Disability Rights UK Newsletter

Digital Poverty Alliance calls for action to combat digital exclusion

A coalition of charities, private and public sector organisations is calling for a concerted effort to tackle digital poverty in a new evidence review which highlights millions of people experience digital poverty – when someone is unable to interact with the digital world when they need to.

The review from the Digital Poverty Alliance points out that digital poverty is not just about being able to get online or having a computer. It says widening differences in connection, devices, skills and experiences all play a role in making inequality worse, as well as introducing new ones. It also says 11 million people lack the digital skills needed for everyday life.

The DPA’s review findings feature in an article in the Guardian, which also ran an editorial about the importance of ensuring access to services was available through a number of routes, including offline.

The review also draws on 2019 figures from the Office of National Statistics, which shows 56% of adult non internet users were disabled.

Fazilet Hadi, Head of Policy at Disability Rights UK said: “The digitalisation of our daily lives brings many benefits, but for some it creates confusion and excludes many Disabled people from taking part in their communities. We accept that digital living is here to stay, but we must find ways to ensure everyone is supported to take part in it.”

Speaking at this week’s launch of the review, author Dr Kira Allman said: at the launch of the review “Digital poverty is as much a social problem as it is a technological one.”

She pointed out there was a need to update understanding of the factors which contribute to digital poverty, arguing it is also the product of social inequalities that have been built into, and exacerbated by, the design of technologies and services.

She added that key to tackling the problem was “cultivating a digital economy and tech sector underpinned by diversity, inclusivity, accessibility, privacy, safety, fairness and equity.”

The DPA, which was critical of the Government’s own digital strategy launched in June, is developing a national delivery plan as a starting point for the government, public, private and third sectors to support its aim to end digital poverty by 2030.

Changing Our Lives – from hospital to independence

Human rights organisation Changing our lives has launched a series of stories which chart the lives of individuals with autism or other difficulties who find themselves trapped within the hospital system. Each story in the “Hospital to Home” series covers a personal story of a journey through hospital to independence as well as their experiences with both.

Emphasising the practice and support of good professionals and clinicians, the stories hope to both raise awareness of autism and learning disabilities and the fact that although many remain stuck within the system, many individuals are now leading independent lives.

They include Matthews story, who found himself in a series of different hospitals and institutions for 16 years of his life. He reflects on these experiences and tells how skilled support and understanding has led him to his life today.

The launch comes as the Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, announced a package of measures earlier this week to help ensure people with learning disabilities and autism receive the right help and support when they are experiencing a crisis.

Campaigners have been calling for better support for people with learning disabilities and autism since the Winterbourne View scandal in 2011,, including politicans and senior clinicians.

Leading a response on individuals who are still trapped in the system, Dan White, Policy and Campaigns Officer at DR UK explained: “It is always better to hear a story first hand. With the release of these stories, coupled with the Health and Social Care Secretary’s announcement, we hope the sometimes appalling treatment of people with autism or learning disabilities will not only be heard, but finally over.”

Department of Work and Pensions ignored ‘hugely alarming’ research that linked benefit assessments with 600 suicides, MPs are told

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) ignored leading academics after they published ‘hugely alarming’ research that linked the work capability assessment with 600 suicides in just three years, according to the Disability news service (DNS).

The Commons Work and Pensions Committee was hearing evidence on the assessment system on 22 June from Professor Ben Barr, from the University of Liverpool, and Dr Ben Baumberg Geiger, from the University of Kent.

Professor Barr was one of the team who published ground breaking research in 2015 that concluded that the government’s programme to reassess people on incapacity benefit through the work capability assessment (WCA) was linked to about 600 suicides in just three years.

He told the committee that the study, and other evidence that has emerged over the last decade – such as reports of individual deaths and reports by coroners – showed “clear evidence that there’s potential for the assessment process to cause some very major adverse effects on mental health.”

He added that while it was impossible to prove that the WCA caused the 600 suicides, although it was “extremely likely” and “extremely plausible that the assessment process led to those outcomes.”

He said it was not possible to say if the level of harm had decreased since 2015 because DWP “hasn’t been collecting the data to be able to answer that question and hasn’t enabled researchers and others access to the data that would enable that to be answered more robustly.”

He called on the Committee to push for DWP to monitor “adverse outcomes coming through the assessment process.”

Dr Baumberg Geiger added that – despite recent claims from DWP assessment contractors that their performance had improved – his own research suggested there were “still major problems with the WCA that could lead to increased risks of poor mental health.”

He said that provisional results from a survey of more than 7,000 benefit claimants found more than half of those who had been through a WCA said it had made their mental health worse, adding that it was “not sufficient just to say this is a historic problem and everything is fine now.”

Dr Baumberg Geiger described the work capability assessment (WCA) as “pseudo-scientific”, and said it assessed people’s impairments “without any transparency or evidence” in the way that it “over-rules people’s accounts of their own lives.”

He said it was essential that Disabled people could trust the assessment system but that it was “hard to trust a system that says it’s going to assess your capability for work but then doesn’t, really.”

He also raised serious concerns about the gradual move of Disabled people onto the universal credit working-age benefit system, which can place demands on Disabled claimants before they have had the chance to be assessed through the WCA.

Professor Barr added had been an increase in the disability poverty gap – the difference in the proportion of disabled and non-disabled people living in poverty – since 2013.

Ken Butler, Welfare Rights and Policy Officer at Disability Rights UK said: “The number of claimant deaths and serious harm caused by the WCA should be a national scandal. What’s needed is a full independent public inquiry looking at the scale of the deaths, the responsibility around the culture of the DWP, and the policies that contributed to it.
“The WCA needs to be scrapped and replaced by a more holistic assessment that would take into account “real world” factors such as access to suitable transport; skills gaps; and the actual availability of relevant employment in the local economy.”

More details on these stories are available here..

DR UK warns Government on rail shake up  

DR UK CEO Kamran Mallick has written to the Transport Minister Wendy Morton about the dangers of a widespread closure of rail ticket offices and the impact on Disabled people.

Various media outlets have highlighted the issue, including the Daily Express and the Guardian, which said that ticket office closures were supported by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

DR UK Rail Policy Advisor Stephen Brookes said that one in every eight tickets were still bought over the counter, mostly by Disabled and older people who do not have access to the internet. DR UK wants to see a full impact assessment on any ticket offices threatened with closure

The announcement on potential ticket office closures comes as DR UK warns of potential problems with the rail network as the Government looks to replace Network Rail with the new Great British Railway (GBR), which will take on the responsibility of the rail infrastructure in 2023.

DR UK has been flagging a number of key issues at the GBR Transition Access Panel, which met this week to discuss meeting the needs of Disabled passengers in the run up to the new organisation taking over the rail network.

These include passengers having problems with assistance, such as Chris Nicholson, a wheelchair user who had to drag himself up a flight of stairs because the station at Milton Keynes was out of order.

Disabled people are familiar with these kinds of problems, but Stephen Brookes warned things will only get worse if the Government doesn’t demand action on some of the underlying problems that cause them.

He said: “Staff at Milton Keynes station should have done better. But the problem wouldn’t have occurred if the faulty lift, which had been out of action for several days, had been fixed straight away.”

He is concerned cases like this hide a range of deeper difficulties rooted in different organisations refusing to take responsibility for access for Disabled travellers.

“The establishment of GBR gives us the opportunity to set up systems and processes which positively encourage Disabled people to use the railways and support them to have incident-free journeys. We do need more investment in our rail network, but we also need mechanisms for making organisations – and their staff – take responsibility for the access issues which blight Disabled people who use our trains.”

He added: “Better communication, clear lines of responsibility and an overarching approach to meeting the access needs of Disabled passengers should be the priority.”

Disability employment gap demands action, says DR UK

The disability employment gap is still unacceptable and the Government needs to commit to the principles set out in the Disability employment charter, according to DR UK CEO Kamran Mallick.

The charter featured in a piece on ITV regional news which said the disability employment gap had got worse because of the COVID 19 pandemic.

The disability employment gap describes the number of Disabled people in work compared to the number of non-disabled people. The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics said there was a gap of 28.4% in 2021, a slight increase from 2020.

DR UK CEO Kamran Mallick said: “The charter highlights nine key actions the Government should take, which will improve the employment prospects of Disabled people and increase the talent pool for employers.

“We developed the charter because the Government’s National Disability Strategy is about ambition rather than action. We need concrete commitments to help drive real change for Disabled people looking to get and stay in work.”

More frustration for Disabled people in York as pavement cafes create access problems

Disabled campaigners are highlighting more difficulties using the town centre in York because of the growth of cafes and restaurants blocking pavements by putting tables and chairs for customers outside premises. Campaigners are saying it’s harder to navigate the area, with one describing it as terrifying, according to BBC news.

Local campaigner Flick Williams told E-news: “For those disabled people who can still get to the city they face a daily assault course of café furniture and events infrastructure, often covering and blocking dropped kerbs and tactile paving. Many disabled people report not feeling confident enough to face it all. Exclusion has become the ‘new normal’.”

Campaigners are holding a demonstration on Saturday 2nd July at 5pm at Castle car park in York to highlight this ‘human rights issue’.

The demonstration is the latest in a series of initiatives to raise awareness of the ongoing access issues local Disabled people have, following York Council’s announcement that .
blue badge parking will be srapped in pedestrianised areas of the city.

Disability activists have relaunched their campaign to reinstate blue badge parking in the city centre, with 24 organisations coming together in a ‘Reverse the Ban’ coalition.

In response the council said additional badge parking had been provided on the edge of the centre and more was being proposed.

DR UK Policy and Campaigns Officer Dan White said: “For too long councils up and down the country have been making decisions on city centre and residential parking bans without the input of their Disabled residents. There is a total disregard by councils of the Equality Act and the Public Sector Equality Duty. Banning cars from streets, failing to maintain pavements, or cluttering walkways with tables and chairs, is seriously limiting the right of Disabled citizens to move freely within town centres.”