Crippen hears of another High Court action against the Government

A disabled woman is preparing to mount a High Court challenge after complaining about a lack of British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters at Government Covid briefings.

Katie Rowley, who is Deaf argues that the Government breached obligations to make broadcasts accessible to Deaf people under equality legislation, despite Scotland and Wales both having on-platform interpreters for their broadcasts.

Her Solicitor Chris Fry, who is also representing about 350 other Deaf people who have made similar claims, told the Leicester Mercury newspaper that all of those other cases are on hold pending the outcome of Ms Rowley’s case.

He added: “The Cabinet Office is expected to argue that it complied with its duties by making an arrangement with the BBC to provide an interpreter, arranging a live feed, providing subtitles and providing written information online after the briefings.”

Is this just another example of the Government passing the buck to some outside agency in order to sidestep its obligations or, is this a continuation of my earlier suspicions about them not wanting the proletariat stepping on their shiny new media stage?!

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Boris Johnson is standing in front of a High Court judge. The judge is looking angry and is holding a piece of paper which has printed upon it ‘Government continually fail to provide access for Deaf people at Covid briefings’. Boris is saying to him: “As you’ll agree your honour – it’s not as if they understand what’s going on anyway!” Behind Boris is an aid who is whispering to him: “Pssst – he’s Deaf you idiot!”

Crippen talks with Jo Verrent about the emergence of some new groups

I’ve recently been working with Jo Verrent, a producer at Unlimited, an arts commissioning programme that enables new work by disabled artists to reach UK and international audiences.

During our discussions we talked about a couple of new groups of disabled people that had recently emerged. One of these groups involves people who identify as being neurodivergent whilst the other involves people whose focus is on energy impairment and chronic pain.

The group that has succeeded in getting ‘neurodivergence’ recognised as a separate term is taking a similar route to those who don’t wish to be labelled as having a specific impairment or ‘condition’, although, some of them still don’t feel confident about being described as disabled people. However, they do acknowledge that the social model understanding of disability is still the best option for them moving forward.

We also talked about the rise of ‘energy impaired’ as a term, which has come into usage through the groups who consist of people who experience extreme fatigue due to a chronic illness. One such group called Chronic Illness Inclusion are absolutely clear they are a disabled people’s led group, and describe themselves as ‘disabled and living with energy limiting chronic illness (ELCI), energy impairment, or chronic pain’. Also, as disabled people, they identify strongly with the social model understanding of disability.

It seems that these new groups are aiming to build a bridge between the large numbers of people who usually define as people with long term health conditions and/or chronic pain and bring them to a wider understanding of the social model approach, and how it is relevant to their lives.

It’s really great to see our family grow in this way as more people identify with being disabled by a society that creates the barriers that exclude us. With enough of us fighting for, what should be our basic human rights, we’ll get there in the end.

Come the revolution brothers and sisters!

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

The cartoon consists of a young modern Asian disabled woman, sitting on a chair and facing her non-disabled parents. She is holding a piece of paper with ‘ Energy impairment and the social model’ printed upon it. Her mother, who wears modern, western style dress is saying to her: “What do you mean – you’re disabled?!” Her father, wearing a t-shirt and shorts adds: “We’ve been telling people that you just feel a bit tired!”

Crippen discovers that the pandemic has left disabled people who work in the arts and culture sector a brief window in which to act

A survey, that was recently commissioned to mark the first anniversary of the UK Disability Arts Alliance #WeShallNotBeRemoved campaign, suggest that there are significant threats to the continued participation of Deaf and disabled people in the arts and culture sector as a result of the fallout from the COVID-19 crisis.

The Alliance told Disability News Service (DNS) that the survey results suggest that the pandemic has delivered a “weighty” blow to disabled people in the arts sector and left them in a “shockingly fragile environment”.

Three-fifths of the more than 100 disabled creatives who took part said they were definitely or possibly worried that they would have to leave the industry because of a lack of work. And nearly half said they had had less work or no work at all since the pandemic began.

But the survey also showed the importance of financial support schemes during the pandemic, with 20% of respondents receiving grants from the government’s self-employment income support scheme (SEISS), with another 15% on furlough and 20% receiving emergency support grants from one of the UK’s national arts councils.

Andrew Miller, co-founder of the alliance and the campaign, said: “This survey is the first to reveal the full fragility of disabled people’s place in the cultural sector following the pandemic and highlights alarming intersectional inequalities … and suggests that many disabled creatives have little trust in the wider cultural sector to prioritise access as the country comes out of lockdown.”

Jo Verrent, convenor of the campaign and senior producer with Unlimited – an arts commissioning programme that enables new work by disabled artists to reach UK and international audiences – said: “We all knew the pandemic was impacting on disabled people in the arts sector heavily – now we can see just how weighty that blow has been.

Jo also issues a warning: “There is a brief window in which to act if we wish to stop the erasure of disabled people from the place it’s taken over 30 years for us to gain in the cultural sector. It is time now for the right people to … act on these findings and take immediate action.”

The survey and subsequent report was funded by Unlimited and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A large red ball representing disability arts and covered with the names of several organisations – Unlimited, Head2Head, Shape, etc., is being pushed by a group of disabled artists up a long yellow road with #weshallnotberemoved printed on its surface. At the end of the road is a large sign that says, ‘welcome to mainstream art’. Just behind them the yellow road is being consumed by flames which are identified as the Covid pandemic. One of the people pushing the ball is saying: “Come on folks – we just need one last push!”

Crippen revisits the continuing abuse of disabled people in institutions

Did you know that calls to address the scandal of learning disabled people and those with Autism inappropriately locked up in long-stay institutions date back more than 70 years when it was estimated then that there were over 50,000 people living in these so called long-stay hospitals.

Since then, there have been several exposures regarding these institutions and the alleged abuse towards their ‘residents’ by care staff. These included the Ely Hospital scandal over 50 years ago and the Long Care inquiry in 1998.

The most memorable of these being the Winterbourne View Scandal where serious allegations of abuse were uncovered and exposed in a Panorama documentary just over 10 years ago. Since then there has been further exposures of abuse including Whorlton Hall in County Durham which was shut down in 2020.

The clinical commissioning groups who are responsible for placing most of these disabled people into these institutions are still spending on average £3,500 per week per person, which is far more expensive than providing support in the community. A recent NHS report shows that over 2,000 people are still locked away costing a total of around £364 million per year. This is despite the evidence that having support in the community saves money, and more importantly, it means disabled people have the right to make choices on how they live their lives.

In the years following these abuse exposures, the government have made repeated pledges to drastically reduce the number of people facing seclusion and segregation in similar settings. But those pledges were broken and only one empty sentence on social care in the 2021 Queen’s speech is the result.

Speaking to Disability News Service (DNS) Andrew Lee, director of People First (Self Advocacy), who was one of the disabled campaigners to speak out about Winterbourne View 10 years ago, said that he believed there had been “no change” in those 10 years and that people with learning difficulties had rights “on paper”, but regulators “have not got the courage to use the teeth that parliament gave them”.

However, it also emerged this week that two of the business-people who ran Castlebeck, the company that owned Winterbourne View, are now directors of Kedleston Group, which runs a series of independent special schools and care homes for disabled children.

The BBC reported concerns from current and former staff and parents that one of Kedleston’s special schools, Leaways School in East London – which charges day pupils more than £50,000 a year to attend, was prioritising profits over the support needs of the disabled children who attended.

So, tell me folks. How on earth are those that allowed the abuse to take place at Winterbourne View now allowed to run a ‘special educational needs’ school for disabled children? Something smells, and it’s not just the Minister for Education’s supper time kippers!

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

An MP is holding a glass jar with a set of false teeth sitting in it. He is looking at another man in a suit who is holding a piece of paper that reads ‘investigation into Winterbourne View abuse – 2011’. This man has no teeth. The MP is saying: “What’s the point of giving you teeth if you’re not going to use them?!”

Crippen discovers that 6 out of 10 people who have died from COVID-19 are disabled

Mehrunisha Suleman, Senior Research Fellow at the Health Foundation has responded to the latest statistics on Covid related deaths from the Office of National Statistics’ (ONS).

She said: “COVID-19 has had an unequal impact on disabled people who have been among the hardest hit in terms of deaths from the virus. Worryingly, ONS’ data confirms this trend, showing that 6 out of 10 people who have died with COVID-19 are disabled”. 

She added: “(These) figures clearly show that current measures to protect disabled people are not enough and that there is an urgent need for more and better support. Disabled people are more likely to have one or more long-term health conditions, which means they are at greater risk of suffering severe symptoms if they get COVID-19”.

Ms Suleman also spoke of how, due to lockdown, disabled people’s health care needs are not being fully met and that they have had treatment either cancelled or delayed. She said:

“The high number of COVID-19 deaths among disabled people ultimately reflects wider failures in how the UK supports those who are vulnerable. Addressing this will require the government to address the major and long-standing inequalities that the pandemic has highlighted.’

Further data from the ONS has shown that some 30,296 of the 50,888 deaths recorded for the ten months between January and November 2020 were disabled people.

The ONS also stated that an “important part” of the increased risk was because disabled people were “disproportionately exposed to a range of generally disadvantageous circumstances” compared with non-disabled people.

In other words, unless the government starts to give serious consideration to providing a level playing field for disabled people, it doesn’t say much for our chances of surviving another wave of the Covid virus does it?

Perhaps the first thing to do would be to replace their miserable excuse for the Minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, with someone who has personally experienced the many barriers we face on a daily basis … a disabled person perhaps?!

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Boris Johnson is standing facing the grim reaper who is clad in his usual black, hooded cloak and carrying his scythe. The cloak has covid printed in white at the bottom and on the ground in front of him is a notice that says ‘Covid 19 – 6 out of 10 deaths are disabled people’. Behind Boris is Justin Tomlinson who stands with his thumb raised in the air and with a sycophantic smile upon his face.  Tomlinson is carrying a card which reads ‘no plans developed to protect disabled from covid’. Boris is smiling at the Reaper and is saying to him: “So the deal is – we continue to supply you with disabled people and you leave the rest of us alone?!”

Crippen and further delays to the publication of the government’s disability strategy.

I think that we can safely say that we are now into summer and that the cross-government disability strategy which was to be published early in the Spring hasn’t yet happened.

But don’t worry, the so called Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson has told MPs on the work and pensions select committee that it would “possibly, probably” be published … er, maybe before the summer recess in July?

He also thought that the health and disability green paper which would include changes to disability benefit assessments, the Access to Work system, and benefit sanctions, might also be published at the same time … er, maybe.

Talk about dithering. Just how does this excuse for a Minister keep hold of his job? Although, as far as this Tory government is concerned, he’s doing an excellent job, procrastinating and delaying any meaningful dialogue that would ensure any future for disabled people in this country.

I was going to include some of his comments about various aspects of the green paper, but I found myself losing the will to live when I heard what he had to say to his fellow MPs about the caring and sharing Department of Works and Pensions (DWP).

Surely he was being ironic when he told them that the DWP would be “absolutely on top of (their) game in identifying potentially vulnerable claimants”. No doubt like they were with the thousands of disabled claimants who have died during their draconian assessment process?

No, I can’t stomach any more … but if you feel up to reading more about the utter drivel he’s been spouting about this caring Tory government, and how they are going to completely change the way they treat us, Disability News Service have provided a full account for you.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson is standing next to a display on the wall. The display heading says ‘new DWP logo’ underneath which is a large red heart with ‘caring 4 you – DWP’ printed in white upon it. He is holding a piece of green paper with ‘gov green paper’ printed upon it and is pointing at the display with his other hand. He is looking at you, the audience and is saying: “It was designed by Iain Duncan Smith – what do you think?!”

Crippen hears about four Tory peers who launch a blistering attack on disabled colleagues

At the same time that the government prepares to publish its cross-government national disability strategy, which disability minister Justin Tomlinson has claimed will “remove barriers and make this country more inclusive for disabled people”, four Tory peers have launched a blistering attack on their disabled colleagues.

The Tory peers were all arguing that the Lords should quickly return to “normal” and the adjustments that have allowed disabled members to vote and take part in debates from their homes during the pandemic should end.

Lord Farmer, a former treasurer of the Conservative party argued that “personal infirmity should not provide grounds for exemption from normality” and that continuing the adjustments post-pandemic would be “extending the logic of equality beyond reason”.

He said that “for the sake of the public who are paying our way, personal infirmity should not provide grounds for exemption from normality” and that “parliamentary participation is for those able to bring vitality to proceedings. The previous norm should be reinstated: those of us who cannot come to the House cannot contribute.”

His colleague, Lord Howard of Rising, called for the Lords to “resume our usual proceedings at the earliest possible opportunity” and said it was “inconceivable that those who aspire to take part in the governing of this nation should not make the effort to attend parliament, whatever the difficulties”.

Baroness Noakes called for the Lords to “get back to normal as soon as possible” and that there were “no good reasons for hybridity in future … those who are ill or otherwise unable to attend for periods of time can take leave of absence … or retire instead.”

A fourth Tory peer, Viscount Trenchard, made it clear that he did not believe that “those with disabilities, in poor health or pregnant should be allowed to continue to participate remotely”.

The adjustments introduced by the authorities in the House of Lords have allowed disabled peers such as Baroness [Jane] Campbell and Baroness [Sal] Brinton – who have both had to shield from the virus – to continue to play an important part in parliamentary proceedings during the pandemic.

However, not all Peers agreed with the disablist attitude of the Tory members.  The Liberal Democrat leader in the Lords, Lord Newby, said there was “a strong case for allowing those who have a disability that makes attending the House difficult to retain the option to participate virtually on a permanent basis”.

Baroness Campbell, a crossbench peer, told Disability News Service that the “capacity to join in remotely has swept away many of the barriers that some of us encounter daily” and she called for the “best aspects” of the hybrid model to be retained post-pandemic.

She said it had been “a relief to watch debates at home on my night-time ventilator and to vote. It improved my focus, decision-making and health. As a result, I worked harder, longer and more effectively than ever I had done before the pandemic.”

After the debate, Baroness Brinton, the Liberal Democrat health and social care spokesperson in the Lords, who has been working from home for the last 14 months to allow her to shield, described the comments of the Tory peers as “an extraordinary barrage of attack on disabled peers and those with underlying conditions … our ‘infirmity’ or ‘unsound body or mind’ meant that (if) we couldn’t attend the House of Lords, we weren’t worthy of our place in it.”

If I remember rightly, it’s these same peers who felt it was more important to put the clerks to the Lords back in their horsehair wigs. Says it all really!

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Baroness Jane Campbell is sat in her wheelchair facing three Tory Peers. They each look ridiculous in their own way – one wearing a top hat and a monocle, another wearing a horsehair wig and a woman looking down her nose. Both Jane and the other Peers are also wearing their red and white fur trimmed ceremonial dress. The Lord with the top hat is saying to Jane: “You’re better off leaving it to those of us who are normal m’dear!”

Crippen hears about legal action over government’s ‘excessive and discriminatory’ care home rules

Disabled activist Doug Paulley strikes again, this time threatening legal action against government COVID rules that force residents of care homes to isolate for two weeks every time they attend a medical appointment or visit a shop, a hospital, or any other indoor settings.

Despite the government announcing that care home residents can now go for a walk or visit the garden of a friend or relative – as long as they are accompanied by a care worker or a “nominated” visitor – the strict rules on other visits have not changed.

Doug has also told managers at his Leonard Cheshire care home in Yorkshire that he will not be obeying the government’s “patronising, excessive and discriminatory” guidance and that he plans to ignore the rules.

Like other residents at the care home, he has followed the strict guidance on social distancing throughout the pandemic, but now the country is easing out of lockdown, and residents have been vaccinated, he believes the government guidance is “excessive” and a “cynical” response to the criticism of ministers’ failure to protect care homes early in the pandemic.

He told the Disability News Service (DNS): “I have reached the decision that I am just not going to comply. It feels patronising and excessive and puts such a restriction on people’s lives. It also feels open-ended, disproportionate and discriminatory, and stereotypes people in care homes. That’s why this is important to me.”

He added: “It’s our home, it’s our life. It seems bizarre that just because we are in a care home setting, we are treated in such a patronising way.”

You can read the full story in DNS

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A large Leonard Cheshire care home dominates the landscape. Each window has bars behind which you can see disabled people peering out. There are marks on the ground in front of the building leading to a large hole out of which Doug Paulley is emerging. He is wearing a DAN cap and DPAC t-shirt and is holding aloft a large sign which reads ‘Free our people’. One of the people in a window is saying: ”Trust Doug to find a way out around the isolation rule!”

Crippen highlights the anger being expressed after watchdog appears to back away from inquiry into DWP deaths

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) confirmed that it will be using its powers to address the “systemic barriers” facing disabled claimants in the benefits system. Sounds good …

However, it appears that even if it did carry this work out, the commission appears to be edging away from demands for it to hold a full inquiry into the links between the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) and the deaths of countless benefit claimants over the last decade.

The commission refused to provide any details or offer further clarity about the work it will be doing on the barriers within the benefit system, despite requests from Disability News Service (DNS) and other campaigners.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “This is typical of EHRC unfortunately and they seem to ignore even policies and behaviours of government departments that lead to the unnecessary deaths of disabled people. It really is time for EHRC to start doing their jobs effectively.”

Labour’s Debbie Abrahams has been trying to persuade the EHRC to hold an inquiry into deaths linked to DWP for the last two years, following years of campaigning on the issue in parliament.

She told DNS: “Whilst I support the EHRC’s broad objective – who wouldn’t? – it doesn’t address the issues I have raised with them about the deaths of disabled social security claimants.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said the EHRC’s apparent decision to back away from an inquiry into the links between DWP and the deaths of claimants was a “disgrace”.

He said disabled activists had spent 11 years “campaigning for justice for the victims, families, friends and communities of those who have passed tragically – and completely avoidably – as a direct result of this government’s barbaric work capability assessment and personal independence payment disability assessment regimes. What we demand is a truly independent, judge-led public inquiry.”

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

Two people from the Equality and Human Rights Commission are standing in a field and wearing large blinkers on their heads. Out of their view are two large hills upon which are numerous white crosses. A sign in front says ‘benefit claimant deaths’. An empty box with blinkers printed upon it lies at their feet and one of them is holding a large piece of paper with EHRC enquiry printed upon it. One of them is also saying: “We see no deaths!”

Crippen asks why Liz Kendall ignored disabled-led social care plans in major speech

You may remember a blog I did about Keir Starmer’s election campaign and his promise to make fundamental reforms, including a right to independent living enshrined in law.

Well, as reported in Disability News service (DNS) this all seems to have conveniently gone away as the first major speech by Labour’s shadow social care minister Liz Kendall, ignored disabled-led proposals for fundamental reform. In her speech, Kendall made no reference to the idea of free social care, or any of the proposals made by the National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS).

The NILSS proposal, which was drawn up by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), would provide a universal right to independent living that was “enshrined in law”, and would introduce free social care in England, funded by national and progressive taxation.

Labour’s apparent back-tracking on Starmer’s support for NILSS comes amid mounting concern about the current government’s plans for social care reform, and the fact that no proposals were included in the recent Queen’s speech.

Speaking at the spring conference of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services – which Labour had described as her first major speech on social care since becoming shadow minister – Kendall spoke repeatedly about the need for higher wages for care workers and more support for family carers.

She did call for more “power and control” for service-users and families and spoke about the need for more support to enable people to live in their own homes for longer, rather than in residential care.

But Kendall focused through her speech on older people’s care, even though working-age adults account for more than half (PDF) of local authority spending on social care.

Some of the grassroots groups behind the NILSS proposals, including ROFA and DPAC, are set to meet Kendall later this month. I’ll keep you posted on the outcome.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

A couple of disabled people are confronting Keir Starmer with his broken promises regarding social care. One of them, a wheelchair user with pink hair  is holding up a placard that reads ‘labour promised independent living to be enshrined in law’. Opposite them stands Starmer and a colleague, both wearing identical grey suits and red ties. Starmer’s colleague is saying: “oh come on – nobody believes election promises!” Starmer is saying: “Naive or what?!” On the floor at their feet are a couple of torn up pieces of paper with ‘free social care’ and ‘broken promises’ printed on them.