Crippen hears that a secret report casts doubt on DWP’s ‘no duty of care’ claim

You’ll recall I blogged last October about how Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) boss Theresa Coffey insisted that they had no legal duty of care to disabled benefit claimants? Well, she’s at it again, even though one of the DWPs own secret reports states clearly that it does.

Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey has repeatedly told MPs that her department does not have a legal duty to “safeguard” its claimants, and that such tasks are instead the responsibility of local agencies such as social services and doctors’ surgeries.

Her repeated denials have come following a decade of distressing cases which have linked DWP’s policies and practices to the deaths of disabled people, particularly those being assessed for employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment.

Now Disability News Service (DNS) has discovered that a secret report, probably completed in 2014, has shown a DWP civil servant discussing the department’s “ongoing Duty of Care” to claimants of incapacity benefit who were being reassessed for ESA.

It recommends a review of DWP’s “ongoing Duty of Care in relation to the identification and support of claimants required to participate in the Incapacity Benefit reassessment (IBR) process, who as a result of a [redacted] may be vulnerable and have different or additional support needs.”

It continues: “When defined, the Duty of Care should be brought to the attention of all colleagues including those (others) … who are involved in the IBR Process …”

The redacted report was one of 49 released to Disability News Service (DNS) by DWP following a protracted freedom of information battle that ended in 2016 with DNS winning an appeal to the information rights tribunal. Despite the existence of the report, Coffey and her department continue to insist that there is no such legal duty of care.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey is standing in the house of commons facing her peers. She is saying: “We have never had a legal duty of care to benefits claimants!”. A colleague is standing behind her and is tapping on her shoulder. He’s holding a document that says ‘DWP duty of care’. He’s saying to her: “Excuse me boss – we need you to sign this ongoing duty of care!”.

Crippen hears about recruitment drive for disabled astronauts

Sorry, but I couldn’t resist it. Sending Crips into space … it’s just got to be another way they’ve come up with to get rid of us (or a great idea for a cartoon anyway!).

European space chiefs have launched their first recruitment drive for new astronauts in 11 years, with particular emphasis on encouraging women and disabled people to join missions to the Moon and, eventually, Mars.

And why not? Just think about it. Who else will have developed the problem solving skills that we have, as a result of negotiating our way through the machinations of a disabling society?!

But, apart from that, think about the benefits of experiencing weightlessness for those of us with physical impairments as we drift through space. No need for our clunky wheelchairs or walking aids; no more hoists or sliding boards. We just float everywhere.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A large rocket is filled with disabled people who are peering out of a large round porthole. Wheelchairs and crutches are scattered on the ground before it. On the rocket is printed ESA (for European space agency), a large wheelchair symbol and the words ‘Mars Mission’. A piece of paper lies on the floor with ‘news – disabled into space’ printed upon it and up in the sky is a large red planet. Boris Johnson is about to press a plunger to send them into space. Alongside of him is Iain Duncan Smith (IDS) who is wearing a name badge and who is saying: “But if you send them all away who’ll be left to blame and persecute?!”

Crippen joins accusers – Disability Unit guilty of ‘shameful manipulation’

You just couldn’t make it up! Not content with misleading other MPs about the so called “success” of the nine regional stakeholder networks across England, the Disability Unit have sent out desperate emails to the Chairs of its regional disability networks, begging for positive accounts of how its policies have improved disabled people’s lives.

The government’s email asks the network chairs: “We are looking for disabled people who would be willing to write up to 100 words about how they have achieved their aspirations, and if there has been a government policy that has supported them to do so.”

Disability News Service reports that it was sent out as the 13th February deadline approached for disabled people around the country to respond to the government’s national disability survey.

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of the disabled people’s and service-user network Shaping Our Lives, said the note sent to the network chairs was “a shameful manipulation of reality”.

He said: “Only this government could choose a time when disproportionate numbers of disabled people are dying as a result of its disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic to ask disabled people to send in accounts of their successes to bolster its own appalling record on disability issues.

“If this government wants the truth then let it commission disabled people to carry out independent research on trends in our life chances.”

Mark Harrison, from the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), said the Disability Unit’s note “smacks of desperation”.

He said: “The fact that they are writing to the chairs of the networks asking for good news stories suggests to me that the feedback coming from surveys that are being filled out is not what the government wants to hear.

“They are putting a PR gloss on 10 years of grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights and retrogression against most of the articles of the UN convention [on the rights of disabled people].”

Read the full story in Disability News Service.

 Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Several civil servants are in the office of the Disability Unit. A large sign on the wall says, ‘Disability Unit – National Disability Survey team’. They are knee deep in returned survey forms all baring an unhappy-smiley face symbol. One of the men is holding up a single piece of paper with a happy-smiley face upon it. He is saying: “It’s OK guys we’ve got one positive response we can use – just ignore the rest!”

Crippen looks back at government cover-up regarding emergency preparedness

I’ve been corresponding with a young disabled student about some of my cartoons relating to government cover-ups, especially those affecting disabled people. One in particular got his attention, which was the one regarding Exercise Cygnus which I blogged about back in April 2020.

You’ll remember that Exercise Cygnus, which took place in October 2016, involved all major government departments, including the NHS and local authorities across Britain looking at their preparedness should we ever be hit with something like the Coronavirus pandemic.

The finished report showed gaping holes in Britain’s Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response (EPRR) plan. They found that there was not enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for the nation’s doctors and nurses. The NHS was about to “fall over” due to a shortage of vital equipment and critical care beds and morgues were set to overflow. The report also raised awareness that they would need to build in additional support for disabled people, older people, and those with underlying health issues.

Well, we know that no action was taken following this report, and that when the pandemic arrived on our shores four years later the powers that be just ran around like headless chickens claiming that they hadn’t seen it coming. 

Tell that to the thousands of disabled people who died of Covid related illness over the past 12 months. I’m not sure that they’d appreciate the irony!

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Boris Johnson and Theresa May are standing together in front of a hill of earth covered by white crosses. A sign in front says, ‘6 out of 10 Covid deaths are disabled people’. May is carrying a piece of paper that has ‘Cygnus report’ written on it. Johnson is saying: “I keep telling them – we had no idea that this could happen!”

Crippen asks – Bias or what?!

The Right-wing influences are at it again with two new appointments to high ranking roles within the broadcasting industry and the launch of a new TV channel that has raised more than a few eyebrows.

One of the things that clouds the judgement of the general public when ever they read or hear anything to do with disability is the usual right-wing bias that accompanies the report. This can simply be the old stereotypes such as portraying us as needy and reliant upon the many charities that claim to represent us, or it could be something more sinister, like a hidden agenda (Ed: here he goes again!) orchestrated, let’s say by the spin doctors at Tory HQ.

Whether you believe that this bias exists or not, you have got to admit that the appointment of two top Tory supporters to powerful roles within our broadcasting industry smells of something that’s distinctly fishy!

It’s been revealed that Richard Sharp, former Goldman Sachs banker and adviser to the chancellor, has been lined up to be the next chairman of the BBC after Sir David Clementi steps down. Electoral Commission records show that this man has donated more than £400,000 to the Conservative Party since 2001, leading to accusations of cronyism and a clear bias.

This appointment comes at the same time that another Tory supporter  Paul Dacre gets set to become the new Ofcom chair.

Under his tenure at the Daily Mail, Dacre ran such provocative headlines as “The Swarm On Our Streets” in relation to migrants as well as peddling other nationalistic hyperbole such as “Migrants Spark Housing Crisis”,  along with many biased disablist articles.

And GB News, the new TV channel chaired by Andrew Neil, launches in the UK soon. Billed as the UK’s version of American right-wing channel Fox News and claims to be the biggest news TV channel to be created since Sky News went on air 30 years ago.

The channel has yet to broadcast any coverage, but it has already faced an attempted advertising boycott started by campaign group Stop Funding Hate following speculations that the channel will be similar to Fox News.

Just what we need. A new right-wing tv channel plus a top Tory running the BBC and both overseen by a Tory Ofcom regulator. No bias there then?!

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A large newsroom with a sign identifying it as ‘GB News – we make the news’ is filled with journalists at their desks and laptops. The sign has been changed however to read ‘we invent the news!’ An editor has just entered the room with a piece of paper that has ‘News – Darce to head OFCOM’ printed on it. He is saying: “OK guys gloves off – OFCOM’s ours now so we can publish what we want again!”

Crippen hears that lack of Covid plan for disabled Australians a ‘serious failure’ of their government.

So, it’s not just here that governments are failing to consult with disabled people about the ramifications of the COVID pandemic. I recently had an email from one of my disabled friends in Australia telling me that they’ve been experiencing similar disregard from their government.

I had a dig around and discovered an article in the Guardian reporting that the Australian federal government has been sharply criticised by the disability royal commission for its “serious failure” in not adequately consulting disabled people or creating a specific plan to protect them at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Those failings “produced serious adverse consequences for many disabled people”, the commission said in a report tabled in parliament on Monday.

At the start of the crisis no government agency “made any significant effort to consult with disabled people with or their representative organisations”, the report said.

“Even allowing for the novel challenges presented by the coronavirus, this was a serious failure.”

It said disabled people faced the “sudden loss of essential support services” and “impaired health and wellbeing” due to an “inability for prolonged periods to access essential supplies such as food and medications”.

Disabled people experienced “extreme stress and anxiety” stemming from the fear of contracting the virus because of support staffing issues and a lack of PPE.

So, there you go. We’re not alone in being ignored during this pandemic. Our Aussie friends are also feeling that they are just as expendable.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A white wheelchair user with a placard saying ‘we demand our rights’ is sat facing an Australian First Nation person. This person is stood next to a large rock on which is carved First Nation art and the slogan ‘rights for First Nation people’. He is wearing a red headband and loin cloth, carrying a boomerang and also wears traditional body paint. He is saying to the disabled man: “Best of luck getting your voice heard mate – they’ve been ignoring our rights since they first arrived!”

Crippen asks what use is our Minister for Disabled People?!

Don’t get me wrong, I think the post could be extremely useful, especially if the person appointed actually worked with disabled people and our groups and organisations.

It’s just that we’ve had a series of ministers in this role who seem hell-bent on doing the complete opposite; seemingly working against us and doing everything they can to undermine any progress we’ve made over the past few decades.

Take our present incumbent (please!), Justin Tomlinson. A man with a history of leaking parliamentary reports, voting down such bills as the one protecting the benefits of disabled children and those undergoing cancer treatment, and appearing to suggest that families facing a cap under the Universal Credit scheme could take in a lodger. In fact, just the sort of person we want fighting our corner (not!).

You’ll have read in previous blogs that he’s also quite happily misled fellow MP’s regarding the apparent success of the nine regional ‘disability’ networks he was instrumental in setting up a couple of years ago. These were intended to “amplify” the voices of disabled people, but as we all know, they are nothing more than a sham.

Problems recounted by those people involved with the few groups that have managed to get going, tell us that when they eventually appoint a Chair and manage to arrange a meeting, they are often cancelled at short notice, resulting in problems associated with rearranging support workers, travel plans, etc. A meeting which should have given a heads up about the UK Disability Strategy Survey was also cancelled at the last minute.

Tomlinson also has the nerve to tell the various select committee members who have queried the status of the Regional groups that everything is going great, adding that he found it: “a very, very rewarding part of my role”. Oh yeh?!

It’s a bit like ‘the emperor’s new clothes’ where no one wants to be the first person to point out that he’s not actually doing his job! I’ll say it for them then … TOMLINSON, YOU’RE A SHAM – YOU’RE SACKED!

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A young disabled boy is standing with his mother and is pointing at a naked Justin Tomlinson. However, Tomlinson has pieces of paper covering his body along with a few pieces that have dropped off. The papers read liar, fibs, un-truths, misleading information, leaks and more lies. Behind Tomlinson are two signs that read Disability Unit and Justin Tomlinson MP. The disabled boy is saying to his mother: “That man has covered himself with a tissue of lies!”

Crippen asks is there a pattern emerging?

Sorry, but I’ve got my cynical head on again (Ed: What’s new?!), and I can’t help thinking that there’s another agenda running along with this government and its future plans for disabled people.  

We’re all aware of just how hard it has been to get where we are today; the long, hard struggle to break out of those institutions that kept us segregated from the rest of society and the fight we had after identifying the many barriers that existed to disable us. And then fighting for accessible transport, accessible housing and access to an inclusive education and employment.

We’d not completely succeeded, but at least we were moving things in the right direction with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and our own Disability Rights Commission (DRC). That was until this government came into power and started to pull apart this legislation followed by further dismantling of education and care provision at the outbreak of the Covid pandemic. And now, as I mentioned in my last Blog, we’ve got their complete disregard for accessible housing.

It seems obvious to me that ‘they’ want us all off the streets again and back into the homes and institutions that kept us out of their hair. It was certainly cheaper for them to have us ‘cared for’ by the many charities that existed for this very purpose. No more worrying about finding money for accessible transport, inclusive education, access to work etc.

It’s all so insidious that you can be forgiven for not having joined up the dots yet. But things are only going to get worse for us and that, if we don’t start to do something more proactive, we could soon reach the point of no return.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A young female wheelchair user is outside the front door of a supposedly new accessible house. A sign alongside of it states: ‘conservative party – fully accessible housing’. However, this is a façade, as behind it is a large grey building with bars on the windows. A large sign proclaiming ‘compulsory residential living unit for disabled’ is fastened above its entrance. On the grass outside of the institution a fire is burning inside of a metal dustbin. Several documents identified as ‘accessible transport provision’ and ‘accessible housing provision’ and also ‘inclusive education’ are all being burnt. A white male in a suit and tie is saying to the young disabled person: “welcome to your long awaited fully accessible new home!”

Crippen learns that the government sits on accessible housing report

You’ll remember that last year the government was accused of “showing contempt” for disabled people after publishing an “utterly shameful” 84-page white paper on the future of the planning system, without including a single mention of disabled people, disability or accessible housing.

Well, they’re at it again. Only this time they’ve delayed publishing a report that called for more research into the benefits of accessible housing for up to four years, it has been revealed by Disability News Service.

The report, provided by architectural firm PRP in March 2016, was finally published last week by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

The report examined evidence on the benefits of accessible housing, and the effectiveness of guidance relating to other buildings – under Part M of the building regulations – to see how well it was meeting the needs of disabled people.

The report found that the key benefits of accessible housing included reduced delayed hospital discharges, avoiding having to pay for temporary and permanent residential care and lower administrative costs of rehousing disabled people from inaccessible housing.

The report also examined the effectiveness of guidance on “buildings other than dwellings”, which has not been updated since 2004.

It found that, although the guidance was “considered to be reasonable in meeting most needs of disabled people”, the lack of enforcement of that guidance was seen as “a critical issue”.

It also found that the needs of some disabled people may not currently be covered “adequately” by the guidance, including hearing- and visually-impaired people, people with restricted growth, people with complex and multiple impairments requiring personal assistants, and users of powered wheelchairs.

It also called for consideration of the needs of autistic people, those with mental health conditions, and people with dementia and other “cognitive health issues”.

This week, MHCLG refused to say when the research was completed, and why its publication had been delayed for so long.

NB: Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has already been warned back in 2019 that he faced the threat of legal action over the government’s failure to take action to solve the crisis in accessible housing.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A man and a woman working at the Disability Unit are standing in front of two filing cabinets. One is open and the woman is taking out a file. The other is closed and has not been opened for some time and has cobwebs all over it. It also has the draws labelled housing, education, and transport. The man is looking at this cabinet with a question mark above his head. The woman is saying to him: “Oh that’s where we keep any important recommendations!”

Crippen and the National Disability Strategy Survey – Part 2

Following on from my last Blog about the National Disability Strategy Survey (NDS), several disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have complained directly to Justin Tomlinson, the Minister for Disabled People.

The complaint is not only about the lack of prior consultation and notification about the launch of the Survey, but also about the ridiculously short timescale for Disabled people to respond.

Although the survey will be open until 23 April 2021, only responses received before 13 February 2021 will inform the development of the National Strategy, while those received after this date will only be used to inform its delivery.

ALLFIE, Inclusion London, and Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), have joined together to complain and Joe Whittaker, ALLFIE Trustee, explains:

“There is a clear failure of the Disability Unit to demonstrate meaningful engagement with DPOs and take seriously the essential contributions we can offer.”

The Disability Unit in the Cabinet Office claims it is: “working with government colleagues, disabled people, disabled people’s organisations, charities and businesses to develop and deliver a National Strategy for Disabled People.” However, as we all know, this is not the case.

In the letter to Tomlinson, calling for a deadline extension and engagement with Disabled People’s Organisations, Tracey Lazard on behalf of Inclusion London told him:

“I am frankly shocked and dismayed to receive this (information) in the light of the fact that at no point have we received any information, either in writing or at the DPO forum meetings, that the 13 Feb mentioned is the cut off period for feeding into the development of the strategy.

“Nor have we received any written information about the NDS or how the government plans to engage Disabled people and DPOs in its development … We have consistently requested that the DPO forum is organised and planned in a way that will facilitate DPOs strategic engagement in the NDS (as well as requesting basic improvements to the forum like minutes being taken which has to date not happened!) but no changes have been made. This presents a huge lost opportunity for DPOs to feed into the strategy.

“The decision to cancel the last two DPO forums in December and January without explanation were deeply frustrating but now in the light of this cut off period it is inexplicable that these meetings have been cancelled so close to the Feb deadline given this is the only way DPOs can engage directly with the disability unit and the Minister.

“The above can only be described as a failure to carry out the most basic engagement with Disabled people and our organizations in what will be the first disability strategy since 2011.

“Considering we are still in an ongoing pandemic in which nearly 60% of COVID related deaths are Disabled people and given the significant body of evidence that shows Disabled people are now experiencing deeper structural inequality that is eroding our quality of life and putting back our rights and inclusion it is absolutely vital that there is real and meaningful engagement between DPOs and the Government in the development of the NDS.

Given the above I am formally requesting that the NDS development period is extended and that the disability unit draws up a plan for specific DPO engagement to take place in this extended development phase.”

Members of the group report that they have not yet had a response to these concerns.  They urge other DPOs to share and support their concerns and stand in solidarity.

A full explanation of ALLFIE’s involvement and how you can obtain more information is available on their web site (please click here).

In Solidarity.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Justin Tomlinson is standing with a crystal ball on a table in front of him. His hands are wrapped around it and he is wearing a head scarf and golden hooped earrings. A sign saying ‘Madam Tomlinson’ is placed in front of him and another sign saying ‘Disability Unit’ is on the wall behind him. He is saying: “It saves me having to consult with any disabled people!”