Tuesday 30 November 2010

The Government Is Implicated In Creating Negative Attitudes To Disabled

This is a guest post by Sharon Brennan, originally posted here
It is the 40 years since the first Disability Act was enacted and to mark the occasion the BBC commissioned a survey into the public's attitude to disabled people. Interestingly 90% of people thought the Government should do more to help disabled people into work. I found this outlook really refreshing as I recently wrote a piece for the Guardian discussing the need for the Government to recognise that disabled employment must be a two way conversation: disabled people must be willing to work but employers must be willing to hire. Despite the Government refusing to discuss the fact that it is harder for disabled people to find work, it was great that the average person recognises it as a problem.

Where the BBC survey results were less positive, were in its findings that 40% of people think disabled people would "refuse work even when they have been found capable of doing it". This figure rose to over 50% amongst young respondents and those on low incomes.

Clearly there is a negative perception of disabled people in the UK, which can undoubtedly be attributed in part to right-wing media representation of the disabled. The Daily Mail is notorious for this. A recent front page screamed,  "75% of claimants are fit to work", and carried on: "Tough new benefits test weed out the workshy".

You expect this kind of thing from the Daily Mail. But what shocked me is that the 75% figure came from a press release from the Department of Work and Pensions. And the figure is wrong. So it amounts to blatant Government propaganda. 

The Government has reached its 75% figure by adding together 39% of people found fit to work and the 36% of people who have removed their claim during the assessment process. This 36% figure is problematic as there is much anecdotal evidence that those withdrawing their claims are those suffering from mental illness who find the process too frustrating and to have a negative impact upon their health condition. The truth is that the Government has no idea what happens to these 36% of people, as it doesn't track those who withdraw their claim. Which also means that the Government has no idea why they stop the process, although of course the Mail is quick to claim its because they were merely 'trying it on'.

But lets turn out attention to the number of successful appeals against ATOS's decision. When you follow the 'Notes to editors' link on the DWP very own press release it reveals a more in-depth report which shows that every month on average 40% of appeals against ATOS are upheld and they are awarded ESA. On average one third of claimants found 'fit to work' appealed against their decision and 40% were successful with their appeal. So if you do the math, once the whole process including appeals is complete, the DWP is wrong to say 39% are fit to work. In fact, 34% are found fit to work. So overall, at best 70% of ESA claimants are 'fit to work' although my guess this would be lower still if those 36% who dropped out of the process were given the right support to continue with their claim.

Let me remind you that the Government has access to this data, I've taken it directly from its own report. Yet although the release quotes Grayling saying he is "determined to get the medical test right" the successful appeals against the test are entirely omitted from his ESA headline statistics. 5% may be a small difference, but it is a difference none-the-less when you think that this current Government is so focused on transparency and providing accurate information to its citizens.

So it is clear that for some reason the Government has decided to spin the statistics associated with who is and isn't fit to work. It seems to suit their current agenda for the public to think that the majority of ESA claimants are 'scroungers'. Perhaps they realise they can only get the public to accept their massive welfare cuts if the public think the money is going to the undeserving. 

And this might explain why, in today's BBC survey, the number of people who think disabled people choose not to work rises amongst those people who are most struggling to get by in life or get a job. So the Government at least seems to be doing well at one thing: pitting one set of welfare cut losers against another.

Monday 22 November 2010

Disability and employment

According to this post from the Employer's forum on Disability, the Work Capability Test will be a "disadvantage for disabled people because of a lack of employer readiness and the recession"

We all know this is true. The ConDem's keep insisting they will protect the most vulnerable but the fact is they don't see the majority of us as vulnerable.
If you can do a little then you can work. Never mind that you don't know when you can do that little bit, or that doing it might mean you have to then rest for the next few hours, or the fact the the little bit you can do may be of no use to an employer.

The article is completely right when they say that employers lack the willingness to employ us. And I don't just mean that in financial terms. They may have to pay out nothing for adjustments but the mere fact that someone has a disability often means that they will be less 'reliable, for want of a better word, than an 'abled' person. Hospital appointments, sickness, reduced hours and many, many other things have to be taken into consideration.

At a time when each job vacancy is being chased by hundreds of people, employers can take their pick. And most of them will choose a worker that doesn't have health problems.

This is the reality that we face every day. And it's a reality the ConDems refuse to acknowledge.

Cross-posted at Rage against the Coalition

Sunday 21 November 2010

Isolated people in care homes - government will exacerbate the problem

This is cross-posted from arbitraryconstant.

The BBC reported recently on the results of a survey by the Residents and Relatives Association. The top finding was that some 40,000 older people in care homes are "socially isolated".

We shouldn't be surprised by this, and the aim of any effective social care system should be to keep individuals out of care homes for as long as possible. Not only does this cost the tax payer less money, but it means the individual (and their families) are happier.

There are 5 relevant points to make about this finding in the context of the current political climate.

1. In the Comprehensive Spending Review, George Osborne said he is going to end the payment of the mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance for people in residential care. This is a vital support for people who get it since it enables them to access opportunities in their local community or, even at the most fundamental level, move freely around the care home. Thus, this decision on the mobility component of DLA will exacerbate people's social isolation in care homes.

2. As has been well documented, the coalition government is looking to introduce medical tests for Disability Living Allowance from 2013, with a view to saving approximately 20% of the current DLA bill. DLA is a vital non-work related benefit that supports people to meet the extra costs of disability. If this support is removed it will harm people's ability to live independently and thus increases the likelihood of people moving to a care home earlier than they or their families may wish them to.

3. The Independent Living Fund is currently closed to new applicants. The ILF precisely supports people eligible for social care support to live independently in their own homes and communities, indeed going further than DLA does in providing this targeted support. Whilst the future of the ILF remains in doubt, this is another factor that increases the likelihood of people moving to a care home.

4. In the run up to the general election, the Tories suggested individuals make a one-off payment of £8,000 and can then live in whichever care home they wanted to. I was worried at the time that the Tories thought the solution to providing social care for people is to move them out of their own home and into residential care. I hope today's finding continues to convince them of the error in that thinking.

5. The coalition government has said that the take-up of cash payments by individuals - taking the cash equivalent of a service provided by the local authority in order to take more choice and control over how care and support is arranged - has not happened fast enough. And they're right. Supporting people to take more of the care and support as cash payments will enable people to live independently, in their own homes or communities, and therefore not be subject to the social isolation prevalent in care homes.

That there is social isolation for 40,000 people in care homes is not surprising to anyone with a passing knowledge of the social system. To date, the coalition government's decisions on a range of disability benefits and funding streams makes it more and not less likely that people will be in care homes, and so face the possibility of social isolation.

Saturday 20 November 2010

The end of secure social housing?

It's news today (Guardian, BBC) that the ConDems are planning to introduce a social housing system where councils will check the finances of tenants every 2 years. If the tenant has too much money they will be evicted.

I've had impaired mobility since I was born, but it's only been within the last 5 years that I've become too ill to work. 6 and a half years ago when I applied for social housing on medical grounds I was in work and probably had too much money to get social housing on financial grounds.

Had I remained healthy (my osteogenesis impairs my mobility but it doesn't make me "unwell") thus continued working then 2 years into my tenancy I'd have still had the financial means to live in the private sector so under this new system it'd have resulted in my eviction.

The only realistic housing prospects for mobility impaired people in the UK at the moment are either social housing or to buy your own home. Private sector rented properties are almost exclusively inaccessible. When I moved into this flat I may have been able to afford private sector rents, but I certainly couldn't afford to buy. And buying or getting a council flat were the only options for living somewhere where my home itself didn't break my bones for me.

If councils start evicting people who can afford private sector rents it's going to have a massive impact on disabled people. Being evicted from an accessible council flat and having to move into an inaccessible private sector property may mean having to give up work if you literally can't get out of your front door to get to work each day. If I was well enough to work and I had a choice between getting a job and getting evicted from my not-accessible-but-better-than-anything-in-the-private-sector home or remaining unemployed but getting to keep the flat where I've got a sort-of-accessible kitchen and a sort-of-accessible bathroom then I'll choose the latter, thanks.

I realise that at the moment they're only planning on implementing this system for new tenants so it won't affect me immediately. But if I ever get rehoused to somewhere that's really, properly accessible then my new tenancy will be limited by the conditions. Which, should someone come up with an effective treatment for my chronic health problems, will leave me stuck between a rock and a hard place with regards to finding work or keeping my home.

Of course, while disabled people may be the most harshly affected due to the lack of accessible private housing, it's an issue that will affect everybody. This two year old CiF piece explains how losing your home if your financial situation improves will lead to people rejecting opportunities to improve their situation. Even the usually ridiculous and vicious Nadine Dorries agrees that limiting social tenancies will lead to reduced aspirations in an attempt to stave off losing ones home. (And the right wing Daily Mail reported it!)

Cameron and Co are absolutely right that something needs to be done about the fact that there's too little available social housing. As someone that lives in a sort-of inaccessible flat because there's too little accessible social housing I'm more aware of that than most. But evicting people with a few grand in the bank is not the answer because of the demotivating factor. If they really want to fix the problem they need to build more housing to replace what Thatcher's Tory government sold off in the 1980s.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Personal budgets: 1 million disabled to get full control

The coalition government has set out plans to empower 1 million adults in need of social care with personal care budgets by 2013 so that they can choose the services they need, Care Services Minister Paul Burstow announced yesterday, as he launched the document "A vision for adult social care: Capable Communities and Active Citizens'.

Full report at E-gov Monitor. 

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Disability Rights: Justice Commissioner Vivianne Reding Unveils EU Commission's Disability Strategy For The Next Decade

"Disabled Europeans must receive equal treatment and have equal access in all spheres of life is the main thrust of the European Commission's new disability strategy which was unveiled in Brussels earlier today." reports Egov monitor

Monday 15 November 2010

Another punishment?

As if cuts to IB, ESA and DLA weren't weren't enough, Mr Duncan-Smith is at it again. He plans to introduce an initiative called 'slivers of time', an ultra flexible way of working, aimed at disabled people and lone parents.

From the Guardian:
Slivers of time, a social enterprise founded by the former BBC producer Wingham Rowan, is designed to tap into the pool of people who cannot work the usual hours expected even of the average part-time employee. It is aimed at parents with young children, disabled people who may not be available for work for most of the week, people who care for a dependent adult or the long-term unemployed who want to ease slowly back into work.
Its proponents claim the reform would mean that a disabled or lone parent would be able to book a few hours of work a week on their terms.

Sounds good right? I mean, I'm sure that I would be capable of doing a few hours each week - so where's the problem?

The problem is that I don't know which hours I would be able to work. The hours would still have to be arranged - say, 2 hours on a Monday, 2 hours on a Wednesday. But what if I'm just not feeling up to it when those days arrive? Would I be able to change those hours? How am I supposed to know when to change them to? Would the employer let me do this all the time? I can't see any employer putting up with that. They need to know they have enough staff and when those staff are working, employing someone who won't know if they'll be able to work or not isn't likely to be high on their list.

Unless an employer is happy for their worker to turn up as and when they are able, I can't see how this will work at all.

And I know that many disabled people will worry that if they don't comply they will be sanctioned. After all, the ConDems seem determined to push people into work whether it is right for them or not, whether they have tried or not, so will we be punished if we can't do this?

And as for people who care for a dependent, are they supposed to know when said adult will be well enough to not need them for a few hours? Or perhaps the Government is expecting them to book a carer for a few set hours so they can work? This would seem a little, no, a lot, ridiculous.

Funnily enough none of these points have been addressed. I wonder if Ms Miller will question them on our behalf. Time will tell. But I'm not holding my breath

Cross posted here


Friday 12 November 2010

Stealth Cuts – Other ways we are being hurt – Part 2

While massive spending cuts hit us all, my council – Waltham Forest - has taken the step of asking its residents where they should make savings. A friendly green website presented me with 8 different categories such as “children’s services” and “your streets” and invited me to make cuts of £55m. Suddenly I realised the mammoth scale of this undertaking – the way that no facilities or services can escape unscathed. However, I gave myself the challenge of maintaining adult social care at its current rate.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think adult social care is currently even adequate in my borough. I have been told that if someone can manage to give themself a flannel-bath, then they are not entitled to any kind of care. Of course this doesn’t take account of any inability to cook safely, nor to take out the rubbish or manage laundry! But simply trying to juggle cuts while keeping rates of social care at their current level made me aware of the huge task that councils are facing.

Each topic came with a slider – I simply had to pick categories and drag them to save money, and the website would let me know the impact of my actions. For example as I removed all funding from “Sport & Leisure” I was informed that the impact would be "reduced support to voluntary sector sports clubs, reduced sports activities in parks and estates and reduced sports activities and participation in competitions and events". While any cutback is a shame, I don’t feel guilty in removing sports activities when compared to helping disabled people to eat, be clean and maintain independence.

However, although there are eight categories and sliders to adjust, it is instantly clear that some categories will have little impact in making the £55m of required savings. After all, the total budget for Housing & Homelessness is just £4.85m. For Culture, Learning & Community Libraries the budget is £6.91m. In fact, if I set 6 of the 8 sliders to zero – removing all funding in those categories whatsoever – I still need to save another £28m. This money can only come from Children’s Services & Education, or the Adult Social Care that I am fighting to protect. In fact if I maintain adult care at its current level, the system shows me that I have no choice but to cut Children’s Services by more than 25%, removing several social workers and forcing large numbers of at-risk children to stay in their home rather than go into care – something which the real world would not tolerate. My changes would even impose the removal of care packages for disabled children; it seems that whichever way I go, with the huge quantity of cuts required, there will be a direct impact on disabled people one way or another.

Because adult social care comprises such a very large proportion of a council’s expenditure, it’s natural that many people will think that this is an obvious way to make savings. And although any such cutback is abhorrent to my mind, it may be essential in order for our councils to stay solvent. I am pleasantly surprised that although adult social care draws so much money, respondents to Waltham Forest’s website have only voted for a 7% reduction in our services. “Only” 7%. If the council implement cutbacks based on this consultation, they will “only” ...increase charges for their services (when many service users may be on benefits and unable to contribute financially for their care) ...reduce programmes to support vulnerable people and their carers ...and make staffing cuts so there will be even longer delays for assessments than there are at the moment.

Wow. Yet when I play with the figures myself, I can see that this may be a lucky escape - no matter how bad it seems, things can always be worse!

Unfortunately, in the three weeks that this website has been running, only 733 people have responded. That’s a quarter of 1% of everyone who lives in the area. How disappointing, that we are offered this opportunity to have our say and shape service provision for the future, and yet barely anyone bothers? It’s not for want of publicity, as a flyer went out with “Waltham Forest News”, a council newspaper delivered to every household in the borough.

I am utterly opposed to cuts of services and benefits which help disabled and older people to remain independent. I am increasingly concerned about these “stealth” cuts made by boroughs, where there is no right of appeal. But even I must admit that I can’t see what the solution is, other than to hope the economy recovers quickly, and that disabled people are the first to have their services reinstated when more funds are available.

In the meantime, I fear hearing about the human side of these cuts. I already see case studies in the local paper, I know people who are struggling, and situations where older or disabled neighbours have to provide food for one another. I know this is already happening on my own doorstep and I am dreading the situation getting worse. It seems the councils are between a rock and a hard place. All we can do is tell them to cut anything, everything, but adult social care.

Stealth Cuts – Other ways we are being hurt – Part 1

The Government Spending Review has received plenty of press attention, and there have been announcements of cuts and changes to national benefits, such as caps on housing benefit, and removal of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) mobility component for people living in residential homes. But there are yet more blows to follow as councils tighten their belts – some of which have already started.

For example, although some people are automatically entitled to a Blue Badge or a travel pass (e.g. if they receive the higher rate of DLA mobility component), many other people who have a need but can’t tick a box will receive these at the council’s discretion. However, councils are beginning to tighten the criteria and there is no statutory right of appeal, meaning that many people could find they no longer qualify when they come to renew these essential transport benefits, and can do nothing about it.

In London, where public transport is complex, there is an additional concession – the Taxicard. This enables the holder to a reduced fare in certain black taxis, making it easier to get about if you are unable to access the buses or tubes – and until now different boroughs have implemented the scheme in different ways, but this is due to be harmonised with everyone being entitled to 104 trips a year. That’s equivalent to going out and back once a week, but is it realistic to expect someone with mobility impairments to undertake all their shopping and chores for the week in a single trip? Worse, I hear rumours that Taxicard may soon be closed to new applicants – for good. This is an essential service for many Londoners who need to get around, but can’t afford to pay the full cost of taxis. If you think you may qualify, I can only encourage you to apply as soon as possible, before any changes come into force.

Joined up thinking has gone out of the window. Councils used to offer extra taxicard trips in certain circumstances, but now anything which requires discretionary funding has been withdrawn. A case in point is ‘Andy’, a person with learning difficulties, who entirely relied on their taxicard to get about. Sure, they could physically get on the bus, but wouldn’t know where to go once on board, or even which bus to catch. They soon used up their taxicard allowance for a year but instead of being given additional trips to accommodate their access needs, this year they were told “you have a bus pass, you have to use that instead”. The last I heard, what should have been a simple bus ride turned into a long and confused expedition... Surely in this case it makes sense to give them extra taxi allowances rather than issue a bus pass?

Also in London, I’m told that the Borough of Barking has withdrawn their community transport scheme, which used to bring disabled people to meetings and take them shopping.

Where will the axe fall next? It could be your council.

Thursday 4 November 2010

Round-Up Post

There are plenty of must-read articles and blog posts which I haven't had the time or the spoons to cover. All of the following are well worth a look.
  • Scope are running a survey about the real costs of being disabled, which you can fill in here.
  • "On the Shoulders of the Vulnerable", an article from Morning Star with information about ATOS and how ESA medicals are failing disabled people, especially those of us with mental health problems.
  • A Guardian article, Housing Benefit Cuts: What's the Real Truth?
  • Laurie Penny in the New Statesman writes Strictly Come Scrounging, Anyone?, about The X Factor vision of society [which] blames the poor for their predicament.
  • Hopi Sen and Left Futures point out the contradiction in David Cameron criticising those claiming over £20,000 in housing benefits, compared to his own expenses claims for his second home.
  • Crisis, a national charity for single homeless people, have created a comprehensive, myth-busting press release full of information on how the government are 'peddling myths' to sell the Housing Benefit cuts.
  • Lenin's Tomb deconstructs a Daily Mail article decrying 75% of Incapacity Benefit claimants as 'fit to work'.
  • The same article is looked at on This Is My Blog, who looks in depth at 'abandoned claims' and why they might really happen.
  • Susannah posts a plea for help, describing how the removal of the Mobility Component of DLA from people in residential care will directly affect her brother.