DPAC shortlisted for human rights award after parliament direct action

Disabled activists who carried out a direct action protest in the heart of parliament have been shortlisted for a prestigious human rights award.

The human rights organisation Liberty has named Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) as one of just three nominees for its new Courageous Voices award, which recognises activists who have taken “bold action to stand up to those in power”.

DPAC has been shortlisted for July’s Summer Of Discontent week of action, which included a protest about cuts to social care in parliament’s central lobby (pictured).

Linda Burnip, co-founder of DPAC, said she hoped the awards would be “another opportunity to reach people who we do not normally reach”, and might raise DPAC’s profile with MPs.

She said: “Our direct actions are designed to make sure that disabled people do have a voice and aren’t ignored.”

She said parliament was “where decisions about our lives are made so it seemed the most sensible place to take our complaints, and obviously we plan to keep doing it”.

The protest took place near the main Commons chamber, as Theresa May was taking part in prime minister’s questions, and saw police officers barring the path of activists – including several affected by the government’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund – to prevent them approaching the Commons chamber.

The protest was supported by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Green party co-leaders Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley.

It led to McDonnell calling for disabled people to be given the job of designing the solution to the social care funding crisis.

He told Disability News Service as the protest was taking place that it was “exactly what people have the right to do, to demonstrate, to make sure MPs are aware what they are experiencing, what disabled people are experiencing”.

And he said the direct action was “perfectly justifiable in the light of what is happening, with people’s suffering as a result of austerity”.

Courageous Voices is one of several awards that will be presented at Liberty’s 2017 Human Rights Awards on 24 October at London’s Royal Court Theatre.

Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, said: “Disabled People Against Cuts embody the spirit of the Courageous Voices award and, as their Summer of Discontent campaign shows, their work is needed now more than ever.

“Equality and human rights for disabled people aren’t a commodity that [can]be rationed or reduced as a money-saving exercise.

“DPAC have been fearless and creative in getting that message across – standing up to those in power, challenging injustice and getting their voices heard.”



Farcical PIP Assessments

DPAC Westminister Bloackade Labour Party

Recently a paramedic carrying out Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments for Capita, on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, was found guilty of misconduct by a professional standards tribunal. Alan Barham had been covertly filmed mocking disabled people, and admitting that he largely completed an assessment before meeting the claimant, ignoring evidence they provided.

The Health and Care Professions Council summoned Mr Barham to a tribunal as a result of receiving complaints from the public after the covert footage was broadcast on Channel Four. Giving a verdict of misconduct against him, the tribunal panel said, “In the panel’s view, it is paramount that the public is able to trust the integrity of the PIP assessment process. Individual claimants as well as the general public need to have confidence that the disability assessors carry out the PIP assessments in a fair and sensitive manner, respecting the dignity of the claimants and having regard to the sensitive nature of the personal and medical information provided.”

But how is it possible to trust the integrity of the PIP assessment process, when its purpose is not to provide the support that is needed, but to reduce the claimant count and save money?

PIP replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA). When the policy was included in George Osborne’s 2010 budget the costings document which accompanied the budget said, “the central assumption for this policy is that it will result in a 20 per cent reduction in caseload and expenditure once fully rolled out.”

In 2012, Esther McVey told the House of Commons that an initial cohort of 560,000 DLA claimants would be reassessed, and crucially, that 330,000 were expected to either lose their benefit or have it reduced. 

If the government has decided in advance how many people will lose their benefit, and how much money will be saved, before any assessments have been carried out, then how can those assessments be delivered fairly on a case by case basis? As the Royal College of Psychiatrists said, “The integrity of an objective assessment is compromised if decisions are thought to be influenced by a savings target.”

The DWP and its contractors may deny that individual assessors have a target to meet, but it surely cannot deny that there is an overall target, and the system is geared to deliver that target. This being the case, is it possible for healthcare professionals to participate in such a system without potentially being required to compromise their professional standards?

The case of Alan Barham came to light because he was covertly filmed by a high profile television programme. But John Pring, of the highly-regarded Disability News Service (DNS), now has evidence of hundreds of PIP assessors allegedly producing reports which bear no relation to the reality of a claimant’s condition.  DNS recently revealed the case of ‘David’ a teacher who lost his job due to his illness. He received an apology from Atos because his first PIP assessment report was so inaccurate, only to undergo a second assessment which was even worse. David said, “I could not believe the lies, distortions and omissions of things I had told her… I thought the first rule of medicine was to do no harm”

We now know that three quarters of people with serious illnesses, long-term health conditions and disabilities who have been through a PIP assessment said it made their condition worse. The situation is so bad that the Disability Benefits Consortium, made up of over 80 charities and organisations, has published a report, ‘Supporting Those Who Need It Most?’ and called on the government to ‘Get a Grip On PIP’.

PIP is just one facet of what the United Nations has said is the ‘human catastrophe’ caused by the government’s assault on the human rights of disabled people, removing from many the support they need to be able to take part in society on an equal basis, or just to subsist. No doubt most people working within the system are trying to do their job in a compassionate and respectful manner. But no matter how hard they try, the system itself is intrinsically flawed, and set up to ultimately produce a damaging result for disabled people. It must be time for the bodies which uphold the ethical and professional standards of the healthcare professions to seriously question whether it is appropriate for their members to be part of such a system. source

‘Their stories need to be heard’

Paula Peters is a Labour member from Bromley and Chislehurst. She is also a leading disabled rights activist, sitting on the steer group of campaign organisation Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC). And Peters used her speech at the Labour conference on Sunday 24 September to tell the crowd just what life is like for disabled people under a Conservative government.

Overall, Peters had a heartfelt message for all disabled people, their families and supporters, and the UK public. She said [1:41]:

I say to… all the families who’ve lost loved ones due to these [government] cuts, their stories need to be heard.

A ‘genocide’ of disabled people

It’s important that disabled people’s voices are not silenced… We are not voiceless. We are speaking out in anger. And to all disabled delegates and activists: now is the time to raise your voices in anger about what we’re experiencing under a Tory government.

Disabled people have been subjected to seven years of what TV show The Last Leg described as a “genocide” by the Conservative Party. Because since 2010, the Tories have cut:

  • The Independent Living Fund (ILF), which previously supported people with care packages. Since the government cut it, in some areas 88% of people have seen their care packages reduced by up to 50%.
  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for sick and disabled people in the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) by a third. This will affect 500,000 people.
  • 55% a week from ESA for sick and disabled 18-to-25-year-olds.
  • 51,000 disabled people’s Motability vehicles, which were vital for them to live independently.
  • Personal Independence Payments (PIP) from 164,000 people living with mental health issues. And the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has reduced or stopped PIP for nearly half (45%) of all claimants.

Praise for Corbyn, not so much for Labour MPs

Meanwhile, Peters went on to praise [0:47] Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, saying they had been “consistent” in voting against Tory cuts to welfare. But many Labour MPs have not. For example, 184 of them didn’t vote against the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016; a piece of legislation which introduced the benefit cap, ditched child poverty targets, and cut Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Corbyn and McDonnell, however, voted against it.

And it’s not just government legislation which, as Peters described [0:58], has been “brutal”. For example:

  • The DWP was caught up in a scandal involving fit-for-work assessors asking people why they hadn’t “killed” themselves.
  • 62% of people that the DWP sanctions live with mental health issues.
  • 10,600 people died after their benefit claims ended.
  • 90 people a month are dying after the DWP declares them ‘fit-for-work’.
  • 590 people probably took their own life due, in part, to DWP fit-for-work tests.

A ‘grave’ and ‘systematic’ ‘human catastrophe’ 

Peters then continued her speech by bringing up the subject of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). She said [1:18]:

The Tory government… are the first state to be formally investigated [by the UN], the first state to be found guilty of grave and systematic human rights violations… [with the UN ruling that] the cuts disabled people are experiencing are… a human catastrophe…

As The Canary has been documenting, at the start of September the UN released its fourth report in 14 months into the Conservative government’s treatment of disabled people. It has said the Tories are failing disabled people in over 70 areas – from basic human rights, to not tackling discrimination, to the impact of austerity and welfare cuts.

A change is gonna come

Peters concluded by saying [2:02]:

Change happens out on our streets and in our communities… we must continue to pile the pressure, so that we are fully included… [and] so that we are as much a human being in society as non-disabled people.

It was just over a year ago that members and supporters of DPAC brought Westminster to a standstill, protesting government abuse and remembering those who had died:

DPAC Westminister Bloackade Labour Party

Since then, there have been three UN reports condemning Conservative-led governments’ actions, and countless protests. But the Conservatives have not moved one inch on their continued assaults on disabled people. This means activists like Peters have little choice but to continue their inspirational fight. And they deserve the respect, solidarity and unconditional support of everyone in the Labour movement.

Watch Peters’ full speech:

The waiting time for disability benefit test results has more than doubled

A charity raised fears as people now wait more than three months to find out if they can be paid Personal Independence Payments (PIP)

The waiting time for the results of a vital disability benefit test has more than doubled, official figures reveal today.

A charity raised fears as people now wait more than three months to find out if they can be paid Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

The benefit hands 1.5million £22 to £83 a week to help them pay for everyday costs of being disabled or badly sick.

But new claimants now wait an average of 16 weeks between registering with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and finding out if they can get the benefit

That figure, for July, has risen from 10 weeks since October 2016.

PIP claimants now wait an average of 16 weeks from start to finish (Image: REX/Shutterstock)

The figures are even more dramatic when they focus on disability benefit tests – the most controversial part of the process.

In July, new claimants waited an average of 11 weeks between being referred for an ‘assessment’ and finding out if they’d been cleared to get the benefit.

That more than doubled from five weeks in October 2016.

In both cases waiting times are now their longest in more than two years.

It means claimants are being left in limbo for months while suffering from serious conditions including multiple sclerosis, cancer, dementia, anxiety and depression.

And it comes as a Labour councillor in Southwark, south London, warns delays to the separate Universal Credit are forcing people to “drop off a cliff” for three months.

James Taylor of disability charity Scope warned the delays “cause real distress to the thousands of disabled people who rely on PIP to live independently.”

He added: “Today’s figures reinforce the fact that there remain serious issues with the application and assessment process for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

Department for Work and Pensions
The benefit is paid to around 1.5million disabled people (Image: PA)

“PIP is a lifeline for many disabled people to help meet extra costs related to their impairment or condition – our research show these add up to an average of £550 a month.”

Clearance times are measured from the moment of referral to an “assessment provider”, usually private firms Atos or Capita, to a decision by the DWP.

Waiting times are still nowhere near their peak in summer 2014 – when they reached an average of 42 weeks.

A DWP spokeswoman said the overall number of claims processed each month had risen slightly.

“We are committed to processing PIP claims as quickly as possible, while ensuring we have all the evidence we need to make the right decisions. Around 81,000 claims are processed each month,” she said.


Disabled People And Their Concerns Can No Longer Be Ignored

ELLEN CLIFFORD and ANITA BELLOWS report on how disability rights activists brought evidence of the Tories’ savage policies to the United Nations

DEAF and disabled people’s organisations from across Britain have come together this week to give evidence about Westminster’s continuing violations of disabled people’s rights under the Convention on the Rights of Disabled people (UNCRPD), with a delegation that includes representatives from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, as well as Disability Wales, Inclusion Scotland and Disability Action Northern Ireland.

There are two parallel processes. The UNCRPD committee will simultaneously hear about British progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People, as part of a periodic review of all nations that are signed up to the convention, as well as a presentation following up on the initial complaint made by DPAC under the optional protocol of the CRPD, which triggered the first inquiry against a state under this process.

The periodic review is wide-ranging and covers detentions under mental health legislation, employment, education, transport, housing, social care and independent living, specific discrimination against women, black people, intersex people, people with learning difficulties and so on.

On Monday August 21, deaf and disabled people’s organisations from across Britain gave a presentation in front of the committee in a closed session.

We highlighted the gaps in state provisions which undermine the government’s claim that the Westminster government’s public spending on disability and incapacity is higher than all other G7 countries bar Germany.

The issue is complicated by devolution and the different laws and arrangements which exist in the four nations.

What came out of the meeting was that not only has the Westminster government failed to progress CRPD implementation, but that rights hard fought for by disabled people have been dramatically eroded since 2010 by cuts. This has led us to today’s state of crisis where high numbers of people with learning difficulties and autism are trapped in institutions, there has been a rise in disabled children educated in special schools and the destruction of community support is leading to greater marginalisation and isolation of disabled people.

Following the closed session, deaf and disabled people’s organisations will have the chance to arrange meetings with individual committee members on specific matters such as access to justice, before the committee quizzes the Westminster government representatives on August 23-24. These examination sessions will be open to the public and livestreamed.

Also this week, the CRPD committee heard a follow-up presentation on the specific issues which triggered its inquiry in 2015 which found evidence of grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights by the Westminster government due to welfare reform.

These violations were closely related to welfare reform and the devastating and disproportionate impact on disabled people. The investigation carried out by the committee was indepth, involving reading thousands of pages of evidence and reports and a visit to Britain where disability committee members spoke to over 200 disabled people and organisations.

However, the government rejected the findings and dismissed the inquiry report as “patronising and offensive,” questioning the competence of the committee members.

The CRPD committee’s report was leaked to the Daily Mail the day before the US election. The response from the government was dismissive and totally ignored the committee’s conclusions.

One specific demand was for the government to undertake a cumulative impact assessment of the cuts, something that it has consistently refused to do.

This week disabled people had the chance to give a presentation on the worsening of the situation since that inquiry took place and the new cuts and measures that have been introduced without consultation or by bypassing Parliament and scrutiny — including the cut to personal independence payments brought in at the start of the year that will affect 164,000 people, predominantly those who experience psychological distress.

One major concern that disabled people have is around proposals outlined in the government green paper Work, Health and Disability: Improving Lives.

Its purported aim is to reduce the disability employment gap, but key measures it introduces will extend conditionalities and sanctions to more disabled people, ignoring calls from the National Audit Office to follow up on its initial examination of the impact of sanctions on disabled people, which suggests they actually lower chances for disabled people of finding employment.

For the government, the default position is that all disabled people are able to work, or able to do some work, if given the right incentives and motivation to do.

Using the flawed argument that work is the best way out of poverty, when more and more people in work are getting poorer, the government has devised a regime even more coercive than the previous one, for which impairments are something temporary which can be overcome with willpower and the right mindset. This government is a step away from denying the existence of disability.

Reflecting on the long journey, which has taken disability activists to the United Nations, there is some grounds for optimism.

The inquiry and its outcome mean that disabled people and disability issues can no longer be ignored. Their experiences have been validated by the inquiry’s findings, and the CRPD provides a framework for expressing our grievances and holding the government to account that is missing from domestic legislation. The fight is far from being over, but disabled people have become a vocal and powerful force in Britain.

  • Ellen Clifford is campaigns and policy manager for Inclusion London and Anita Bellows is a Disabled People Against Cuts activist.


Furious DPAC protesters in wheelchairs block House of Commons entrance over benefit cuts

The MPs entrance to the chamber was blocked after the last PMQs before the summer break, as protesters chanted “no justice, no peace”

Furious protesters in wheelchairs blocked the MPs’ entrance to the House of Commons chamber today over cuts to benefits.

Campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts chanted “no justice, no peace” and “Tories out” as MPs tried to leave the final PMQs before the summer break.

Police formed a line at the entrance to the Members’ Lobby as some of the demonstrators demanded to talk to MPs.

The group said they wanted to stop cuts to social care and demanded the reintroduction of the independent living fund.

“This is a message to Theresa May – while we have no justice, you will have no peace,” they chanted.

“No more deaths from benefit cuts,” they added.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn greeted some of the group and was met with a chorus of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn”.

Claire Glasman, 56, from London, who is part of women’s disability group WinVisible, said: “People are suffering as a result of cuts to social care. People are dying as a result of neglect.”


Claiming ESA under Universal Credit. Nobody is unfit for work anymore

What you will read may be very distressing for you, but we are looking at the worst-case scenario and identifying measures to help you and other claimants.  It would be good to have some feedback on the Health and Work Conversations from people who have made an ESA claim. More we know about it, and more we can fight this. What you should not do, is to decide not to claim ESA. That is what DWP wants you to do.

Some documents released by the DWP have shown the direction of travel in terms of claiming ESA under UC.

Under the old regime, a person wishing to claim ESA was placed in the ESA assessment phase, attracting the lowest ESA rate (JSA rate), and also no conditionality, and this until a Work Capability Assessment could decide whether the claimant was fit or unfit for work.

The Work and Health Conversation

Under Universal Credit, a person wishing to claim ESA will be first called for a Health and Work Conversation (HWC).  This conversation is basically a Work Focus Interview, and is mandatory, which means that a claimant can be sanctioned for not attending.  Attending does not only mean being physically present at the interview but also fulfilling all the requirements set by DWP for a WFI:

Regulation 57 of the Employment and Support Allowance Regulations 2008:

57.—(1) A claimant is regarded as having taken part in a work-focused interview if the claimant—

(a) attends for the interview at the place and at the date and time notified in accordance with  regulation 56;

(b) provides information, if requested by the Secretary of State, about any or all of the  matters set out in paragraph (2);

(c) participates in discussions to the extent the Secretary of State considers necessary, about  any or all of the matters set out in paragraph (3);

(d) assists the Secretary of State in the completion of an action plan.

 (2) The matters referred to in paragraph (1)(b) are—

(a) the claimant’s educational qualifications and vocational training;

(b) the claimant’s work history;

(c) the claimant’s aspirations for future work;

(d) the claimant’s skills t

hat are relevant to work;

(e) the claimant’s work-related abilities;

(f) the claimant’s caring or

 childcare responsibilities; and

(g) any paid or unpaid work that the claimant is undertaking.

 (3) The matters referred to in paragraph (1)(c) are—

(a) any activity the claimant is willing to undertake which may make obtaining or remaining  in work more likely;

(b) any such activity that the claimant may have previously undertaken;

(c) any progress the claimant may have made towards remaining in or obtaining work;

(d) any work-focused health-related assessment the claimant may have taken part in; and

(e) the claimant’s opinion as to the extent to which the ability to remain in or obtain work is restricted by the claimant’s physical or mental condition.

 So the main difference with the previous regime is that people with a fit note from their GP saying they are not fit for work, will be (are being) called for a mandatory WFI.

They also will be asked to fill a questionnaire which is also mandatory and to undertake an optional exercise called My values.  There will be another article specifically about the questionnaire

According to the DWP, some ‘vulnerable’ people will be exempted from this conversation. [1]

The DWP defines vulnerability as “an individual who is identified as having complex needs and/or requires additional support to enable them to access DWP benefits and use our services.” but has not yet released the guidance given to Work Coaches on who will be exempted from the HWC.  As these conversations have already started, this guidance exists and should be released immediately by the DWP.

Unfortunately, based on the DWP ghastly track record, it is likely that pressure to attend will be placed on people unable to attend because of their health conditions. DPAC has already encountered a case of a person with mental capacity issues and a life threatening health condition being requested to attend a HWC.

After the Health and Work Conversation

Unlike under the previous regime, when ESA claimants with a GP fit note saying they were unfit to work were not expected to fulfil any work related requirements until a WCA said otherwise, ESA claimants under UC will be by default assumed to be fit for work and expected to fulfil all Work Related Requirements  until their  WCA . [2]

Claimants to whom the All Work Related Requirements apply:

  • claimants who have a fit note and are awaiting a WCA
  • claimants who have been found not to have limited capability for work at the WCA and are appealing against this outcome
  • claimants who have some paid work but are earning below conditionality earnings threshold
  • claimants who do not fall into any other group

What All Work Related Requirement means:

 Claimants in this group must be available for full-time work of any type and look for this within 90 minute travelling time from their home. Restrictions can be applied to looking for work, the type of work and hours of work where it is appropriate due to the claimant’s capability and circumstances.

Claimants must be engaged in work search and work preparation activities for at least the number of hours they are available for work. Claimants must take all reasonable action to obtain paid work. 

Work Coaches must set work search activities for the claimant to search for work for their expected hours (This is the number of hours that the claimant is available for work or 35 hours, whichever is the lower figure) less deductions from this for the allowable time spent undertaking agreed work-preparation activities , voluntary work and paid work. 

 Only one restriction for people with health conditions is mentioned in the document: claimants who have a fit note will not be required to take up work that they are not capable of doing until their fit note ends

Any other derogation to the All Work Related Requirements will be at the discretion of work coaches.  For most claimants, work coaches will not have more medical information than the fit note (the diagnosis) or in some cases, the WCA outcome when they have not be found to have Limited Capability for Work and Work-Related Activity, and they should not be able to ask claimants for this kind of information without breaching the Data Protection Act.  These work coaches are also not medically trained. Any Work Related Requirement will be based on the diagnosis, and on what the claimant would have told them during the HWC conversation and in the questionnaire.  Also based on that, claimants would have to complete an action plan and sign a claimant commitment.  Failure to do so could result in a sanction.

This is deeply worrying because:

1) an extra step is introduced before the WCA which is already stressful enough

2) all claimants assessed by their GP as unfit for work, will be considered by default fit for work by the DWP.

3) work coaches are medically untrained and unable to comprehend whether a work related requirement can have a detrimental effect on the health of a claimant

4) GPs medical judgement is undermined by medically untrained staff.

5) DWP definition of ‘vulnerable’ may be so restrictive that some claimants with very serious health conditions could be requested to attend a  HWC and sanctioned for failing to do so

[1] https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/398247/response/972681/attach/2/1341%20Reply.pdf