Disability Rights UK Newsletter

Covid restrictions removed

The Government has removed nearly all Covid restrictions as of 24 February 2022.

Staff and students in most education and childcare settings no longer need to undertake twice weekly asymptomatic testing. Rules requiring self-isolation following a positive test have been removed. Adults and children who test positive are now only advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for at least five full days and then continue to follow the guidance until they have received two negative test results on consecutive days – this is no longer a legal requirement. Close contacts of infected people are no longer required to test for Covid daily. Routine contact tracing has now ended.

Self-isolation support payments, national funding for practical support and the medicine delivery service are now no longer available.

From 24 March, the Government will remove the COVID-19 provisions within the Statutory Sick Pay and Employment and Support Allowance regulations.  And from 1 April, the Government will remove the need for the NHS COVID Pass, and longer provide free universal testing for the general public in England.

DR UK Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “There is still a small but significant number of Disabled people for whom Covid will remain a potential death sentence. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were hopeful that a Government that could implement such rapid protection measures for the whole of society would learn from lived experience what it is like to live with the real and present threat of death or serious illness from Covid, and would continue to maintain such protections for those who would continue to need them. The wholesale removal of restrictions without consideration of those still at risk is genuinely horrifying. Clinically Extremely Vulnerable people should still be able to shield as necessary, and as part of shielding, be able to access food and medicines safely, and be entitled to employment protection and financial support.”

To view the full Living with COVID-19 document, click here.

To view the summary of the Prime Minister’s statement, click here.

To view the Prime Minister’s statement in full, click here.

Minister for Disabled People affirms importance of engagement with DPOs

Earlier this week, a number of DPOs (Disabled People’s Organisations) from the Disability Rights UK Our Voices group met with the Minister for Disabled People, Chloe Smith. The Minister confirmed her intention to engage with DPOs and listen to Disabled people.

The Minister said that she wanted to hear what was missing from the Disability Strategy. She also said  that the recent court ruling hadn’t quashed the current Strategy. She wanted to find ways of increasing the involvement of DPOs in the delivery of the Strategy, including reviews on procurement and stakeholder engagement.

The DPOs at the meeting included Disability Rights UK, Disability Positive, Disability Peterborough, WECIL, Disability Cornwall, Living Options Devon, Breakthrough, CILK and Wiltshire CIL.

DPO Representatives asked that the Government re-enforce the important role of DPOs, improve communication with Disabled people who remain clinically vulnerable to COVID and ensure that the COVID Public Inquiry includes the voices of Disabled people. DPOs also highlighted the devastating impact of the living standards crisis on Disabled people including the increasing level of social care charges.

Disability Rights UK responds to accessible railways report

The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee has submitted a new report to the Department for Transport on railway accessibility.

The report considers what a fully accessible railway means, and accepts ‘that it is a challenging concept for two reasons: it is difficult to envisage a railway where there are not, at least, some operational and physical characteristics that represent a barrier to some Disabled people, and full accessibility is a moving target in the sense that technology, our understanding of disability and, indeed, of accessibility is constantly evolving.’

DR UK Rail Policy Adviser Stephen Brookes said: “This report pulls no punches by saying that disability access is viewed as an expensive add-on within the industry, as opposed to being seen an opportunity to increase independent living for disabled people, and to develop increased revenue from many people who have been historically side-lined by the industry.

“We are clear that the much needed changes have to acknowledge the importance of the creation and full inclusion of pan-Disabled access panels who are willing to share their life experiences, all of which should be more widely and consistently used in all aspects of rail planning and staff training.”

DWP admits wrongly refusing PIP to record number of Disabled people

‘Flaws in the system’ have led to almost 80,000 Personal Independence Payment (PIP) decisions being overturned at initial review in the past year, reports The Independent.

Separate figures show the cost of these reviews has surged by 26% in the last two years, despite the number of reviews carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) falling by 23% over the same period.

Claimants who wish to appeal a PIP decision must first appeal through the DWP’s internal process, known as mandatory reconsideration. Reversals at this stage have increased from 22% (46,580 of 236,720) three years ago to 43% (78,390 of 182,880) last year.

Figures published by the Disability Minister Chloe Smith in response to a written parliamentary question show that the cost to taxpayers of mandatory reconsiderations for PIP was £24.8m last year, compared with £19.7m in 2018/19 and £13.7m in 2016/17.

DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “The whole PIP process is intrusive and immensely stressful for Disabled people. Having to appeal greatly increases the pressure Disabled people are under. Decisions may not be made for months, and the fact that so many initial decisions are overturned is proof that the system is broken and failing Disabled people. Many Disabled people feel they cannot challenge failed claims because of fears of the impacts of the reconsideration and tribunal systems on their mental health.”

Over half (56%) of claims which were taken to court after failing at the mandatory reconsideration stage were “lapsed” – meaning the DWP overturned them before they reached court – and 69% of those that went to tribunal were overturned.

Phillip Anderson, head of policy at the MS Society said that the appeals process is “so stressful” that many people decide not to challenge the decision, “for fear of losing what little support they already have”.

A DWP spokesperson said: “For the majority of PIP claims, we get decisions right and all assessments are carried out by healthcare professionals trained to consider the impact of someone’s health condition or disability, but we are exploring what more we can do so the welfare system better meets the needs of disabled people through our health and disability green paper.”

High Court judgment denies two million ESA claimants £20 per week uplift due to “justifiable” disability discrimination

Two Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants have challenged the lack of benefit increase during the pandemic at the High Court, arguing that it discriminated against Disabled people and so was unjustified.

Between 30 March 2020 and 5 October 2021, the standard allowance element of Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit was increased by £20 per week.

Yet no corresponding increase was made to the personal allowance element of any of ESA and other “legacy benefits” including Income Support or Job Seeker’s Allowance.

Ruling, Justice Swift said that as a result, while agreeing that legacy benefits were “low”, and “it is obvious that any person required to rely only on that level of income will suffer hardship”, he found that the “difference in treatment” between Universal Credit and legacy claimants was “justified” because it was aimed at people who suddenly lost their job due to Covid.

DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “This is an extremely disappointing judgment. Whilst the Government may have awarded the £20 per week uplift to UC to cushion the economic impact for people losing their jobs during the pandemic, in fact, the £20 was paid to everyone on Universal Credit, regardless of how long they’d received the benefit. It is very hard to understand why not paying the same £20 to those on ESA and other legacy benefits isn’t viewed as discrimination against Disabled people.

Read more here.

Student loans could be denied to pupils who fail GCSE English and maths

Pupils who fail their maths and English GCSEs could be banned from taking out student loans according to new Government plans.

The Department for Education intends to set minimum entry requirements to ensure students “aren’t being pushed into higher education before they are ready”, and to crackdown on perceived “low quality” degrees. Students who do not achieve a grade 4 – the old grade C in English and Maths GCSE – will be unable to access student loans. Around a third of pupils do not reach the proposed threshold every year.

The move is aimed at lowering the cost to the taxpayer of the increasing numbers of university students who fail to earn enough to pay back their student loans. However, Disabled students who do not thrive in mainstream school settings could suffer from no longer being able to access higher education which is better suited to enable them to engage with different styles of lessons and learning.

DR UK’s Education Policy Adviser, Bethany Bale said: “Disabled students already struggle to access higher education with poor physical accessibility and support funding. But those who do make it to uni often thrive in ways they could not at GCSE and A-level. Mainstream schools are too often not set up to meet the needs of Disabled pupils to enable them to achieve academic goals. Many Disabled children have strong ability in core subjects, but struggle with the lack of flexibility in education and examination systems which are used to determine their success. Using grades as a means to test the suitability of candidates to access funding will create a further unnecessary barrier to levelling up education for Disabled young people.”

Two-thirds of NHS Trusts failing to support equal access to care for Disabled patients

People who are blind, d/Deaf or have a learning disability are increasingly being failed by health services that aren’t meeting their communication needs, new research by Healthwatch England shows.

The failure puts services in breach of their duty under the Accessible Information Standard, a legal requirement created by NHS England in 2016.

The Standard requires that all publicly funded health and social care providers identify, record, flag, share and meet the information and communication needs of those who use their services, to ensure equal access to healthcare.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request sent by Healthwatch England to NHS providers last year revealed that out of the 139 NHS trusts that responded, only a third, 35%, said they fully complied with the Standard.

This means that the vast majority of health services are failing to put the Standard into practice.

Healthwatch England issued the FOI requests to 220 NHS providers, including acute and ambulance trusts, to find how they are delivering the Accessible Information Standard after it recorded a significant surge, 141%, in public concerns related to healthcare information during the first year of the pandemic, compared with the same time period pre-pandemic.

Healthwatch England warns that no-one is currently fulfilling their responsibility for holding health and care services to account for breaching their legal duty to support patients who have additional communication needs.

Healthwatch England is running a Your Care, Your Way campaign calling for everyone to be given healthcare information in the way they need it. Find out more here.

First-ever guidelines on physical activity for Disabled children published

The UK’s Chief Medical Officers have published guidance recommending daily physical activity levels for Disabled children and young people for the first time.

The guidelines are underpinned by Durham University, University of Bristol and Disability Rights UK’s research. In particular, they advise 20 minutes of exercise per day and strength and balance activity three times a week.

Kamran Mallick, CEO of Disability Rights UK, said: “This guidance is an essential resource to demonstrate the health benefits Disabled children and young people can achieve through regular physical activity.”

“Disabled people have a right to get active in ways that work for them, and these guidelines show how important this is.”

Read more here.

Expanded Golf for the Disabled (G4D) Tour schedule for 2022

The Dubai Port World Tour has announced that the program will be increased from five to seven events. Concluding at the DP World Tour Championship finale in Dubai in November.

The Tour will incorporate an improved support package for the European Disabled Golf Association (EDGA).The additional financial support will see the organisation progress from volunteer-led to semi-professional with the G4D tournaments played on the same course, during the same week, as the DP World Tour tournament.

The European Tour said it was “committed to ensuring inclusivity in the game of golf”. They view this expansion as “another important step” towards aspirations for golf to be included in the Paralympics. Read more here.