Peers raise fresh concerns over government cuts
Peers have raised fears that the government could be planning cuts to the disability living allowance (DLA) budget and the Access to Work (ATW) programme, and could be set to abolish the Office for Disability Issues (ODI).
thThe concerns were raised in a debate held to mark the 40 anniversary of The
Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act.
The disabled peer Lord *Colin+ Low said there had been “rumours” that the ODI
– which works across government to promote equality for disabled people –
was “under threat”.
And he warned that any move to cut spending on ATW would “directly
undermine the government’s efforts to move disabled people off benefits and into work”.
He said disabled people were “anxiously awaiting the Budget next week, with
the possibility of cuts in their income through means-testing and restrictions on benefits such as the disability living allowance and attendance allowance”.
The former Labour minister Baroness Thornton asked whether the new coalition government was planning cuts to ATW and a review of DLA, and whether it would take forward the Labour government’s independent living strategy.
The disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell told the debate that the social care system was “in crisis” and that disabled people face “obscenely tough
personal assessments of their needs”.
She said: “We need a new approach and new legislation to enable disabled people to face the future with dignity and the assurance that they will not be forgotten by a society that puts resources before need.”
She also criticised the Equality and Human Rights Commission for putting equality for disabled people “on the back-burner”, and said it still needed to
learn to incorporate disability rights into its equality and human rights agenda.
Lord Freud, the Conservative welfare reform minister, said it was “vital that
any budget cuts do not disproportionately affect disabled people”, and that
the coalition was “committed to championing disability equality across
But he said it was too early in the new administration to answer “specific
questions” about the government’s plans.
All of the peers paid tribute to Lord [Alf] Morris, who introduced the act as a private members’ bill when he was a new Labour MP.
Lord Low said the act was “one of the most celebrated pieces of legislation in modern times” and was “unquestionably a landmark act”.
Baroness Campbell said the act was “groundbreaking” and praised Lord Morris for being a leader who “worked hand in hand with the people for whom he
The disabled peer Lord [Jack] Ashley, who worked on the bill as a Labour MP, said that one of its main achievements was that it “drew attention to the
subject of disability, which had hitherto been ignored completely”.
Lord Corbett, the former Labour disability spokesman, who secured the debate, said the act was “the first legislation in the world to enshrine the belief that people with disabilities had rights which should be respected and enforced in law, and to set out a detailed framework of what those rights were”.
Lord Morris said his act had helped more than 60 million disabled people, and had become “the model for legislation on disability in countries all over the world”.
18 June 2010
Further blow to Independent Living Fund support
The Independent Living Fund (ILF) has announced that it will not accept any further new applications for the rest of the year.
An ILF spokeswoman said the decision was not connected with government funding cuts, as it had received a three per cent increase in its budget for the current financial year.
The ILF – which is funded by the government and supports disabled people with high support needs to live independently – had already announced in
March that disabled people who wanted to apply for financial assistance would now have to be working at least 16 hours a week.
But that announcement led to an unexpectedly high number of new applications at the start of the new financial year.
The ILF has now decided to fund 600 of those new applicants but said it would not be able to accept any further new applications for the rest of the year. It had budgeted to make 1,000 new awards this year but was only able to fund 600 because the new awards were at a “much higher cost” than usual. The ILF
also blamed its decision on the rising costs of support.
The ILF said the measures taken would “ensure that the existing 21,000 ILF
users’ awards continue at their current level”.
But it also said it would not be able to increase any individual’s existing funding,
other than providing “additional support to meet some of their employer
responsibilities, and in response to certain changes in their income”.
Patrick Boyle, chief executive of the ILF, said: “Our first priority is the 21,000
disabled people we currently support to achieve high quality independent lives.
“Our trustees have acted quickly in their decision to protect this group and to meet their responsibility to manage within budget.
“We are committed to continuing and developing the excellent service we deliver to our users, allowing them greater flexibility in how they choose to manage their funding.”
18 June 2010
More than three guide dogs attacked every month, say researchers New research has found that more than three guide dog every month in the UK are being attacked by other dogs.
The research, published in the magazine Veterinary Record, found that almost two-thirds of the attacks were made on dogs that were in a harness and working with their blind or visually-impaired owner or a trainer. More than three-fifths of the attacking dogs were off their lead at the time. The researchers identified 100 attacks between November 2006 and April 2009. Excluding cross-breeds, almost half of the attacking dogs were bulldogs, mastiffs, bull terriers, pit bulls and Staffordshire bull terriers, even though such breeds make up just six per cent of the UK dog population.
More than two-fifths of the guide dogs needed treatment by a vet, and in a fifth of cases, either the guide dog handler or a member of the public was injured.
The performance or behaviour of nearly half of the guide dogs attacked was affected, with two dogs no longer able to continue in their work. And in only six cases did the owner of the attacking dog apologise. In eight cases, they left without saying anything, even though many of the handlers were “shocked and distressed”, and unable to see if their dog needed
Most of the attacks took place in public places between 9am and 3pm. The charity Guide Dogs said: “The numbers of dog attacks on guide dogs in the
UK is concerning and we fear that many incidents go unreported. “Certainly our research shows that owners do not usually report attacks to the police.
“Such incidents cause trauma to both the guide dog and its blind or partially sighted owner, often adversely affecting their partnership and therefore the person’s mobility.”
The charity said it had urged police chief constables across England and Wales to “treat all such attacks most seriously”, while dangerous dogs laws in
Scotland have already been strengthened.
And in Northern Ireland “there has already been a case where an attack on a
guide dog was seen as an extension of an attack on its owner”, the charity
Guide Dogs said aggressive dogs should be kept on a lead “and muzzled if
18 June 2010
Clegg says disabled children will be task force priority
The deputy prime minister has promised that supporting disabled children and their families will be one of the priorities of a new cross-government task force on childhood and families.
In a speech at an event organised by the charity Barnardo’s in London, Nick
Clegg said the task force would be led by the prime minister, David Cameron, and would include senior ministers from across the government. The group will aim to “identify and prioritise” a small number of policies that would make “the biggest difference to children and families”.
Clegg said the task force would “look at how we can provide greater support to disabled children”, although the policies he mentioned focused on services for parents of disabled children.
He said the government had already announced it would use direct payments for carers and “better community-based care” to give families “more support”,
and invest an extra ?20 million a year in respite care with money saved by ending the government’s contribution to child trust funds.
Clegg said: “While our towering deficit means we can no longer afford these payments across the board...it is right that we make special provision for
children with disabilities. For them and their families, respite care can be a lifeline.”
But he failed to mention issues such as inclusion for disabled children in mainstream services, discrimination, bullying and the need for accessible leisure activities.
17 June 2010
Minister faces up to DAN’s welfare reform protest
Disabled activists secured a face-to-face meeting with the new minister for disabled people, during a protest over the government’s welfare-to-work
About 30 members of the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) and
allies chanted slogans and held placards calling for “real work for real pay” and
“welfare not workfare” outside the Manchester offices of A4E, one of the
private sector companies paid by the government to find work for disabled people.
Although the police were called after protesters entered the building where A4E has its offices, there were no arrests.
The protest on 16 June then moved on to Manchester town hall, where the new Conservative minister for disabled people, Maria Miller MP, was attending the annual independent living awards run by the disability organisation Breakthrough UK.
After protesters gained access to the town hall, the minister agreed to speak to them about their concerns around the government’s welfare-to-work agenda.
Rebecca Young, one of the organisers of the protest, who talked to the minister, said: “We told her that the jobs that are being produced are quite often meaningless, almost always at minimum wage and occasionally below –
under the auspices of ‘training’.
“The whole exercise doesn’t result in a real job with a real working wage. It takes people away from activities in the community such as voluntary work and sends them off to earn next to nothing doing a job that sometimes they can’t actually do for physical or psychological reasons.
“Most people on benefits are on them because there are no suitable jobs for them to do.
“The minister kept referring to things like job placements, whereas most of us would hope to be referred to a job, not a placement.”
Young said the minister didn’t seem to understand that the reason so many
disabled people were not in work was because of “systemic” problems in
society around the lack of support, access, education and suitable jobs. She added: “It’s not as simple as chasing people off to interviews or into work. The government seems to believe that we just need a bit more encouraging or training to do a job, but there is so much more to it than that.”
Young said the protest was “a massive success”, as they had the chance to talk
to Miller and “look her in the eye” and explain why it was important to engage with grassroots organisations of disabled people, rather than the big disability charities.
She added: “We told her she could expect to see us again.”
17 June 2010
Freud’s warm words fail to quell welfare concerns
The welfare system has made it “much easier” for disabled people to depend
on benefits than on themselves, according to the new Conservative minister for welfare reform.
Speaking at a parliamentary reception on the financial independence of disabled people, Lord Freud said the current welfare system “holds back
people who are capable of fulfilling work” and “forces disabled people into a
life of dependency and robs them of dignity”.
He gave few new details on the government’s welfare reform plans, but did
reveal plans to examine why only 17 per cent of working age recipients of disability living allowance (DLA) had jobs, compared with 47 per cent of all working age disabled people.
He said: “Far too many disabled people...are not in enough control of their own lives to support themselves financially.
“This is a social issue, this is not an issue of capability. We need to constantly challenge society and attitudes and perceptions towards disabled people so they are and can be really involved in society.”
He said the government would “look closely” at criticisms of the work capability assessment (WCA), Labour’s new test for assessing disabled people’s
readiness to work.
But he said that, “as the fundamental structure, *the WCA+ is the way to go”.
Lord Freud also said the government was committed to using the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as “a catalyst for achieving disability equality”, and that it was “looking at how best to
implement” Labour’s Equality Act.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who hosted the reception, attacked the “common
assumption...that disabled people are unable to work, we don’t want to work, we are lazy, we are scroungers”.
She said: “These are not just assumptions, they are excuses and they are
inaccurate and they have no justification or underlying basis.”
She appealed to the new coalition government to “help us put an end to these misconceptions”.
The reception also saw the launch of RADAR’s new guide for MPs on disability
Many of those who heard Lord Freud’s speech praised the minister’s language,
but said there was too little detail to judge the government’s welfare reform
Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP who was last week elected chair of the influential work and pensions committee, said that “some of the rhetoric was good” but it was too early to say if the government was taking the right
But she raised concerns about the huge numbers of disabled people who will have to be assessed through the WCA and how they would receive the specialist support they need to find work.
Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said the speech had contained “some very welcome language”, but the reference to DLA had been
“the largest alarm bell”.
He said he feared Lord Freud’s comments suggested the government was
about to make “significant changes to DLA” and that civil servants had “got their foot in the door again” on DLA reform.
He said: “In the Conservative manifesto there was a commitment to protect
DLA. We hope this commitment will not be undermined by any review and hope the government will work very closely [on any review] with stakeholders.”
Liz Sayce, chief executive of RADAR, said: “I think it’s welcome that he was talking about enabling people to feel fulfilled and not being written off. The real questions about detail are yet to come.
“We want to ensure that people get support with as much control as possible...something that is very personalised.”
David Evans, vice-chair of Deafblind UK, said Lord Freud’s “fine words” did not
remove the “fear” and “concern” of many disabled people about the WCA.
He also pointed to concerns about the lack of training for the many new staff recruited by Jobcentre Plus to cope with the recession, and the lack of jobs available for disabled people.
17 June 2010
Disabled talent recognised in birthday honours
Some of the country’s leading disabled creative, sporting, academic and
campaigning talents have been recognised in the Queen’s birthday honours.
One of Britain’s most successful record-producers, Robin Millar, was awarded
a CBE. Millar has been responsible for 150 gold, silver and platinum discs and 44 number ones, but is also a business mentor and public speaker and fundraiser for causes such as Oxfam, UNICEF and Artists Against Apartheid. He told Disability News Service: “When we go about our daily lives most of us
just get on with it. I don’t think many people except outright careerists are taking a strategic view about what it all might mean later on. “Goodness knows what it is that has prompted this award. I doubt very much if it was the nude modelling, though!”
Dr Jenny Morris, the veteran activist, academic, author and consultant, receives an OBE for services to disabled people.
Among her long list of credits, she led the independent living review for the Office for Disability Issues, was a member of the national working group on child protection and disability, and has written reports on support for disabled parents and the social exclusion faced by disabled teenagers with high support needs.
Dr Rachel Perkins, who last year carried out a well-received review for the government on helping people with mental health conditions into work, receives an OBE for services to mental health.
She is a clinical psychologist and a director at South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust, and has just joined the government’s
advisory network of disabled people, Equality 2025.