to the impairment-related costs faced by working-age disabled people.

He said DWP was looking at rolling PIP into Universal Credit from 2028 at the earliest, and that the ultimate plan was for there to be just one benefit, Universal Credit.

Read more here

DR UK blogger and reviewer Aurelia Lloyd-Morell has won a national book review competition.

Aurelia, who is 11 and autistic, reviewed the Kathryn Erskine book Mockingbird for the schoolreaders.org summertime book competition.

The book is told from the perspective of an autistic girl whose brother has been killed in an American school shooting. The judges praised Aurelia for her “detailed, insightful and honest” review. Aurelia wins some books for herself, some books for her school, and a class video call with the author MG Leonard.