Crippen hears of funding that will be used to build evidence of DPO crisis

New research will seek crucial evidence of the “serious crisis” facing Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) across England.

Inclusion London told the Disability News Service (DNS) that they have secured £80,000 from the National Lottery Community Fund to research the state of England’s “chronically under-resourced, fragmented and precarious” DPO sector.

It will produce proposals for long-term improvements to the regional and national DPO infrastructure and build a “clear picture” of the support the DPO sector needs. The research will also be used as the basis for future funding applications.

The new funding follows calls by DPOs during April’s national conference of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance – of which Inclusion London is a member – for more to be done to ensure the voices of disabled people and their user-led organisations are heard at both regional and national levels.

Inclusion London told DNS that about a quarter of DPOs have closed since 2015, while many others are “hanging on by a thread”.

It says that life for disabled people “is getting worse not better”, with “exclusion and discrimination coupled with rising poverty and inequality as a result of austerity, welfare reform and cuts to public services”.

The lack of resources means DPOs cannot carry out vital projects, such as outreach work with disabled people in institutions, developing the skills of its members, and tackling the “systematic exclusion” disabled people face.

Inclusion London warns that it is still “culturally acceptable, indeed the norm, to have non-disabled people representing us with funding disproportionally going to the large disability charities that are not run or controlled by disabled people and do not represent or even amplify our voice”.

To understand just how dire the situation is then please click here to read the full DNS article.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A white male and a white woman both smartly dressed in business suits are receiving a large sack of cash from Boris Johnson who represents the government. They carry a sign that identifies them as ‘groups for the disabled’. Behind Boris and trying to attract his attention, are two disabled people; a young white woman using a wheelchair and an Asian man who is wearing dark glasses and carries a white stick. They are both looking angry. They are identified by a sign that reads ‘groups of disabled people’. The male charity worker is saying to Boris: “Groups FOR and groups OF – it’s just a matter of semantics don’t you think?!”

Crippen pays tribute to the irreplaceable Sian Vasey

Disabled activists have paid tribute this week to Sian Vasey – a much-loved, “multi-layered activist” who played a “pivotal role” in the disabled people’s movement for more than 40 years – who died last week.

A stream of messages on social media mentioned her contributions as a disabled activist, a pioneering member of the disability arts movement, a BBC producer, a writer, a campaigner on issues such as accessible transport and independent living, and as a Labour party and union activist.

Writing in the Disability News Service (DNS) John Pring comments that many mentioned her wit, her contribution as a role model for other disabled people, and the part she had played in protests as an activist with the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) and Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK).

Mandy Colleran described Sian as “the warrior queen of the disability movement”, and “a role model, a thinker, a leader, an activist, a writer, and a great friend”, and said she was “irreplaceable”.

The DNS article goes on to mention that Sian’s activism with NDY UK often intertwined with her campaigning on independent living.

In November 2014, as NDY UK prepared for its latest protest outside the House of Lords to demonstrate opposition to a bill that sought to legalise assisted suicide, Sian said: “Many of us need support with our daily routine, washing, dressing, continence and going to the loo but this in no way affects our well-being, or diminishes our dignity. We get the help we need, but we have had to fight hard to get it. It is a tragic fact that this is a primary cause of such people wanting to end their lives prematurely.”

Sian was also a member of the pioneering Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) in the 1970s, and played a key role in setting up another pioneering disabled people’s organisation, London Disability Arts Forum. She was later director of Ealing Centre for Independent Living (ECIL) and was awarded an OBE in 2009 for services to disabled people.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A caricature of Sian sat in her wheelchair with a cheerful smile on her face. She is wearing a dark pink top with blue tights and has a silver bracelet on her right wrist.

Crippen looks for the scheme that was designed to amplify the voices of disabled people

Do you remember two years ago when the government announced that they’d be setting up nine regional networks to “amplify” the voices of disabled people? Well, two years later and five of them haven’t even held a single meeting!

According to Justin Tomlinson, the so-called minister for disabled people, the aim of the networks was to bring the views of disabled people and local disabled organisations across England closer to government.

It actually took them over a year to name the new chairs of the nine networks, and it is only six months since the government’s new Disability Unit announced that the networks had finally started work across England. Although it’s boss, Justin Tomlinson appeared to have misled MPs on the women and equalities committee about the success of the networks.

He told them the networks were allowing “all voices, particularly of all sizes of disability organisations” to “share their real lived experience and help us improve our policies, our communications”, and that he found it “a very, very rewarding part of my role”.

At that point, only two of the nine networks – those in the north-west and in Yorkshire and Humber – had held any meetings!

Two of the four networks that have met – those for London and the north-east – only had their first meetings towards the end of last month, according to a freedom of information (FOI) response to Disability News Service (DNS).

The Disability Unit has also been forced to admit in the FOI response that it has not even seen the minutes of the few network meetings that have taken place.

You can read more about this in the Disability News Service article written by our colleague John Pring.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

An empty table and chair are located beneath a sign that reads ‘disability regional network’. The sign is hanging crookedly from the wall by one screw. A giant spider’s web covers everything with a large black spider sat up in the corner of the room. The whole scene looks abandoned and forgotten.

Crippen discovers that the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is planning to … er?!

As most of us are aware, face-to-face assessments for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and other healthcare benefits have been suspended since March and the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic.

In its place telephone and paper-based assessments have been used to determine how much support a claimant needs which in turn, influences the award, if any, somebody receives.

Taking questions from the Work and Pensions Committee on how the DWP will continue to respond to coronavirus over the coming months – including PIP assessments, Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was asked how the telephone and paper-based assessment process was working and if they were considering changing to video conferencing any time soon?

Ms Coffey responded somewhat vaguely: “In terms of going forward, we’re still working on some plans in that regard and I’m not at the stage yet where we can share exactly what it is we’re going to be doing …”

Neil Coyle, Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark then asked what the DWP was going to do in the long-term about “tackling the complexity of the assessment process and other barriers that seem to prevent disabled people from accessing support.”

Once again Ms Coffey was unable to give a clear answer saying that it was part of a policy formulation that the DWP is still working on and hopes to publish … er, soon.

So, there we are, yet another Secretary of State for Work and Pensions unable to say what it is they are actually doing, or to give a clear answer to any questions raised … nothing new there then!

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Theresa Coffey is standing in front of a row of seated officials in the office of the works and pensions committee. The committee members are all looking at her expectantly. She is saying: “Erm …”. Behind her is Dominic Cummings with pieces of paper around his feet which read ‘false facts’, ‘more false facts’ and ‘even more false facts’. He is whispering to her: “Stall them Theresa – I’ve just dropped all of the crib sheets!”.

Crippen despairs as new boss of DWP carries on their callous tradition

Whilst giving evidence to the Work and Pension Select Committee Dr Thérèse Coffey MP, the new boss of the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) casually claimed that the department does not have a legal duty or statutory requirement to safeguard vulnerable benefit claimants.

Referring to a letter Dr Coffey had sent the Committee following her appearance before the committee on 22 July, Labour MP Debbie Abrahams, a former Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary asked: “I notice in the second page of this letter a backtracking on [your position in the evidence session on 22 July 2020] when you say the DWP does not have a duty of care or a statutory safeguarding duty. Given that you provide services to vulnerable people … should there be? And shouldn’t there also be a moral obligation under the government in recognition of the services they provide to vulnerable people?”

In her response, Coffey stated that she did not think it was the responsibility of the DWP to have that statutory duty. “We are not the local council, social services, the doctors and other people …” she added dismissively.

Not only does Coffey’s response show a lack of concern over the well-being of disabled claimants, it also means that their safety is not at the forefront of DWP policy and that any harm they cause to vulnerable people is not their responsibility!

It certainly explains their reluctance to engage with the issue of the deaths of disabled claimants due to draconian DWP policies and procedures.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Theresa Coffey and Iain Duncan-Smith (IDS) are sat at a table. A plaque on the table reads ‘Department of Works and Pensions’. In front of Coffey is a piece of paper with ‘DWP has no duty to safeguard clients’. Another piece of paper is in front of IDS and reads ‘DWP do not accept any responsibility for deaths of benefits claimants’. IDS is saying: “Good to see that Ms Coffey is continuing our proud tradition of not giving a toss!”

Crippen reports on an action by disabled artist and activist Dolly Sen

Our friend and colleague Dolly Sen has taken her protest out on the streets again and this time it’s the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that comes under her critical scrutiny.

In an action designed to highlight DWP’s lack of compassion, Dolly Sen delivered a printed heart to DWP’s Caxton House headquarters in Westminster and laid it at the front entrance. She said that this was because the DWP had no heart (Dolly had tried listening for one with a stethoscope up against the building!)

Dolly also decided to ‘Section’ the DWP for being a danger to benefit claimants. She then stretched yellow and black tape across the front and rear entrances of the building to demonstrate that it was being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

She accused the DWP of lacking kindness, compassion and decency in the way that it treats disabled people who claim benefits such as personal independence payment and employment and support allowance, adding that the department had driven many claimants to their deaths.

The Disability News Service (DNS) pick up the story from here and report that as the action ended, a police officer – apparently called by DWP – arrived but was happy to allow Dolly and her team to leave after she explained why they were there. She told the officer about the deaths of benefit claimants including Jodey Whiting and Errol Graham, both of which were closely linked to DWP failings.

Sen told DNS later: “I am glad they called the police.

“It means that something we did riled them, unsettled them. It obvious struck a nerve. There was a reaction.”

Asked why the action was important, she said: “People are still dying.

“I am still seeing people who are suicidal being asked to do impossible things like 200 job applications when they struggle to do basic day-to-day living.”

Her message to DWP, she said, was: “Where is your heart? Today I was looking for your heart and I couldn’t find it.”

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A caricature of Dolly Sen wearing a white coat with a stethoscope hanging out of a pocket, is seen standing amongst the ruins of the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP). She is using a large hydraulic road drill to break up the rubble. A large grey sign identifying the building lies at an angle in the rubble. A piece of paper lies at her feet with ‘Dr Dolly finds that the DWP has no heart’ printed on it. Dolly is saying: “What – you’ve never heard of open-heart surgery before?!”

Crippen asks why has the DWP stopped answering questions?

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has stopped answering questions from Disability News Service (DNS), and is refusing to explain why it has taken this “totally unacceptable” step.

John Pring, Editor of DNS reports that since early July, the DWP’s press office has failed to provide a meaningful response to questions submitted by DNS on ten consecutive news stories, despite responding to questions put to them by the mainstream news organisations.

There has been no explanation from the DWP for the apparent refusal to respond on issues including the deaths of benefit claimants, the failure of minister for disabled people Justin Tomlinson to engage with disabled people’s organisations, and the silence of the government’s Disability Unit during the coronavirus pandemic.

In two of the stories, the DWP press office suggested that it could not respond for legal reasons, but with the other eight there was no explanation for the department’s refusal to comment.

The stories published by DNS that the DWP have refused to comment on include the department being accused of “careless cruelty” after it mistakenly sent out letters to disabled claimants during the pandemic that informed them their disability benefits had been stopped for failing to fill in review forms.

It also failed to comment on its own research which showed that levels of satisfaction with working-age disability benefits had plummeted in the two years to spring 2019.

DNS asked the DWP why it did not appear to be responding to questions, and whether it agreed that its policy appeared to be discriminatory. True to current form the DWP has failed to respond!

Over the last decade, DNS has reported on links between DWP and the deaths of disabled benefit claimants, DWP’s breaches of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, evidence of flaws in DWP programmes such as Disability Confident, and misleading statements made to parliament by work and pensions ministers.

Over the last six months, DNS has also exposed repeated breaches of disabled people’s rights by the government during the pandemic.

In July, DNS reported how DWP had re-introduced benefit sanctions, while millions of disabled people were still shielding from the virus, a move described by disabled campaigners as “barbaric” and “life threatening”.

I would suggest that the DWP are hiding from Disability News Service because John Pring’s questions are bringing to public attention too many unpalatable truths!

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A caricature of disabled journalist John Pring, Editor of the Disability News Service (DNS) is popping out of a filing cabinet drawer within the offices of the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP). He is holding a microphone with DNS printed on it and is confronting a DWP official who is reacting with shock at John’s sudden appearance. John is also holding a sheet of paper with ‘DWP hide figures’ printed on it. The DWP officer is holding a sheet of paper with ‘Covid 19 deaths of disabled’ printed on it. John is saying to the DWP official: “You don’t return my calls anymore – is it something I’ve said?!”

Crippen: Government was ‘reckless and negligent’ in approach to social care, say MPs

The government has been accused by MPs of a “reckless and negligent” approach to the social care sector during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our friends at the Disability News Service (DNS) have discovered that  a report by the Commons public accounts committee contrasts the government’s early actions to protect the NHS with its delayed, inconsistent and at times negligent actions on social care.

The committee’s report concludes: “This pandemic has shown the tragic impact of delaying much needed social care reform, and instead treating the sector as the NHS’s poor relation.”

A key criticism comes over the decision to discharge 25,000 NHS patients into care homes without first testing them for coronavirus – in the period up to 15 April – which the committee says was an “appalling error”.

As a result, between 9 March and 17 May, around 5,900 care homes, more than a third of care homes across England, reported at least one outbreak of coronavirus.

The report says: “When we challenged the Department and the NHS on such a reckless and negligent policy, the Department told us that when the NHS issued its guidance in March COVID-19 was not widespread.”

DNS writes that the committee’s report also highlights the government’s failure to provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to the social care sector – while also changing guidance on the use of PPE 40 times – and the failure to test social care staff and volunteers during the first weeks of the crisis.

The committee does not appear to have taken evidence from any disabled people’s organisation or service-user during its inquiry, but the report still highlights three of the 17 ways in which the government breached the rights of disabled people, according to research published by DNS recently.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

An Asian male, a balding white male and a white middle-aged female are seated at a rostrum which has a sign on the front saying that they are the commons public accounts committee. Various documents are scattered around which read social care failures, 25,000 patients sent to care homes without testing, and PPE guide changed 40 times. The three committee members are saying: “Reckless!” and “Appalling errors!” and “negligent!”. A young white male wheelchair user is positioned at their side trying to attract the attention of the white female committee member. He is holding a document that reads 17 breaches of rights of disabled people. In front of them stands Boris Johnson. He is looking towards us (the reader) and is saying: “Do they mean me?!”

Crippen watches Boris Johnson trying to dodge a coronavirus inquiry

In an article in the Guardian, Polly Toynbee writes about a new group that’s been formed to challenge the governments appalling record on Coronavirus deaths.

Called Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice the group are not only extremely articulate but are pushing the duo into a corner by asking what plans exist should a second wave of the virus hits the UK.

Polly writes: “They should be alarmed by the articulate voices of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, their numbers growing weekly. On a recent BBC Today programme they were demanding an immediate public inquiry into their relatives’ deaths. They say the “intense preparations” for a future Covid-19 spike called for in this week’s report from the Academy of Medical Sciences requires a rapid inquiry into what went wrong and why, to stop a repetition of those 20,000 care home deaths.”

In the Commons, Johnson said there would be an “independent inquiry”, but with no date or definition. He has refused to meet the families so far, rightly afraid of the power of their critique of serial failings in coping with the pandemic.

Polly adds:

“Here’s the extra problem: any inquiry would not only expose the lethal blunders that left Britain “world-beating” in Covid-19 mistakes, but it would open up the great social care dilemma.

Every wicked political issue congregates here: the passionate feelings about inheritances lost to care costs, the anti-immigration sentiment Priti Patel panders to in denying visas to “low-skilled” care workers, the injustice between those with Alzheimer’s (who pay) and those with cancer (who don’t).

It would expose the catastrophic neglect of Britain’s older people, 1.5 million of whom lack the care they need, despite a 25% increase in the number of over-65s in the last decade. The Treasury will have noted the £8bn the Health Foundation reports it would take just to restore care to the (far from ideal) 2010 standards.”

And what Polly doesn’t add: it would also expose the staggering number of disabled people who have died due to the pandemic and this government’s failure to protect us.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings, both wearing paint splattered overalls and carrying large paint brushes are shown to have painted themselves into a corner. Inscribed in the painted area is ‘Covid 19 cover up’. Boris saying: “Oh shit Dominic – looks like we’ve painted ourselves into yet another corner!”

Crippen hears about a coronavirus grant for disabled people who cannot return to work

Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work Justin Tomlinson has finally emerged from wherever he’s been hiding to announce a funding initiative for those disabled people who are unable to return to their place of work and want help to work from home.

This is an extension of the Access to Work scheme and includes support for special equipment, travel costs, PA support etc., for those who are extremely vulnerable, have severe mental health conditions or have a physically impairment.

The Minister said applications for the grants will be fast-tracked for those with severe health conditions. He added: “In these unprecedented times, it is absolutely right that we continue to support disabled people to pursue employment without barriers”.

Disabled people will be able to use the cash to buy specialist equipment, such as a screen reader, video remote interpreting, or support worker services, to enable them to do their job from home. Previously, the cash could only be used for support in the workplace or transport purposes.

For those people who are anxious about returning to work and need support, you can also get mental health support through Access to Work with a tailored package of support for up to nine months.

Hmmm … we’ll wait to see just how successful disabled people are at getting this new grant and whether they have to jump through the usual hoops to get it!

Description of cartoon for those reading screen reading software

A white male in a grey suit is standing in front of two disabled people with a flaming hoop in his hand. His other hand is holding a form that reads ‘access to work grant’. The two disabled people, a woman of restricted growth and a male wheelchair user are looking perplexed. The man with the suit is saying to them: “You should be getting used to jumping through hoops by now!”