Disability Rights UK Newsletter

Removing Covid restrictions puts Disabled people at risk

The Government is proposing removing all Covid restrictions by the end of this month.

DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “DR UK has grave concerns about the proposed removal of Covid restrictions at the end of February. Where is the science and evidence behind this thinking? There is a small but significant number of Disabled people who still cannot participate in day to day life because of the risk of severe illness or death from Covid. The Government should be doing everything in its power to ensure that society seeks to protect those at most risk from Covid as long as there is a global pandemic. Instead, it appears to be pretending that Covid has gone away and everyone can carry on as normal. At risk Disabled people still need protections, including employment and income protections, and access to food and medicine without increased risk. Given the size of the at risk group compared to the start of the pandemic, there is no sensible reason why the Government cannot reintroduce such protections instead of abandoning at risk Disabled people.”

The latest ONS data on the impacts of Covid on Disabled people shows that three quarters of Disabled people are still worried about the effects of the pandemic on our lives. Disabled people continued to have on average poorer well-being ratings than non-disabled people across all four well-being measures (life satisfaction, feeling that things done in life are worthwhile, happiness and anxiety). Almost 80% of Disabled people reported feeling stressed or anxious about the pandemic, with half enduring greater mental distress, and three quarters of Disabled people reported increased living costs, compared to 64% of non-Disabled people. Read the data here.

United call for benefits to increase by 6% from April 2022 due to cost of living crisis

The Disability Benefits Consortium, of which DR UK is a member, and over 30 other organisations  including the Child Poverty Action Group, The Trussell Trust, and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, has published a joint letter calling on the Government to increase benefits by 6% in line with current inflation, instead of the 3.1% planned.

DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser Ken Butler said: “It’s vital that benefit levels do not fall behind inflation during a cost of living crisis.

“Disabled people are hit hardest by the cost of living crisis. A recent Channel 4 news item highlighted forthcoming Scope research that found we are twice as likely to have a cold home and three times as likely to find it hard to pay for food than non-disabled people.

Nearly half of everyone in poverty is either a Disabled person or lives with a Disabled person. Benefits paid to Disabled people are already too low and need to be increased above inflation.” Read the letter here.

Disabled people’s experiences of the benefits system: Committee publishes withheld Government-commissioned research

The Work and Pensions Committee of MPs has used parliamentary powers to publish a report on Disabled people’s experiences of the benefits system that the DWP had consistently refused to make public.

The report – The Uses of Health and Disability Benefits – was received by the DWP in September 2020. It followed a research project led by the National Centre for Social Research, which interviewed Disabled people about their experiences of receiving PIP, ESA, and Universal Credit. It reveals that Disabled people who did not have income outside the benefits system “reported that they were often unable to meet essential day to day living costs”, such as food, rent, and heating. Read more here.

High Court dismisses legal challenge to Disabled student’s exclusion from Universal Credit

The High Court has dismissed a judicial review brought against rules restricting Universal Credit (UC) to Disabled students.

Flinn Kays, a disabled 19 year-old student, argued that the rules that existed prior to 15 December 2021 were unlawful. These rules had prevented him from receiving UC until he first underwent a work capability assessment and established a limited capability for work.

Flinn receives the enhanced rate of both the mobility and daily living components of the PIP, but is having to use that money to meet his general living expenses.

He calculates that he may be entitled to around £900 a month in UC. But in line with UC rules, his claim for UC was refused and he was not invited to a work capability assessment.

However, the High Court has now dismissed Flinn’s legal challenge.

DR UK Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser Ken Butler said: “This is a really disappointing judgment. It is already twice as likely that a non-disabled student will attain a degree level qualification than a Disabled student – this gap will only increase if Disabled students are not able to supplement their income with UC. Read more here.

Disability strategy ruled unlawful, DWP denied permission to appeal

The government has been denied permission to appeal against a court ruling that the entire disability strategy is unlawful, not just the national consultation, reports DNS.

The rulings mean that the government needs to discard the strategy and start again.

Mr Justice Griffiths, who heard the case, has denied work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey permission to appeal. He concluded that its appeal had “no real prospect of success” and that there were “no compelling reasons to hear an appeal”.

Despite the ruling, the government can still apply for permission to appeal in the court of appeal.

Minister for Disabled People Chloe Smith has said that the government was “disappointed” with the court’s judgment and “intend[s] to appeal”.

Smith said that ministers “remain focused on delivering the contents of the strategy, which is broad and important”.

DR UK Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “Disabled people raised grave concerns both before and during the consultation that it didn’t give enough time or have enough reach to truly represent the views of Disabled people, which must be at the heart of the strategy. It is frustrating given how much lack of equity Disabled people have in society that, in effect, a whole year has been wasted which could have been used to start real change for Disabled people. Government needs to deeply listen and genuinely engage with Disabled people in advance of renewing a Strategy which delivers real, tangible change. ” Read a letter from the DPO Forum to Chloe Smith here.

Disabled leaseholder group starts fire safety legal action against Government

The Disabled leaseholders group Claddag has started judicial review proceedings against the Home Secretary for awarding a contract to produce guidance which includes the means of escape for Disabled people from fire to CS Todd & Associates Ltd.

In a statement it said: “Given Mr Todd consistently advocates against evacuation plans for Disabled people, and was the only expert of four to do so in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, we do not feel it is right for him to have this influence and authority over the safety of disabled people.”

Paralympian and disability rights campaigner, Baroness Grey-Thompson also raised grave concerns in the House of Lords last week. She spoke of the poor fire safety guidance and practice that ultimately led to 41% of Disabled residents of Grenfell Tower losing their lives in the 2017 fire. She highlighted the Government’s failure to implement the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry to place a legal duty on owners and agents to prepare Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) for Disabled residents unable to self-evacuate, despite a consultation ending on 19 July 2021, and spoke of the Government awarding the contract to produce new fire safety guidance to a fire safety expert whose testimony was rejected by the chair of the Grenfell Inquiry, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, and who had made offensive comments on online fire safety forums about Disabled people.

Fazilet Hadi, Head of Policy at DR UK said: “DR UK has also written to the Secretary of State seeking reassurance that the Government intends to implement the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations on PEEPs. We have asked when the new regulations on PEEPs will be laid before Parliament, and we have asked for a review of the award of the contract in the light of Equality Act duties.”

Getting It Right For Disabled Apprentices report launched

What is it like being a Disabled apprentice? Our new report Getting It Right For Disabled Apprentices gives some insight into the answer.

Published by the Disabled Apprentice Network as part of National Apprenticeship Week and funded by the Department for Education, the report explores the experiences of Disabled apprentices from their point of view, examines the barriers they face and the best way for employers and training providers to support them and get the most out of the scheme.

The report was written by Rabia Lemahieu, Disability and Skills Manager at Disability Rights UK. She said: “Apprenticeships are a great way to get young Disabled people into the work place. If employers and training providers get the support right, apprentices will be able to get the most out of their placements; and that means they come away from the scheme all the better equipped for their future careers”.

The report highlights a series of ideas of improving support to Disabled apprentices, including being proactive about conversations about impairments and health conditions; and better processes for getting help from the government’s Access to Work scheme.

If you’re a young Disabled person looking to develop your career, or an employer or training provider involved with supporting apprentices, this report will have something of interest for you.

Getting It Right For Disabled Apprentices is available as a PDF document, a Word document. There is also a summary of the report in Easy Read.

For more information about the Disabled Apprentice Network, please contact rabia.lemahieu@disabilityrightsuk.org.

Did the National Disability Strategy look to address climate change and Covid?

The Oxford Disability Law and Policy Project has published its Up to the Challenge report examining the National Disability Strategy. To mark COP26 and Disability History Month, the Oxford University Disability Law and Policy Project held a webinar, in November 2021, on whether the National Disability Strategy does enough to address the twin crises of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. DR UK CEO Kamran Mallick contributed. Read more here.

Bus services set to leave Disabled people isolated

Bus services are being slashed due to driver shortage and after funding under Boris Johnson’s £3 billion plan for a “bus revolution” has been substantially reduced.

Disabled users of bus services face difficulties in using their local buses due to “a decline in many bus services” through a combination of Covid illness, shortage of drivers and massively reduced government funding.

Without a timely decision from the Treasury to maintain funding there will be a further significant round of service reductions in the first half of this year which will reinforce the decline in many bus networks which was occurring pre-Covid and which will lead to more isolation for Disabled people. Read more here.

New countryside guidance calls for more access

New Countryside Code guidance has been released for farmers and land managers. The guidance says that they must ensure their land can be easily reached by ‘visitors with different abilities and needs’ – effectively, asking them to replace stiles and kissing gates with accessible access points, and to use more accessible signage. The guidance says: “Access on your land should be easy for visitors with different abilities and needs… Create gaps or put up accessible self-closing gates instead of stiles where there is public access, if possible.” The guidance has been slammed by countryside groups who object to costs and the risks of more trespassing. DR UK’s Fazilet Hadi said: “The law has been clear for 25 years that reasonable adjustments must be made for Disabled people. It’s great news that the Government is now actively encouraging landowners to understand a diverse range of access needs and make the relevant changes so the countryside can be enjoyed by everyone.”

RSC casts first Disabled Richard III

The Royal Shakespeare Company has cast its first ever Disabled Richard III. The medieval king, who is believed to have had scoliosis, will be played by Arthur Hughes, who has described the role as a “dream come true”.

“I’m thrilled not only to be playing this title role at the RSC, but also that a major production of this play is putting disability centre stage,” he said. “Richard is the most murderous and charismatic character in Shakespeare’s plays, and…he’s disabled!

“It’s sadly rare in many plays to find a leading disabled character, and with this production I hope we prove that disabled talent deserves to be in the spotlight.”

CODA nominated for Oscars

A film with three leading Deaf actors, CODA, has been nominated for three Oscars at this year’s ceremony. Troy Kotsur is nominated for best supporting actor, while the film has been nominated for best adapted screenplay and best picture. The film takes its name from the abbreviation for ‘children of deaf adults’. CODA can be seen on subscription streaming service Apple TV in the UK. Read more here.

Channel 4 announces all-Disabled people Winter Paralympic presenting team

The presenting team for Channel 4’s coverage of the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games will be made up entirely of Disabled presenters and pundits. The broadcaster says it is a “global first” for a “world-class sporting event”.

The ground-breaking team will lead more than 80 hours of Paralympics coverage around the clock from China on free-to-air television, with content also streaming on Channel 4’s YouTube channel.

Michael Erhardt, Spokesperson at DR UK project Get Yourself Active, said: “Disabled people have waited a long time to be properly represented in sports media. This announcement is a significant step, and we are all very excited to watch this year’s games.

“We hope that Channel 4 will make all changes necessary for this coverage to be as accessible as possible, especially following the recent subtitle outage. Disabled people deserve to see themselves in the media, and we hope that this global first sparks real and widespread change.” The Winter Paralympics start on 4 March 2022.