Crippen hears that government may have to rewrite its National Disability Strategy

We hear that the government may be forced to rewrite its National Disability Strategy if disabled campaigners are successful in their bid to persuade the High Court that the document is unlawful.

In an attempt to sow even more confusion, Therese Coffey the government’s works and pensions secretary, told the court that she did not have a legal duty to consult with disabled people on the cross-government strategy and that she had therefore chosen not to do so.

This is despite stating earlier that the UK Disability Survey (which the government carried out in January and February this year) was intended to be “part of our ongoing consultation” on the national strategy, she now argues that the survey was in fact an “information gathering exercise” designed only to gather data about the lives of disabled people!

Disabled activist Doug Paulley, one of the four campaigners who have taken this before the High Court, whilst rejecting the government’s latest attempt at spinning events to suit themselves (Ed: Surely not!), also highlighted the government’s failure to consult with disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) as part of the process. He claims it was “conspicuously unfair” and argued that the way the survey was carried out breached the government’s public sector equality duty under the Equality Act.

Sarah Hannett QC, representing Coffey, admitted that there was “perhaps some unfortunate language (used) referring to consultation”. She suggested that it had not been appropriate to carry out an overall consultation on such a wide-ranging strategy containing so many proposals, and that consultations would be carried out on some of the individual proposals “in due course”.

But Steve Broach, the barrister for the four disabled claimants said the survey had taken place “in the context of a concrete commitment to publish a strategy and with the express purpose” of obtaining views about what should be in it. He added: “It is crystal clear that this was a consultation, not merely a gathering of information” and that it was “inconceivable” that the government would publish a national strategy about any minority group without carrying out a proper consultation on it.

The judge, Mr Justice Griffiths, said he would deliver his judgment at a future date still to be decided.

Read more about this in the latest Disability News Service article.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

The scene is set in a court room with a high court judge sitting with a royal crown on the wall behind him. Beneath him are two disabled people, one of whom is holding up a large card with ‘breach of government’s public sector equality duties’. In the witness box is Therese Coffey, works and pension secretary. Alongside of her stands Boris Johnson and the new minister for disabled people, Chloe Smith MP. Coffey is saying out of the side of her mouth: “Psst Boris – any chance of us changing the law retrospectively again?!” Boris replies: “Consider it done Therese!”. Chloe Smith, with a sycophantic look on her face says: “My hero!”.

Crippen hears about the continued lack of support for DPOs

Our friends at Disability News Service have focused our attention once again on the National Disability Strategy and in particular its lack of any real support for disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).

More DPOs are closing as new figures provide further evidence of the “extremely hostile” environment they are facing. The disabled people’s and service-user network Shaping Our Lives (SOL) has revealed that 33 of its member organisations across the UK – nearly one in 10  – have been forced to close in the last two years. Also, the National Survivor User Network raised concerns about the fall in the number of user-led groups, due to austerity cuts and other trends affecting their funding.

These new concerns come after a report by Tracey Lazard, of Inclusion London, and Mark Harrison, of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), who warned that DPOs across England were in an “increasingly precarious situation”, with many existing “hand to mouth” with “little ability to carry out long term planning or invest in staff and service development”.

Becki Meakin, SOL’s involvement manager, told Disability News Service that the user-led sector was experiencing “an extremely hostile funding environment” at the same time that the pandemic has seen demand for their services soar.

She added: “The COVID-19 pandemic saw disabled people’s organisations leap to support people in their local communities, providing basic equipment … at a time when many of the people helping were also most at risk of COVID-19. The government was much slower to act, and without the work of disabled people’s organisations, many people would have been totally abandoned.”

Mark Harrison, a member of the ROFA steering group, said there was no recognition in the government’s “so-called strategy” of the plight DPOs were in.

He said: “We have to remember that Justin Tomlinson [the former minister for disabled people] created and then closed down a DPO forum after three meetings. There is no commitment from the government either to engage or co-produce with DPOs or fund DPOs. (Also) because there is no statutory duty around funding DPOs, it is inevitable that many have closed, and many will continue to close over the coming years.”

Read the full story in Disability News Service.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Two white people sit upon sacks of money under a sign that reads: ‘Charities for the disabled – nothing about them without us!’. £100 notes and gold coins are also scattered on the floor by their feet. Opposite them stands Boris Johnson. At his feet are two Disability News Service pages. One reads ‘No money for DPO’s’ and the other ‘More DPO’s close due to lack of funding’. They each have a glass of champagne which they are raising in a toast. Boris is saying: “Here’s to maintaining the Status Quo!”. One of the charity people is saying: “Cheers!”

Crippen discovers that the government have read less than 5% of our contributions!

Only a tiny percentage of the views expressed by the thousands of disabled people who took part in the government’s national disability survey have actually been read by a minister or civil servant. The vast majority were read, coded and analysed by a so-called ‘topic modelling’ machine!

The new information which came as a result of a freedom of information request, has added fresh ammunition for disabled campaigners who believe that the National Disability Strategy – which was “informed” by the survey results and was published in July – has no legitimacy and should be withdrawn.

Most of the questions posed by the UK Disability Survey in January were restricted to multiple choice answers. But four of them allowed “free text” answers, and the Cabinet Office says it received more than 25,000 answers from disabled people to these four questions.

A freedom of information response from the Cabinet Office now says that about 95% of these answers were analysed through so-called “topic modelling”, which the government has described as:

“a method of machine-assisted reading of text data, used to identify topics from free text responses to open format questions”.

A report on the survey responses says that only 1,200 of the 25,000 (4.8%) responses from disabled people were analysed by human researchers through “manual coding”, and even then, only with the aim of producing themes and sub-themes for the machine.

The freedom of information response says there is no written evidence to show how many responses were read in full by a civil servant, a minister or a researcher, with the Cabinet Office telling Disability News Service: “No information is held on the number of responses read in full by a Civil Servant, Research [sic], or Minister.”

The much-criticised survey is already being challenged by four disabled people through a high court judicial review.

Doug Paulley, one of the four taking the legal action, said:

“I am unsurprised but dismayed that the government evidently doesn’t care enough about disabled people’s input into their strategy that they didn’t even bother to read most responses. The topics chosen were not directed by disabled people, the mechanism of survey was inaccessible to many disabled people and the restricted range of answers meant that the limited free text responses were for many the only way to put down what is really important to them. I spent time writing mine carefully; doubtless other disabled people did similarly – unless they were put off responding altogether due to the other issues.”

This underlines the claim by the disabled people taking the government to court that the survey was so deeply flawed that the strategy has no legitimacy and should be withdrawn and rewritten with disabled people.

The Disability Unit have declined to say how the government justified having the vast majority of the free text responses “coded” by a machine rather than read by a human being. Although, let’s face it, this government haven’t yet shown that it has anything resembling a ‘human’ approach when dealing with disabled people!

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A large grey Dalek is firing its laser gun at a document being held up by a wheelchair user. The document reads ‘feedback from disabled people’ and it is bursting into flames. On the floor around them are several more of these documents with burned edges. The Dalek has a sign upon it that reads ‘disability unit’ and is screeching at the disabled person: “Exterminate, exterminate!”

Crippen supports the call for the end of the WCA

A disabled independent disability studiesresearcher is finding it disturbing that the Disability Benefits Consortium is failing to support the user-led disabled community in its call for an end to the seriously flawed Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

As the research lead for the Preventable Harm Project that she led for ten years, Mo Stewart points to the most recently published evidence that establishes a direct link to the death, despair and preventable harm of many thousands of disabled people who were evaluated using the WCA.

In a letter to Mark Hodgkinson, Chief Executive of Scope (who are active members of the Consortium) Mo expresses serious concern to learn that once again charitable groups like Scope, who claim to represent the disabled community in theDisability Benefits Consortium are lobbying for improvements to the WCA instead of demanding that it should be abolished. She told him:

“This simply demonstrates to the DWP that the Disability Benefits Consortium anticipate that the WCA will continue to be used. Most of us now accept that the WCA is a fatally flawed and totally discredited non-medical functional assessment – not a medical assessment – and is guaranteed to cause preventable harm to those in greatest need. In her letter to Hodgkinson, Mo reiterated that:

“The WCA disregards diagnosis, prognosis, past medical history and prescribed medicines and was influenced by corporate America, who have advised successive UK administrations regarding social policy reforms since 1992.

“In a recently published briefing written in response to the Health and Disability Green Paper, and the latest research paper accepted for publication by the Journal of (In)Justice International it is made clear that the WCA does not need to be improved in any way. It needs to be abolished to stop more chronically ill and disabled people being killed by the state.”

I’ll let you know when (if?!) Mo gets a response. I don’t think she’s holding her breath!

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Three giant red letters spelling out WCA are standing on grass against a clear blue sky. The letters are crumbling and cracking and are being repaired by three people. The first, a white male with an ID badge identifying him as being from the charity Mencap is hammering wooden strengtheners onto the letter ‘A’ whilst an Asian woman (from Scope) is wrapping white bandage around the letter ‘C’. The letter ‘W’ has a white male (from Leonard Cheshire) sat on top of it replacing broken pieces. A young wheelchair user is glaring at them whilst holding a banner with ‘scrap the work capability assessment’ printed on it. On the floor are three large pieces of card. On one is written ‘preventable harm project establish WCA directly linked to deaths’, on another is written ‘DPO’s state that WCA not fit for purpose’ and the final piece has written upon it ‘1,000’s die due to WCA process’. The man from Mencap is saying to the wheelchair user: “Just imagine where you’d be without the help of the Disability Benefits Consortium!”

Crippen hears that ATOS may be returning to carry out DWP assessments

Disabled activists reacted with horror after learning that the former government contractor ATOS could soon be carrying out “fitness for work” tests again, six years after being forced to withdraw from its assessment contract with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

ATOS withdrew from the contract with DWP in 2015, following years of negative publicity and multiple links between the actions of the company and its staff and the deaths of disabled claimants.

Now, because the DWP is introducing a major change to the way it commissions private sector companies to carry out health and disability benefit assessments – wanting a single supplier rather than the three it currently uses – disabled campaigners fear it could lead to ATOS once again returning to carry out these assessments.

Information released to Disability News Service (DNS) by DWP last year showed that, between April 2010 and April 2019, ATOS was paid more than £1.34 BILLION to deliver assessments. However, the failings of the assessment processes employed by DWP have been exposed through research and direct action by grassroots groups of disabled people, inquiries by parliamentary committees and concerns raised by individual MPs. The release of government statistics, television documentaries, and a lengthy investigation into the PIP assessment practices of ATOS by DNS further exposed their callous treatment of disabled claimants.

Paula Peters, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which helped to force ATOS’s withdrawal from the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) contract six years ago, said: “It’s an absolute outrage that ATOS could be carrying out WCA’s again … especially as they have caused disabled people such dreadful fear and distress as a direct result of these assessments.”

Read the full story in Disability News Service.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A small group of disabled people representing a variety of impairments and ethnicities look on in horror as the spectre of ATOS, in the form of a giant black cloaked figure with its arms raised in the air either side of its body, looms over them all. One of the disabled people is saying: “And just when we thought that things couldn’t get any worst!”                                                                                                                                      

Crippen asks you to challenge the proposed changes to border policies

Apart from the travel restrictions imposed by the Coronavirus pandemic, the government are now making changes to border policies which means that many overseas personal assistants (PAs), who disabled people rely upon for their everyday care and support needs, can no longer come into the country and work. 

We therefore need to get the government to make rule changes to allow overseas PAs to enter this country and work so that disabled employers can continue to live independent lives.

You can bring pressure on the government by filling in the online consultation . Responses should be evidence-based and where possible should provide data and/or examples to support your answers.

The deadline for submitting your responses to ‘the call for evidence questionnaire’ is 29th October 2021 so there’s not much time.

You can also write to your MP to lobby the government on your behalf.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Two disabled people carrying placards are angrily confronting a man in a suit who represents a care home. The sign alongside of him reads: ‘Welcome to the Leonard Pressure Care Home’. One of the placards shows the DPAC logo and the other one reads ‘save our PAs’. On the floor at their feet is a notice which reads: ‘changes to border policy’. He is saying to the disabled protesters: “But look on the bright side – no PA support means that you can come and live with us!” Along the bottom of the cartoon is a statement that reads@ ‘tell the government to make rule changes to allow overseas personal assistants to enter this country and work so that disabled employers can continue to lead independent lives. Also write to your MP.

Crippen despairs as yet another minister for disabled people bites the dust

I’ve lost count of the minister’s for disabled people who have been given the boot following their participation in yet another ill thought out strategy for our future.

Just as Justin Tomlinson was about to face a common’s select committee to answer questions about his part in the national disability strategy debacle, another minister is pushed forward from the ranks to take responsibility for both the strategy and the disability benefits green paper.

Chloe Smith has been appointed to the post following the sacking of Justin Tomlinson, and now has to face not just the select committee but also a host of angry disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) who were excluded from participating in the strategy which will decide the future of disabled people in the UK.

As you’ll be aware, serious concerns were raised by DPOs about both the Shaping Future Support green paper and the National Disability Strategy in the days after their publication this summer. The new DPO Forum England – which represents 21 of the country’s leading DPOs and was set up after Tomlinson shut down his own advisory forum of DPOs – has now completed its detailed response to the green paper consultation, which closes on 11 October.

The Forum, which includes representation from Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, the Reclaiming Our Futures AllianceInclusion LondonThe Alliance for Inclusive EducationEqual Lives, Disability Positive in Cheshire, Disability Sheffield, and National Survivor User Network says in its response that it is “shocking and unacceptable” that the green paper “completely fails to address the inadequacy of the financial support available to disabled people who face multiple and complex barriers to employment”.

The response also says that the green paper is not based in “reality”, partly because it has failed to apologise to disabled people “for subjecting them to a hostile environment” which has caused “many deaths, large scale poverty, exclusion, and human rights abuses that have been examined in detail and condemned by the United Nations”.

The DPO Forum England’s response also stresses the important of independent advocacy for disabled benefit claimants, which it says would best be provided by local DPOs. And it also contrasts the UK government’s approach to reform with that of the Scottish government, which “has been framed to alleviate Disabled people’s stress and anxiety and a lack of trust in the disability benefits system”.

Read more about the DPO Forum England’s response in Disability News Service.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

The new minister for disabled people Chloe Smith is nudging the sacked minister Justin Tomlinson off a high ledge. Below him are lots of human skulls and bones identified as the Tory party political graveyard. She is holding a piece of paper on which is written ‘Tomlinson to answer for disability strategy fiasco to select committee’. Another sign at her feet reads ‘Chloe Smith MP appointed disability minister’. She is looking at you and is saying: “Tomlinson – No I don’t think we have anyone with that name working here!”

Crippen and the increase in government spending … all 29.5p of it!

Well, there you have it. This government place so much value on us Crips that they’ve decided to increase spending on services for disabled people by an incredible … 29.5p per person!

Launched on the back of the government’s new National Disability Strategy – which promises to bring about “practical and lasting change” – analysis by Disability News Service (DNS) has shown the government has pledged just £4.13 million of new funding in the strategy, despite claims by prime minister Boris Johnson that the document is the “down payment” on his promise to “build back better and fairer, for all our disabled people”.

Although ministers claimed last month that the commitments in the strategy were “supported by £1.6bn of funding”, more than a billion pounds of that was announced in last year’s spending review as part of a rise in spending on special educational needs, much of it allocated to supporting segregated schools. The government has yet to explain where the other £500 million funding has been allocated, but it is not thought to be new money.

But when divided among the 14.1 million disabled people the strategy says there are in the UK, this total of £4.13 million amounts to just 29.5p per person.

Mark Harrison, a member of the steering group of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), said the new funding of just 29.5p per disabled person was “an insult”. He described the strategy as “smoke and mirrors”, and he added: “It puts all the responsibility on disabled people to overcome the barriers, rather than removing the barriers. It’s a list of announcements, it’s not a strategy.”

Fazilet Hadi, head of policy for Disability Rights UK and speaking on behalf of the new DPO Forum England, a network of many of the country’s leading organisations of disabled people, pointed out that even the small amount of new funding had been taken from existing budgets. She said: “The £1.6 billion spend announced as part of the National Disability Strategy was money already allocated to departmental budgets from previous spending reviews.”

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the apparent new funding of just £4.13 million showed that the “so called strategy is really nothing more than a cynical re-packaging of current polices and current budgets, all of which have failed to get our rights and equality back on track”.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Boris Johnson is standing holding a copy of the National Disability Strategy and is being confronted by a small group of angry disabled people. Each of the disabled people is holding a cheque for 29.5p printed on it with a red cross across the amount. At their feet is a copy of Disability News Service which carries the headline ‘ DNS calculate new spending only worth 29.5p per disabled person’. Boris is saying to them: “Because it costs more to actually allocate this money to you all, we’re going to have to deduct it from your benefits!”

Crippen hears about the revival of direct action

I don’t know. I take a week off in order to move house and what happens … the peasants are revolting, that’s what happens. And not before time!

It’s taken Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) to revive the tradition of direct action onto the streets and to confront this government about its callous and inhuman treatment against disabled people, or as this government no doubt refer to us … the peasants!   

DPAC, along with other disabled activists is hoping its #AudioRiot protest in central London will help highlight concerns about a series of “devastating” changes to social security, including imminent cuts to universal credit.

They are encouraging disabled activists and non-disabled allies to bring drums, whistles, cymbals, bells, klaxons, loudspeakers – as well as their own ear protectors – and anything else that might help to make noise as they protest about the government’s social security policies.

The protest, which will gather outside King’s Cross station at 11.30am on Tuesday 28 September, will also highlight the government’s refusal to offer recipients of so-called legacy benefits – including disabled people receiving employment and support allowance (ESA) – the same £20-a-week increase given to those on universal credit during the pandemic. DPAC has stressed however, that the action will not be targeted at King’s Cross station.

Andy Greene, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, told Disability News Service (DNS) he believed there was a lot of pent-up energy among disabled activists who have not been able to take to the streets for more than 18 months.

He said: “People want an opportunity to come out and have the harm that has been done acknowledged.”

He said the government had made decisions during the pandemic that had led to the deaths of countless disabled people and had “got away with murder” because of the months of lockdown.

Disabled people had paid for the government’s decisions with their lives, he said, and there had been very little critical response to that, both from within parliament and outside it.

“There is no accountability. Nobody is holding anybody to account.”

The action will be the first time disabled people has taken to the streets since the start of the pandemic, and it will take COVID-19 protective measures for those activists taking part.

Greene said: “We understand that not everybody will be comfortable going back onto the streets and coming to London for direct action, which is why we will also have online actions, and we are calling for local actions as well.”

On Saturday 25 September, three days before the central London action, DPAC will be calling on members and allies to create an #AudioRiot in their local areas.

And on the day of the London protest, the high court will be hearing a judicial review being brought by two disabled ESA recipients who believe the government breached the European Convention on Human Rights by increasing the standard allowance of universal credit by £20-a-week, but not increasing the rate for 1.9 million ESA recipients by the same amount.

A vigil to support those taking the judicial review will take place outside the Royal Courts of Justice, between 9.15am and 10am on 28 September.

Read more about the action in Disability News Service.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software.

A large crowd of disabled protesters are picketing outside of King’s Cross station. They are holding several large yellow placards that, when held together show an unhappy face emoji along with the words ‘DPAC Protest’ in black print. Other placards show one with the DPAC logo and another with the words ‘disabled people are dying due to Tory cuts!’. There is also another large red placard with a skull and crossed bones symbol and the words ‘more Tory cuts means many more deaths!’ Some of the protesters are holding musical instruments including drums and cymbals and are making a loud noise. Two people are entering the station and are glancing across at the protest. One of them, a woman, is saying to her male companion: “Strange – I don’t recall hearing about this on the BBC?!”

Crippen has a wake-up call about racism

I’ve recently had a wake-up call from a couple of young black poets, whose work has slashed open the complacency screen that I’ve unwittingly stretched between myself and the increasing accounts of racism that are becoming an everyday occurrence in the UK.

I’m not racist, or so I tell myself. I like to believe that I treat all people the same, regardless of their ethnicity. These accounts of attacks against Black and people of colour are terrible, but I tell myself that there’s nothing I can do about it. As a white, middle class male any attempt that I do make in reaching out to people of different ethnicities would surely be seen as patronising and from a position of privilege.

One would have thought that as a disabled person I would be familiar with oppression in its many forms and that I would be seen as an ally in the fight for equality that Black and people of colour are waging. But the label that I carry of being part of the arrogant and condescending race that tore apart whole countries in the search for wealth and power still hangs around my neck. The resulting slave trade and exploitation of non-white labour both here and abroad only adds to this legacy.

But the poetry? You may have read the review in DAO recently about the anthology of poems Apricot Toast created by the Cross family and edited by disabled poet, writer and activist Merry Cross. Her twins Subira and Wandia focus much of their work on addressing the oppression and persecution that they experience as young Black people in a predominantly white society. And it’s this poetry that hit me between the eyes.

The twins talk about not having time for white ignorance. “The arrogance to overlook the structures built with the bodies of our ancestors for the benefit of their ancestors/ The structures that leave us little room to move, try to restrict us from breathing, flourishing, thriving …” and “You may want to adjust your behaviour, your colonial inheritance is showing/ You forget Your ancestors’ blood-stained hands still grip my ancestors’ kingdoms.”

They write about our racist childhood nursery rhymes and minstrel cartoons, violent assumptions, our stereotypes and ‘positive discrimination’, our distrust, our ignorance, and our hate. And as for England, the country where they were both born, they describe it as: “ … a country whose wealth was created by slaves. A country built on thousands of Black and Brown graves.”

Read their poetry. I can’t begin to adequately describe the feeling that goes into their work, but it certainly opened my eyes to the reality of racism in our society.

You can obtain a copy of the anthology of poetry from most major book-stores.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A white wheelchair user is using a paint brush to paint over white lettering on a black board. Alongside is another young disabled person holding a card that reads ‘addressing racism in disability arts’. On the floor besides a big tin of white paint is a list with several black related terms on it. The word black board has a line through it. The painter is saying: “That’s the black board nearly done – what’s next on the list?!” 

© 2021. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND