Crippen discovers that the transport industry has had yet another exemption from access laws!

It’s got to the stage where when this government hacks off yet another piece of disability related legislation, there’s not even a tokenistic acknowledgement, never mind any form of protest from opposition parties and those groups and organisations that claim to represent us.

In fact, it takes a single disabled activist to put their head over the parapet once again to continue a challenge they started over a year ago.

It concerns the transport industry and their continued use of inaccessible vehicles as a rail replacement service despite very specific legislation that prohibits this, namely The Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) 2000.

Back in 2019 disabled activist Doug Paulley forced the rail regulator to take legal advice on whether rail replacement vehicles had to be accessible to disabled people. The resulting advice from the Office of Rail and Road stated that, with a few minor exceptions, all rail replacement vehicles must be accessible, and the train companies, and their bus or coach providers, were at risk of criminal prosecution if they were not.

On 30th December 2020, a letter from transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris allowed the transport industry its fourth temporary exemption from access laws, allowing it to continue to use inaccessible vehicles for rail replacement services for another nine months.

It will mean train operating companies (TOCs) will still be allowed to use older buses and coaches for rail replacement purposes until the end of September 2021, even if those vehicles do not comply with current legislation.

Speaking to the Disability News Service (DNS), Doug said that he was “unsurprised” by the latest exemption and that he viewed the latest announcement of another exemption with “a sort of weary fatalism”.

It’s like banging your head against a brick wall eh Doug?!

Read the full DNS article by clicking here.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A railway staff member is transporting a white male in his wheelchair, inside of a large wheel-barrow. The wheel-barrow is badly stained and is very smelly with flies buzzing around it and an unpleasant brown liquid running down the sides. There is a large sign on the wall adjacent them that says ‘Replacement rail service’. The railway staff member is saying: “Sorry about the smell Sir – we had to borrow these from the local farm!”.

Crippen says it’s time to stop this backwards slide!

2020 was a year that most of us would prefer to forget, whether due to the Covid pandemic or the abysmal way in which disabled people been scapegoated by this Neo-conservative government.

Coupled with the negative changes to social care and special educational needs legislation that this government passed through in the Coronavirus Act, there is also the not-so-subtle undercurrent of a eugenics based agenda that continues to erode any future health and social care policy that we could expect.

It was also a year where the reality of no longer having our own watchdog, the disability rights commission really hit home. Absorbed within the general equalities framework we were once again the Cinderella figure, pushed to the back of the queue with any progress towards equality for disabled people effectively going into reverse.

It’s time we insisted that this government apply the brakes to this backwards slide, before we end up further back than where we originally started!

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software.

Several disabled people representing a variety of impairments and ethnicities are sliding backwards down a ramp. Iain Duncan Smith (IDS) is pouring slime onto the ramp from a large barrel. The Ramp has a large arrow pointing upwards with the lettering ‘Disability Equality’ displayed alongside of it. Boris Johnson is standing next to IDS who is saying to him: “That should help them all slide back into obscurity!”

Crippen agrees that disabled people should push for radical overhaul of society after pandemic

Those of us familiar with the social model understanding of disability have long advocated that it is society that needs fixing, and not those of us with ‘disabilities’ (sic).

So, when we hear people say that they cannot wait for society to return to ‘normal’ once this coronavirus pandemic is over, I would suggest that we should all be campaigning to radically overhaul the way in which society is organised.

And it’s not just me: Dr Miro Griffiths, speaking during an online presentation on COVID-19 and disability hosted by Leeds university, said the UK government’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic – through its guidance and policies – had been to reinforce ideas of individualism and personal responsibility.

In an article in the Disability News Service (DNS), Dr Griffiths, a disabled academic and a Research Fellow at Leeds University said this had led to a “really worrying” relaxation and “easement” of central and local government duties to support disabled people, for example through measures introduced in the spring under the Coronavirus Act where whole sections of the Care Act had been suspended.

And he said he feared that this approach – removing duties and mandatory obligations – would prove to be the future of health and social care policy under the “neoconservative” agenda of current and future Tory governments.

As you’ll have read in my earlier blogs, it’s clear to me that this government have used an underlying belief in a eugenics’ ideology when implementing recent coronavirus legislation. Dr Griffiths agrees with this, pointing out the “clear undertone of eugenicist ideals” underlying some of the state’s actions during the pandemic, including the misuse of “do not attempt resuscitation” forms that were placed on disabled people’s records without their consent.

He also stated: “On the one hand disabled people have been told, ‘do things for yourself on your own’… but at the same time there is a constant attempt to devalue or to question the worth of disabled people… and to judge their contributions as a way to determine whether they should or should not have access to support.”

He said the combination of a “punitive” social security regime, and other “violent and hostile” policies during the austerity years, the historical use of segregation, and the Coronavirus Act and other pandemic policies had provided a “really bleak picture” for disabled people.

There had also been a failure by the media to accept and analyse the social factors – such as how well-off they are, and their living and working conditions – that have helped cause the disproportionately high number of deaths of disabled people during the pandemic, he said.

But Dr Griffiths said the pandemic had also shown how education, employment and other support could be provided more flexibly, for example through working or studying online, working from home, and taking advantage of new technology.

He added that this showed the need to celebrate “the variance of human existence” and to provide more opportunities for people to engage with society that take account of this variation and their access requirements rather than forcing them to conform to a “preferred system”.

Many of us will agree with him that such a “radical overhaul” of society would not just benefit disabled people but would also empower other communities currently affected by the barriers within society.

Dr Griffiths concludes by stating that there was now an opportunity to “rethink the social contract between disabled people and the state and by pushing for a new human rights approach that recognised the intersecting types of oppression disabled people face”.

You can read the full DNS article by clicking here.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A young white woman using a wheelchair is holding up a large placard on which is printed ‘stuff your normal’. A black male wearing dark glasses is holding a placard that reads ‘we demand change’ whilst his support dog is holding a small banner that reads ‘now!’. Opposite them stands Boris Johnson and a civil servant. The civil servant is holding a piece of paper with ‘plans for post Covid’ printed upon it. He’s also saying to Boris: “I don’t think that your ‘getting back to normal’ has gone down well in all areas!”

Crippen looks at how we’re shaping up to be discarded once again

My cartoon this week is my perception of how this government have changed the status of disabled people so much over recent years that we’ve once again become the square peg unable to fit in societies round hole.

With legislation slowly rounding off our edges over the past decade or so, recent changes to legislation introduced by the government have once again created a situation where we no longer fit.

Those rights that we fought so hard for have mostly been discarded by the introduction of Brexit, with the loss of European equality legislation, and also the implementation of the Coronavirus Act which has seen the suspension of large parts of the Care Act.

With no real opposition to their relentless dismantling of the legislation that at the very least offered us a chance to participate in the outer fringes of society, we are once again left out in the cold.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Boris Johnson is standing watching a man in shirt sleeves attempt to hammer a large square box into a round hole with a giant mallet. On the mallet is printed ‘tory policies’ whilst on the box is printed ‘Disabled people’. The box has started to crumble around the edge being hammered. The man with the mallet is saying: “Well they can’t say that we haven’t tried to make them fit!”

Crippen and the misleading Minister for disabled people

The role of Minister for disabled people has had a chequered past with such diverse figures as Paul Boateng, Margaret Hodge and William Hague all being given the poison chalice for a time.

Some, like Alf Morris who pushed through the first piece of real disability legislation ‘The Chronically Sick and Disabled person’s Act’ really fought for the rights of disabled people, whereas others like Esther McVey seemed to enjoy undermining what little protection we had.

The latest incumbent (er, what is his name?) Oh yes Justin Tomlinson, seems to have adopted the persona of the invisible man; now you (don’t) see him, now you don’t! Whenever he does put in an appearance, it’s usually to offer yet more misleading information to various Commons select committees.

You’ll remember that he recently gave some twaddle to the Commons women and equalities committee to the effect that the networks that had been set up to ‘amplify’ the voice of disabled people was a great success.

He told the committee that the network allowed “all voices, particularly of all sizes of disability organisation, [to] share their real lived experience and help us improve our policies and our communications”, adding: “I find it a very rewarding part of my role.”

But what Tomlinson failed to tell the committee was that at that point – nearly a year after he had named their chairs – only two of the nine networks had actually held a meeting!

Now, as reported in the Disability News Service (DNS) Tomlinson has misled the Commons women and equalities committee for the second time about his engagement with disabled people during the pandemic.

The Conservative chair of the committee, Caroline Nokes, wrote to the minister to ask him to respond to concerns expressed earlier about his lack of involvement with disabled people during the pandemic. But in his reply, Tomlinson again misled the committee.

He claims in the letter that he was referring in his evidence to a different disability forum set up by the government, and not the regional network. However, the transcript and audio recording of the 2nd September meeting clearly show Tomlinson did make the comments about the regional network.

This is yet another misleading comment made by Tomlinson. In July 2019, he misled Labour MP Debbie Abrahams about Department of Works and pensions’ (DWP) cover-up of links between its fitness for work test and the deaths of disabled people. Earlier that year, he was caught misleading the Commons work and pensions committee about the impact of the government’s social security cuts on disabled people. And in October 2016, Tomlinson had to apologise to MPs and was suspended from the Commons for two days after leaking a confidential Commons report to payday lender Wonga.

Why is this man still in post?!

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Justin Tomlinson is stood behind a table-top on which he is manipulating three up-turned coloured beakers as in a cup and ball trick. He is wearing a white shirt and blue tie but with a red fez on his head. He is saying: “Now – which one is the truth under?!” 

Crippen and an alternative to the New Year Honours

You may not be aware of this but there are quite a few Crips who have been approached by the establishment with regard to receiving an award for ‘services to disability’ (sic) and who have turned them down.

Most have stated their reason as not wanting to receive any recognition from an establishment that, at the very least, pay lip service to disabled people and our fight for civil rights. To receive an award such as an MBE, or OBE, etc., from this smug status quo would be seen as hypocrisy of the highest order.

That’s not to say that those who have accepted an award automatically fall into the category of turn-coat. Baroness Jane Campbell has consistently used her title to fight for our rights within the House of Lords and the late Sir Bert Massie and Lorraine Gradwell MBE, continued to do their bit, using their new status to fight the system from within, with their last breaths.

All this got me thinking though. Why should the establishment have all the fun?! Why can’t we have our own awards? Honouring our peers for their services to the cause, especially if they have continued the fight despite everything that the system throws at them.

So, I’m proposing that we start our own New Year’s Honours Awards. This would not only be for those Crips still fighting, but for those who have passed on and who’s memory continues to aid us in our fight for equality.

We could call it the CRIP awards, standing for ‘Crips Rebel In Protest’, with nominations for the disabled person who has constantly been in the face of the establishment during 2020. Nominations for a posthumous CRIP could also be accepted for those who fought the good fight in previous years.

I’ll have a chat with our friends at Disability Arts Online and see if we can organise something for the coming New Year.

Watch this space folks …

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A black guy wearing a hearing aid is clutching a medallion that hangs around his neck. On it is printed OBE. A white guy using an elbow crutch is also clutching a medallion which reads ‘CRIP award’. On the wall behind them is a sign that says ‘New year’s honours awards’. The white disabled guy is saying “You can keep your establishment award – this is the real thing!”

Crippen wishes you all season’s greetings and a peaceful New Year

Having received new commissions or requests to use existing cartoons from all over the world, I thought it would be a nice gesture to create my Christmas card this year with the greeting printed in some of the different languages.

I didn’t have room for all of the countries I’ve provided artwork for, so I’ve picked a random cross section. However, I do regret not having heard from the Cherokee Nation this year as I would love to have included their very picturesque greeting of ‘ᎤᏬᏢᏗ ᏓᏂᏍᏓᏲᎯᎲ’.

In contrast Afghanistan is a real mouthful with ‘De Christmas akhtar de bakhtawar au newai kal de mubarak sha’ whereas my friends over in Eire use the Gaelic ‘Nollaig Shona Dhuit!’. It’s ‘Merii Kurisumasu!’ to my Japanese colleagues (accompanied with a bow) and finally ‘S̄uk̄hs̄ạnt̒ wạn khris̄t̒mās̄!’ to all those in Thailand.

Finally, I’ll leave you with my Yule toast ‘Wes þu hál!’, which simply means “Be well” in Anglo-Saxon.

PS: My wife Helen, who provides the audio description for my work is going to love translating some of these greetings (not!).

Description of Christmas card for those using screen reading software

A caricature of Crippen can be seen through a window sitting at his drawing board wearing a Santa hat and with ‘Father Cripmas’ printed on his t-shirt. He is holding a red pen and has other pens and pencils in a mug marked with DAO. There is a small, decorated Christmas tree on the desk and behind him are several cartoons pinned to the wall. Outside of the window it is snowing, and snow and icicles are gathered on the window frame and sill. Around this image, printed in different colours, is ‘Merry Christmas’ in a variety of different languages.

Crippen researches the Queen’s ‘hidden’ cousins

Whilst doing research for a project about the history of disability I came across an interesting fact about the Royal family, in particular about the Queen’s cousins.

Mystery surrounds the lives of Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon, who were admitted to, ironically, the ‘Royal’ Earlswood Hospital, a mental institution in Redhill, Surrey, in 1941. Nerissa was aged 22, and Katherine was only 15 years old.

They were the respective third and fifth daughters of John and Fenella Bowes-Lyon. John was the elder brother of Queen Elizabeth, who later became known as the Queen Mother.

Nerissa and then Katherine were apparently born with severe learning difficulties. The pair were not encouraged to talk or participate in family gatherings and were officially classed as “imbeciles” by the time they were admitted to Earlswood. 

According to a Channel 4 documentary about the sisters in 2011, they had, to all intents and purposes, been abandoned by their family. There is no record of either woman ever receiving a family visit, nor receiving a birthday or Christmas card, according to the programme. 

In 1963, the family’s entry in Burke’s Peerage registered that both daughters were dead – when in fact they were both still alive and living at Earlswood.

Earlswood was not a happy place. Nurses and relatives of former inmates, interviewed as part of the CH4 programme, recalled an institution that was regimented and had wards of 40 patients. Each ward had just two nurses allocated. “You gave them a bath, cut their nails, fed them if they needed help,” one former nurse said.

Nerissa died aged 66 in 1986 and was buried in Redhill Cemetery. According to The Telegraph, only hospital staff attended her funeral and her grave was marked with plastic tags and a serial number. 

Having spent 72 years of her life in institutionalised care, Katherine managed to outlive her sister by a further 28 years and died in 2014 aged 87.

Description for those people using screen reading software

A gravestone stands in a mound of grass. On it is the inscription ‘In memory of Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon conveniently forgotten by their family for most of their lives’.

Crippen – DWP again refuses to publish information from secret reviews into benefit-related deaths

Back in October 2014 The Disability News Service (DNS) revealed the existence of secret Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) reviews into suicides and other deaths and serious incidents.

Most, although not all, of the reviews involve the deaths of claimants, while some examine serious incidents that did not lead to a claimant dying.

After the DWP refused to release the reports in 2014, the information rights tribunal ruled in April 2016 that all information from the reviews that does not directly relate to the people who died should be released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The DWP had argued at the time that it was prevented from releasing the information by section 123 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992. This states that a civil servant is guilty of a criminal offence by disclosing “without lawful authority any information which he acquired in the course of his employment and which relates to a particular person”.

That argument was squashed by the tribunal, which said the department could release some information from the reviews, as long as it did not relate to individual claimants.

This led to the release of 49 redacted documents which revealed how the secret reviews had led to recommendations for improvements by the department after the deaths of claimants.

And so, we come to the present time where once again the DWP are refusing to release the information from reports completed over the last 20 months. This is just the latest attempt by ministers to hide information that links the department with the deaths of disabled claimants of benefits such as employment and support allowance and personal independence payment (PIP).

The Department has told DNS, in a response to another freedom of information request, that it cannot release any information from internal process reviews (IPRs) completed between April 2019 and last month because (and lo and behold they’ve come up with a new reason!) it is exempt from its duty to release the documents because every one of those documents is linked to the development of new government policy – under section 35(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act.

But there will be suspicions that the refusal to release the documents is because DWP is anxious to avoid revealing any further evidence linking it with safeguarding failures that have led to the deaths of claimants.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A corridor with two adjacent doors in it, one labelled ‘Department for Works and Pensions’ and the other saying ‘Department of Excuses’. Between the doors, the wall has been knocked out and a man in a high-vis tabbard and wearing a hard hat can be seen through the gap. A red warning sign saying ‘caution demolition’ is placed in the gap. Standing in the corridor adjacent the DWP door is Teresa Coffey and standing adjacent the Dept for Excuses door is a civil servant in a grey suit. He is also holding a piece of paper with ‘excuses for benefit deaths’ printed upon it. He is handing it to Ms Coffey. He is also saying to her: “You’ve used us so many times, it seems easier to knock both of our departments into one!”

Crippen reports on yet another death attributed to DWP policy

And still it goes on. Despite being accused of causing the deaths of disabled benefit claimants by awarding the assessment process to callous private sector contractors, the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) is faced yet again with the accusation that they were “directly implicated” in the death of another disabled person.

Philippa Day (27) appears to have killed herself after hearing hours earlier that her repeated pleas for her personal independence payment (PIP) assessment to be held in her own home had been rejected.

Philippa had agoraphobia, which is a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or that help wouldn’t be available if things go wrong. Many people assume agoraphobia is simply a fear of open spaces, but it’s actually a more complex condition.

Her death is the latest in a long line of tragedies linked to the failings of DWP and its private sector contractors and follows years of repeated promises by the department to learn from the deaths of other disabled benefit claimants.

Her sister, Imogen, told Disability News Service that months before she died, Philippa’s benefits had been slashed when she tried to move from disability living allowance (DLA) to personal independence payment (PIP), and she began to experience significant financial problems as her life spiralled out of control.

Mental health professionals who worked with her had told both DWP and its private sector assessment contractors Capita of the risk to her life caused by the problems with her PIP claim.

She had requested a home assessment in two PIP claim forms – one of which was lost by DWP – and in a phone call to Capita, with her community psychiatric nurse also twice calling Capita to say that she needed to be assessed at home because of her significant mental distress.

She appears to have taken her own life after receiving a letter telling her that she would not be allowed a home assessment and would instead have to visit a Capita assessment centre to test if she was eligible for PIP.

Shortly after her death, about £4,000 in PIP arrears was deposited by DWP in Philippa’s bank account without warning.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A young white male is sat at a desk and is wearing a hands free telephone unit comprising of boom mike and earphone. He is holding a PIP application. In front of him are two paper trays. The one marked ‘failed’ is full of PIP application forms whereas the one marked ‘passed’ is empty. On the wall behind him is a sign that reads ‘Capita assessment unit’. He is saying to the person on his phone: “Listen, I don’t care if she has died – if she’s not here for her appointment she loses her benefits!”