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!”

Crippen and the government’s continuing contempt for disabled people

The new government white paper on the future of the planning system completely ignores the needs of disabled people and the current accessible housing crisis.

The Planning for the Future document makes repeated references to the need for “beautiful new homes”, “beautiful places” and “beautiful buildings”, but with no mention of the dire shortage of suitable wheelchair-accessible housing.

In a report by the Disability News Service (DNS) the government is 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.

DNS reports that Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, says in the white paper that the government wants to see “environmentally friendly homes that will not need to be expensively retrofitted in the future, homes with green spaces and new parks at close hand, where tree lined streets are the norm and where neighbours are not strangers”.

The document talks about “tackling head on the shortage of beautiful, high quality homes and places where people want to live and work” and even highlights the importance of “our capacity to house the homeless and provide security and dignity”.

But nowhere does it mention disabled people and the need for accessible housing, and when it asks those taking part in a consultation* on the white paper for their “top three priorities for planning in your local area”, accessible housing is not included as one of the options.

The closest the white paper comes to mentioning disabled people’s housing needs is in question 26 of the consultation, when it asks for “views on the potential impact of the proposals raised in this consultation on people with protected characteristics” under the Equality Act.

So, yet another area in which this government is failing to even acknowledge disabled people, let alone make any provision to provide affordable, accessible housing for us.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A government official is holding a copy of the white paper ‘planning for the future’. He is standing facing a white middle-class couple with a small child in the grounds of a building development. A large sign says, ‘beautiful homes beautifully built for beautiful people’. Another official stands behind him is holding his hand up to two disabled people, a young white female wheelchair user and an Asian man using a crutch. The female disabled person is holding out a piece of card with ‘accessible housing?’ printed on it. The first official is saying to the middle-class couple: “Here you go – beautiful homes for beautiful voters … er, I mean beautiful people!”

Crippen discovers that the DWP loses more money through incompetence than through fraud!

Our friend in the Black Isles Alex Tiffin, editor of the Universal Credit Sufferers site has written an impressive article which reveals the true story behind the question of benefit fraud.

Alex writes:

“Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Department for work and Pensions (DWP) released their estimates of benefit fraud and payments made in error for the 2016/17 financial year.

The figures on benefit fraud AND their errors are somewhat smaller than we are usually led to believe.

HMRC said the total level of error and fraud favouring the claimant was £1.32bn which although this sounds high it is in-fact just 4.9% of the total tax credits bill.”

But more is lost because of HMRC/DWP incompetence than fraud.

Alex continues …

“Look at the figures in detail and they debunk the benefit scrounger claim even more.

  • Errors favouring the claimant was £1.05bn; 3.9% of the total tax credits bill.
  • Fraud favouring the claimant was £280m; 1% of the total tax credits bill.

So, fraud accounts for just 1% of money paid in error. £1.05bn is the HMRC’s own fault!”

Like the HMRC, the DWP also makes estimates fraud and error payments.

Its most recent estimate shows that overpayments to claimants in the 2017/18 financial year were £3.8bn which is 2.1% of the total bill. Break it down like the HMRC figures and it’s a similar story.

  • 1.2% (£2.1bn) of this claimant fraud.
  • 0.9% (£1.7bn) was their own fault!

“It’s utter hypocrisy that they label benefit claimants as cheats when they can’t keep their own shop in order” said Alex.

But hang on to your hats. Tax avoidance dwarfs all of this …

HMRC estimated the amount of tax avoided, evaded, or unpaid by people and companies in the 2015/16 financial year was £34  billion although, the Tax Justice Network and PCS estimate put this very much higher at around £120 billion.

Even at the HMRC’S lowest estimate, more was lost in tax in one year, than lost by the HMRC & DWP to benefit fraud and errors in five years.

Alex concludes his article:

“This is absolutely ridiculous and just underpins the message that the rich get off with anything. Small businesses and individual taxpayers face huge penalties whilst huge companies can settle for pennies in the pound.

The whole reason I sent my original tweet about my life on Universal Credit, was because I was sick of seeing people stating that all benefit claimants are playing the system.

These figures just confirm that is not the case even remotely. I doubt that they will attempt a tax law overhaul but, it’s figures like those I’ve written about above that highlight that Tory Britain is hostile towards anyone who isn’t in the money.”

Alex @RespectIsVital

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

An Asian wheelchair user and a young white male wheelchair user are placed alongside a huge chart on the wall which depicts benefits fraud versus tax evasion. The chart shows a graph climbing to 120 billion pounds, which corresponds to the column depicting tax avoided, evaded, and uncollected which is estimated by the Tax Justice Network and the PCS Union as being 120 billion pounds. Another column shows the government’s own calculation as being thirty billion pounds. Two other columns which barely register show estimated benefit fraud and benefit errors. Benefit errors are higher than the fraud column. The Asian man is saying: “So that’s the benefits fraud myth shot down in flames!”. The other young man is saying, whilst indicating the government’s own column with a black pointer: ”And even their own figures show £30 billion still owed in taxes!”

Crippen remembers Bert Massie

Speaking with some fellow Crips the other day, I was surprised to hear that some activists still regard the late Bert Massie as a bit of a turn coat.

The terms “sleeping with the enemy” and “getting into bed with the establishment” were used to describe his acceptance of a CBE after serving as Chair of the Disability Rights Commission from 2000 to 2007, and then being a founding Commissioner of its successor the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

But I knew a very different Bert …

In the nineties and then into the noughties I was writing and creating political cartoons for magazines and newsletters of various groups and organisations of disabled people about the fast-changing scene of disability equality. These included Disability Arts In London (DAIL) magazine, the Trades Union Disability Alliance newspaper (TUDA News) and the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) magazine. Often my stories needed some verification or background that was difficult to obtain and this was where Bert came in.

All I had to do was pick up the phone, explain what I needed, and he would unfailingly deliver. In fact, it was Bert who told me that no-one had picked up on the fact that when the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was replaced by the Equality Act in 2010, all of the case law that had been accumulated under the DDA would be thrown into the bin. We would have to start right back at square one, building up the case law that established our rights in legislation.

We were able to run with this story in the TUDA News (which was circulated throughout parliament and the House of Lords pushed by the indomitable Jane Campbell) and a strong lobby emerged to try and stop this happening … unfortunately without any success, despite Bert and Jane’s best efforts.

I’d sometimes get a cryptic note from him pointing me at a potential situation that he felt needed a Crippen cartoon, sometimes making himself the butt of the joke in order to get a valuable point across for our cause. When he died in October 2017 aged 68 of cancer, we lost a strong ally in our fight for civil rights for disabled people.

This was his favourite cartoon!

RIP Bert mate.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Bert Massie is seen sitting at a cross-roads with a dustpan and brush. In front of him is a pile of horse shit covered in buzzing flies, having been deposited by a horse disappearing off the picture with EHRC on its coat. Next to him is a signpost pointing down the roads to chaos and confusion. Behind him is a cart filled with people with the horse missing. A sign that reads ‘equality waggon’ is pinned to the side of the cart. A man sitting in the cart is saying: “Look on the bright side Bert – at least you get a job out of it!”

Crippen and discriminatory hospital visiting policy

Fleur Perry, disabled journalist and campaigner, has been fighting since April of this year to change NHS hospital visitors policy which discriminates against disabled people.

Fleur explains:

“We all have an equal right to life and an equal right to safe hospital treatment. Right now, some disabled people are having to fight for those basic rights.

One of the drivers of these critical situations is a policy by NHS England, which bars visitors but allows exceptions for end-of-life care, a parent of a child, a birthing partner, or where the visitor will be contributing to meeting a person’s mental health needs. This is the one: C0030_Visitor-Guidance_8-April-2020

This means disabled people who have other needs, including physical needs and communication needs, cannot be accompanied to hospital by someone trained to meet those needs. This is resulting in delayed emergency admissions, wasted outpatient appointments, and huge risks to both patients and medical staff.

Thousands of disabled people employ PAs or other care and support staff to assist with personal care and day-to-day needs, and many also rely on family. Removing access to these essential people is not only unsafe and wastes time and money but may be unlawful under the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act.

When I asked disabled people to share their views on this policy, dozens of you joined in to get the NHS England visitor guidance changed (special thanks to Mark Williams, BRIL, DPAC, Fry Law, the Not Dead Yet campaign and various Facebook groups).”

However, since then Fleur has heard this month of four hospitals still unlawfully refusing PAs, carers, and care/support workers of disabled people.

As she says: “Realistically, it’s not going to be just those four; there will be others.”

So, Fleur has contacted NHS England once again to ask them how they communicated the updated guidance to hospitals and let them know that it’s not being followed.

She added: “Somehow, I don’t trust that NHS England are going to get every hospital into line as quickly as is needed. Leaving it up to them isn’t the only way forward.”

So she needs your help again. There are almost 500 hospitals in England alone. If she rang every single one, this would take her over three weeks (that’s if they don’t argue. Adding in arguing, it could take her three months!)

So, all it takes is for us all to check the visitors policy of our nearest hospital and send a quick email if it’s not in line with current guidance. Fleur has made a template you could use.

Thanks everyone! And feel free to name and shame hospitals ignoring guidance on twitter! Or praise those who listen and make a change! Tag Fleur in please @ perry_fleur

Thanks folks.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Disabled campaigner Fleur Perry is seated in her electric wheelchair in the grounds of a hospital trust. She is carrying a placard that reads ‘we demand full access to all hospitals’. On the back of her chair is a respirator and she wears a large ring on her finger. Opposite her are two Trust officers. The first one, a white male wearing a grey suit is carrying a copy of the hospital visitors policy. He is saying to Fleur: “We’ve amended the damn thing – you don’t expect us to implement it as well do you?!” His companion, a white woman looking down her nose at Fleur adds: “So unreasonable!”

Crippen reveals blanket policy of DNR ordered by NHS

It’s come to light that during the height of the COVID 19 pandemic many care Homes in the UK were ordered by the NHS to place ‘do not resuscitate (DNR)’ orders against all residents in their care and that half of these related to people with learning or cognitive impairments.

The Queen’s Nursing Institute found one in 10 care homes were told by the NHS to change resuscitation orders to DNR for patients and residents, without discussion with staff, the residents, or their famil.

Half of staff members who were told to change the orders, which were imposed in a bid to free up hospital beds, worked in homes taking care of people with learning or cognitive disabilities. The other 50% worked in elderly residential homes. Professor Alison Leary, an expert in healthcare and workforce modelling at London South Bank University who wrote the report, described the findings as ‘worrying’ and called for an inquiry. She added that the decisions were made by NHS managers and not clinicians.

Learning disability care provider Turning Point said it had received an ‘unprecedented’ number of ‘do not resuscitate’ forms from GPs, while a surgery in Somerset reportedly told adults with autism that they should sign such forms if they become seriously ill. Throughout the pandemic, concerns have been raised over the treatment of care home residents, especially those caring for people with learning or cognitive impairments.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

An Asian man in a grey suit and carrying a document that reads ‘do not resuscitate blanket policy’ is also holding a large rubber stamp dripping black ink. Opposite him is a male resident of the Sunny Days residential care home who appears to have autistic characteristics. He now has DNR stamped in black on his forehead and is looking perplexed. The suited man is saying to him: “Much clearer – and it does away with all of those silly forms!”