Disability Rights UK Newsletter – 5 May

Long Covid and illness drives 400,000 more people from the workforce

A new Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) report warns that deep health inequalities and ineffective policies mean people are living shorter lives, with more years spent in poor health, and facing greater barriers to staying in, and thriving, in the workplace.

The report shows that over a million workers are missing from the workforce compared to the pre-pandemic trend and about 400,000 of these are no longer working because of health factors, such as long Covid, disruption to healthcare and declining mental health, resulting in an £8 billion economic downturn this year.

The report shows that the relationship between health and the economy is a decisive factor in the UK’s ongoing low productivity, low growth, and regional inequality.

DR UK CEO Kamran Mallick said: “Disabled people are too often seen as workshy and incompetent when we are dependable problem solvers and assets to the workforce. Businesses need to change not just their views about Disabled people, but their working cultures, so that flexibility and adaptation are at their core. We saw during the pandemic how effective this was. It’s time to embrace the new, not go back to the old, failing practices.”

Care home discharges during Covid ruled ‘unlawful’

The UK government’s policy on discharging people from hospital into care homes without testing them for Covid, in order to give those who needed it follow up care after contracting Covid, at the start of the pandemic, has been ruled unlawful at the High Court in London.

Over 40,000 care home residents’ deaths involved Covid.

The case was brought by Dr Cathy Gardner and Fay Harris who lost their fathers, Michael Gibson and Donald Harris to the virus.

Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Garnham ruled that policies released in March and early April 2020 were unlawful because they did not to take into account the risk to elderly and vulnerable residents from non-symptomatic transmission of Covid.

The SAGE scientific advisory group had said that “asymptomatic transmission cannot be ruled out” in early February 2020, and the judges said that despite “growing awareness” of the risk of asymptomatic transmission during March 2020, there was no evidence that (then) Health Secretary Matt Hancock had addressed the issue of risk to care home residents.

After the ruling, families who lost loved ones who lived in care homes to the virus in Scotland said that they were now also considering legal action. The Scottish government said it would “examine the findings in detail”. 3,774 care home residents in Scotland lost their lives to the virus up to the end of March 2021. The High Court ruling can be read on their website.

Lords votes to fail working age Disabled people over care charging

The House of Lords has voted in favour of the current version of the Health and Social Care Bill, effectively voting against amendments that would have ensured that nobody in England under the age of 40 would have to pay for their care and support.

The reforms will introduce a lifetime cap of £86,000 on how much anyone needs to pay for social care. The government’s own impact assessment admits that only 10% of working-age Disabled adults who need social care will benefit from the changes; that a fifth of older people will not see any benefits from the cap, and that poorer care users are much more likely to die before they reach the cap.

Baroness Campbell told Disability News Service (DNS) that the proposals in the bill were “criminal” and “will continue to push disabled people of all ages into greater poverty and dependency”.

DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “Younger Disabled people will stand virtually no chance of building up savings for things like mortgages, or being able to pay off student loans, as they will now have to foot the bill for care charges for decades of their lives before they retire, leaving them without assets and at the risk of poverty in older age. This creates a huge disparity in equity of opportunity between Disabled younger people and non-disabled younger people across their lifetimes.”

You can read more on the story on the DNS website.

SEND funding ‘black hole’ grew by 52% last year

The Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) funding ‘black hole’ grew by 52% in the past year, with one child sent to a SEND school 412 miles from their home reports the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ).

As of the end of March 2022, there was a high-needs SEND funding black hole in England of £1.3bn – an increase of £465 million.

Three quarters of local authorities (LAs) now have SEND funding deficits, some of which have doubled or tripled in the past year.

Some councils are attempting to cut costs by introducing more hoops to jump through, as the number of education, health and care (EHC) plans has risen by over 20% in the past year in some LA areas.

Around 43,000 Disabled children have to go to schools outside of their home areas in England due to a lack of local support.

DR UK Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “It is clear that decades of underfunding is catching up with both local and national government. Grassroots networks of parents are becoming increasingly clued up on their rights in law, and are standing up for them, resulting in a groundswell of perceived new need. It is not new need. We fully support councils who are investing money, even as they stand accused of creating financial ‘black holes’ in doing so.

“It is time that national Government realised that Disabled children need the right levels of funding to ensure that they are fully supported and can thrive as they progress through childhood. A divide and conquer approach to local authority funding, where LAs are criticised for ‘spending too much’ when they are merely meeting need, when budgets have been progressively slashed to the bone, and where pitting older people’s care against younger people’s education, is not remotely the answer.” More information can be found on the Special Needs Jungle website..

‘Dental deserts’ leave Disabled people without care

“Dental deserts” are affecting Disabled people across England after more than 2,000 dentists have given up their practices in the past year.

NHS dentistry has long been in crisis as practices have gone private in recent years.

The number of dentists providing NHS care in England fell from 23,733 at the end of 2020 to 21,544 at the end of January this year, according to the latest NHS figures, which have been obtained by the Association of Dental Groups (ADG) under freedom of information laws.

The loss of two thousand dentists have left around four million people without access to dental care with some areas seeing three year waiting lists for appointments.

Healthwatch England’s National Director Louise Ansari said: “People are struggling to get the dental treatment they need when they need it. This is a hugely worrying issue. Some dental practices have either shut down or have gone fully private, with some dentists having used up their total NHS capacity and are asking people for private fees instead”, adding that Disabled people and care home residents are the worst affected.

The full story can be found on The Guardian website..

EHRC failing Disabled people on DWP actions, claim families

Three Disabled women who lost relatives because of the actions of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) have accused the equality watchdog of failing them and countless other families.

They spoke out after the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) refused to follow through on plans for an inquiry into multiple deaths linked to the DWP’s failings.

The Commission has instead announced plans for a voluntary agreement with the DWP that will commit the department to follow an action plan aimed at “resolving issues for DWP customers”.

The details of the so-called section 23 agreement are not likely to be released until the summer but will require the DWP to “improve its treatment of disabled benefit claimants” and not breach its duties under the Equality Act.

Ken Butler, DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Officer said: “It’s welcome that the EHRC is now taking action on this issue as are any positive DWP reforms that result. However, what’s still needed is a full public inquiry to fully learn from the DWP’s past failures and a new, independent process to investigate future cases of death and serious harm.”

More information is available on the DR UK website..

Sport England report highlights loneliness and inactivity for Disabled people

Sport England, the arms-length body of government responsible for growing and developing grassroots sport and getting more people active across England, has released its latest Active Lives Adult Survey.

The survey reveals that the gap between Disabled people and non-Disabled people’s activity levels was narrowing pre-pandemic, and progress towards closing this gap has slowed. Disabled people have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic and continue to face barriers, including participation in sport and physical activity.

The report highlighted that:

  • Activity is less common for Disabled people or those with a long-term health condition* (45%) than those without (66%)
  • Disabled adults or those with long-term health conditions remain less likely overall to volunteer to support sport and physical activity (12%) compared to non-disabled people (15%)
  • Disabled people are among those with the highest levels of loneliness, with 18% reporting feelings of loneliness.

Anna Denham, Get Yourself Active Programme Manager said: “The report clearly highlights that access to sport and physical activity reflects more than just the physical health of our nation. It is very troubling that rates of loneliness are higher among Disabled people, or those with long-term health conditions than they are among non-Disabled people. Especially when people are inactive.”

“We believe that the survey therefore shows why the continued development of grassroots organisations and community sport and physical activity is vital. They are crucial spaces to support Disabled people to exercise their right to get active, have fun, and be part of a community.”

“We continue to support Sport England’s Uniting the Movement Strategy. It has tackling inequalities for Disabled people, and other underrepresented communities, at its heart and we won’t stop until we see these disparities in activity levels disappear.”

You can read about the survey on the Get Yourself Active website.

Elections Bill will make it harder for Disabled people to vote

The Elections Bill was passed at the end of April, making voter ID mandatory in future elections.

Fears were mooted in 2016 about election fraud, despite very few examples which could be verified. Around two million currently lack the right kind of ID that will be required to vote after this week’s local elections, including many Disabled people.

DR UK’s Fazilet Hadi said: “Rather than sweeping away disabling barriers to full participation in elections, the new Elections Act places yet more hurdles in our way. We already have inaccessible voting information, inaccessible polling stations, and a lack of aids to ensure independent and secret voting. Now we also have a requirement to show photo ID, which will act as an additional barrier for thousands of Disabled people.”

New podcast protests the deadly welfare policies enacted by the Department for Work and Pensions (the DWP)

A new podcast created by researcher China Mills, journalist Jonathan Prings and Healing Justice London has launched today.

This new podcast tells the story of Disabled people and people impacted by the welfare system, joining forces with bereaved families to witness and protest the deadly welfare policies enacted by the Department for Work and Pensions (the DWP).

In the first episode, Dolly Sen, Paula Peters and Ellen Clifford talk about evidence, resistance, and justice in their experiences of living and organising against the harms of welfare reform. Content warning: suicide, criminalisation and incarceration.

You can listen to the podcast on the Healing Justice website or Spotify or Apple podcasts.