UK faces UN examination: Government agrees to think again on engagement

The government has agreed to “reflect” on its failure to engage with disabled people and their organisations, after facing public criticism from a UN committee of disabled human rights experts.

A delegation of civil servants from across the UK government listened as members of the UN committee on the rights of person with disabilities (CRPD) repeatedly criticised its failure to engage with disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).

They were taking part in a two-day public examination of the UK’s progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in Geneva.

CRPD member Samuel Njuguna Kabue said the evidence he had received from DPOs disputed the UK government’s claim that it consulted with disabled people and their organisations when drawing up policies and making decisions.

He said disabled people and their organisations said they had not been “adequately involved” in monitoring the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as they should be under article 33 of the convention.

Another member, Monthian Buntan, also disputed the UK government’s claim that it was committed to enabling the active participation of disabled people in decision-making, and forming and implementing and monitoring policy.

He called for more detail from the government on whether it had taken action to “ensure the support which enabled organisations of persons with disabilities to really effectively participate in this ongoing process of decision-making, implementation and monitoring”.

And he contrasted the UK government’s apparent failure with the efforts of the devolved governments.

Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities reviews report of the United Kingdom

Karen Jochelson, the head of the Office for Disability Issues, who led the UK delegation, said the government was planning to use the “concluding observations” of the committee, when they were published, “to help inform our future thinking on engagement”.

She said: “We have noted this dialogue’s emphasis on engaging with disabled people and DPOs in decision-making and policy-making.

“We will reflect on this as we plan our next steps following publication of the concluding observations.”



‘My picture is proof that healthcare professionals lie in benefit assessments’

A furious disability benefit claimant has produced what she says is the clearest evidence yet that healthcare professionals working for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are writing dishonest assessment reports.

CeaJay Clem, from Gloucestershire, has chronic discoid lupus, which has caused a significant facial disfigurement (pictured).

But despite the impact of the condition on her skin, the doctor who assessed her in January wrote in her report that her complexion was “normal” and that she “looked well”.

Clem contacted Disability News Service (DNS) after reading about more than 200 cases in which claimants of personal independence payment (PIP) have described how their assessors from Atos and Capita produced dishonest assessment reports, which have led to them losing their benefits or having them cut.

Clem’s reassessment was carried out by another contractor, Maximus, and was testing her eligibility for the out-of-work disability benefit, employment and support allowance (ESA).

Because of her condition, she is unable to wear make-up and is highly sensitive to all UV light – which is used in nearly all work places – but she also has complex post-traumatic stress disorder, asthma and other health conditions, and uses a mobility scooter because she cannot walk or stand for long.

She had previously been in the ESA support group, but as a result of what she says was a completely dishonest report, she lost all eligibility for ESA in February, even though the assessor admitted that she had “current firm detailed plans for self-harm”.

She is now awaiting a date for an appeal tribunal.

She said her photograph and report provided “proof positive” that assessors were lying in their reports.

Clem said her report was littered with other lies and inaccuracies.

The reports she has been sent refer to her “skin problem”, “skin condition” and “skin complaint”, and downplay the seriousness of the condition, even though she cannot leave the house for more than 15 minutes without her skin burning.

She said she was “absolutely mortified that a medical professional would lie and downplay my conditions.

“I was expecting to fail on the assessment, it happens, but fail due to deliberate lies? That shook me to my boots and was a total emotional crusher for me.

“It put me into a deep depression and such a state of high anxiety I didn’t know which way to turn. I just wanted to explode.

“I am a very strong-minded woman and it takes a huge amount to upset me and this has almost broken me.

“I dread to think how people are coping with their situation when they maybe don’t have the same strength as me, or have simply just run out of strength.”

Although the decision to find her fit for work was covered widely in the media earlier this year, those stories did not highlight the claims of dishonesty in the assessment report.

A DWP spokesman declined to comment on the honesty of the assessment – as the department has done repeatedly with similar stories – or to say whether DWP would look again at her case.

But he said in a statement: “We expect the highest standards from our assessment providers.

“As you know, all the health professionals are subject to on-going quality audits to ensure they continue to deliver high-quality assessments.

“Should they fall below our required standards, they are stopped from carrying out assessments.

“Decisions are backed by evidence from the claimant’s GP or medical specialist.

“Ms Clem has appealed her WCA assessment and this will now be reviewed by an independent tribunal.”

Maximus failed to respond to a request for a comment.


Government’s UN response ‘exposes failings on disability convention’

The government has ignored key evidence that demonstrates widespread breaches of the UN disability convention, according to disabled people’s grassroots groups and organisations that are working together to expose its failings.

They spoke out after the government submitted its response to concerns raised earlier this year by a UN committee, which described where it had questions about whether the UK may have failed in its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The UK government’s 168-paragraph response to the “list of issues” produced by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) is the latest step in a process that will see it examined in public in Geneva next month on how it has implemented the convention.

But disabled activists and campaigners who have been working to highlight the UK’s breaches of the convention said this week that the government’s defence of its position was “poor quality” and lacking in evidence.

Ellen Clifford, a spokeswoman for the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) – a national anti-cuts network of user-led organisations – said the government had claimed in its response that its policies were having a positive impact on disabled people, without providing any evidence for those claims.

She said the government had claimed that the Care Act 2014 was “helping to overturn traditional approaches to disability in health and social care by placing greater power in the hands of service users, including disabled people”, when there was substantial evidence to show that the act was not being implemented.

There is no mention in the government’s response of the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) own evaluation of the closure of the Independent Living Fund, in which it had found that some former recipients had experienced a loss of support, a greater reliance on unpaid care and a negative impact on their physical and mental health after it closed.

Only last week, Disability News Service reported how leading figures in the disability movement had described how the concept of disabled people using personal assistants had been severely damaged by years of austerity and government policies that have “degraded” the support mechanisms designed to enable independent living.

Clifford pointed also to the second paragraph of the response, where the government claimed that it “embraces the social model of disability”.

She said there was substantial evidence to show the government was instead influenced by the discredited biopsychosocial model of disability in its welfare reforms, by the psychiatric model in mental health services, and by the medical model in the use of assessment and treatment units for people with learning difficulties, all of which had caused harm to disabled people and led to breaches of the convention.

Clifford said the government’s response overall was “just a list of policies” and “doesn’t deal with any of the substantive issues” raised by the UN in its list of issues.

She said: “It just doesn’t present a picture of the experiences of Deaf and disabled people in the UK in 2017.”

Dr Rosalind Tyler-Greig, human rights policy and engagement officer for Inclusion Scotland, said the government’s response “once again demonstrates its refusal to engage with many of the most important issues affecting the lives of disabled people”.

She pointed to “telling” omissions, including the government stating that it spent nearly £17 billion on personal independence payment (PIP) and disability living allowance (DLA) in 2015-16, compared to £11 billion in 2006-07, but ignoring new figures – reported last week by Disability News Service – that showed more than half of those previously eligible for the higher mobility rate of DLA had lost that eligibility after being reassessed for PIP.

And where the government states that legal aid “continues to provide access to justice for people in the most serious cases”, Tyler-Greig said that many disabled people with housing, employment or social security concerns “now find themselves priced out of justice” because of the UK government’s legal aid reforms.

She added: “The government claims to have embraced the social model of disability.

“However, this statement is merely a case of lip service and there is little evidence to support it.”

In Scotland, she said, there had been progress in dealing with the impact of austerity, with the Scottish government promising “a different and non-discriminatory approach to social security”.

But she said the delivery of social care “remains a significant concern in Scotland, and there is little in the state response to address this.

“Inclusion Scotland is working with a range of partners to ensure that this UN process provides the appropriate levers to drive progress for disabled people in Scotland as well as in the UK.”

There is also anger about the government’s continued failure – repeated in its response to the list of issues – to address the recommendations made by the UN committee following a separate inquiry into breaches of the convention.

That inquiry – taken under article six of the convention’s optional protocol – found last year that the UK government was guilty of “grave” and “systematic” breaches of three specific articles of the human rights treaty.

Most of those breaches – under articles 19 (independent living), article 27 (work and employment) and article 28 (adequate standard of living and social protection) of the convention – were caused by policies introduced by Conservative DWP ministers between 2010 and 2015.

The government said last November that the inquiry report presented an “inaccurate” picture of life for disabled people in the UK, and dismissed all 11 of its recommendations.

And in this month’s response to the list of issues, it says only that it “maintains the position of its response” to the article six inquiry and planned to “further showcase [its]commitment to progressing the rights and lived experience of disabled people” through the examination of its overall record on implementing the convention.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which played a key part in persuading the UN to carry out the article six investigation, is to meet with the UN committee next month in Geneva to discuss progress in following up the results of the inquiry, which is a separate but parallel process to the routine examination.

DPAC has already told the committee that it believes “rights are regressing even further” since the publication of the inquiry report, including through further cuts to social care, concerns about DWP’s new health and work conversation, and the “utter disaster of universal credit”.

Linda Burnip, a DPAC co-founder, said: “The message is very much that this isn’t over yet, and I will be speaking about the UN inquiry in the European parliament in September to MEPs and hammering home how shamefully the Tories have behaved.”

ROFA and other organisations that visited Geneva in March to give evidence to the committee about the UK’s breaches of the convention – including Inclusion Scotland, Disability Wales and Disability Rights UK – are now working on a joint response to the government’s response, and have until the end of this month to submit it to the committee.

Picture by Natasha Hirst: Representatives of ROFA and DPOs including Disability Wales and Inclusion Scotland in Geneva in March


More than half of the people who use foodbanks are disabled

Foodbank study suggests disability benefits should rise

The authors of a major new study have called on the government to launch an inquiry into whether disability benefit payments should be increased, after finding more than half of the people who use foodbanks are disabled and unable to work.

The report, which looks in detail at the profiles of people receiving emergency food assistance, found the proportion of disabled people using foodbanks was three times higher than the national proportion of disabled people among low-income households.

The study says that foodbank-users are mostly from groups heavily affected by the government’s welfare reforms: disabled people, lone parents, and large families.

It says the study’s results may suggest that “current welfare support for disabled people is insufficient to ensure that such individuals are not left destitute”, and that they are particularly at risk of “deep poverty and severe food insecurity”.

And it warns that further cuts to the real terms value of benefits – a freeze on many benefits is set to last until 2020 – “will only serve to exacerbate the problem of food insecurity”.

The report, Financial Insecurity, Food Insecurity, And Disability, was carried out by the anti-poverty charity The Trussell Trust and academics from the universities of Oxford and King’s College London, and is the biggest nationwide study of foodbank use yet to be carried out.

It found that more than two in five foodbank-users were claiming employment and support allowance (ESA) – the out-of-work sickness and disability benefit – and most were in the ESA work-related activity group (WRAG), for those sick and disabled people found able to take steps towards employment.

Almost three times more WRAG claimants use foodbanks than the proportion in the general population.

But the proportion of those in the ESA support group using foodbanks was lower than in the general population.

The study also says that claimants subject to benefit sanctions – such as those in the WRAG or claiming jobseeker’s allowance – are more likely to use foodbanks.

The authors say that the high proportion of WRAG claimants using foodbanks was “particularly a cause for concern” because the research was carried out before the government implemented its latest cut to disability benefits, when it reduced weekly payments to new claimants in the WRAG by nearly £30 a week, in April this year.

They add: “This may result in even more ESA claimants having to use food banks.”

The authors conclude that benefits are now too low to ensure that many claimants can afford their basic needs, particularly disabled people.

The Trussell Trust called for a review of the financial support provided for those in the WRAG, and for a renewed commitment to efforts to support disabled people into work.

The authors also found that nearly two in five people using foodbanks were waiting for a benefit payment, with most waiting between two and six weeks, although a fifth had been waiting seven weeks or more.

A third of these delays were for people waiting for ESA payments, usually – again – those in the WRAG.

The study involved more than 400 households that had been referred to 18 foodbanks across England, Scotland and Wales.

In all, more than one in five of all respondents said they had slept rough in the past 12 months or were currently doing so, while more than half had gone without heating for more than four days in a month, had been unable to afford essential toiletries, and/or had been unable to afford appropriate clothes for the weather.

… the point at which people use a foodbank suggest they are at desperation and have nothing left 

Researcher Dr Rachel Loopstra

The authors conclude: “The severity of poverty observed and what it means for people’s ability to acquire sufficient and adequate food is a serious public health concern.”

Philip Connolly, policy manager for Disability Rights UK, said: “More than half of food bank users are disabled people or those with a long-term health condition.

“The initiative by Trussell Trust shows that society is reaching out to them, but they must wonder why there is a government denying them adequate social protection.”

The Trussell Trust runs a network of over 428 food banks which provide three days’ nutritionally-balanced food and support to people in crisis, all of whom will have been referred by a professional such as a social worker, health visitor or school liaison officer.

UN confirms that UK government’s treaty violations were both grave AND systematic

The United Nations (UN) committee that found the UK government guilty of violating the UN disability convention has revealed for the first time that its breaches of the human rights treaty were both “grave” and “systematic”.

The decision to clarify the seriousness of the UK’s breaches of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) shows for the first time just how seriously the committee viewed those violations.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said the UN’s clarification showed that the actions of the Conservative government that led to it being found guilty of breaching the treaty were “obviously based on a deliberate intention to cause harm without any regard to the horrendous consequences for disabled people”.

When the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) published its report last November, it said the UK had committed “grave or systematic” violations of the treaty in three specific areas.

The committee has previously refused to expand on that conclusion, leaving it unclear whether the committee believed the violations were simply grave (serious) but isolated, or just systematic (regular) but not grave or serious.

But the committee has now agreed for the first time to expand on its conclusion, and has revealed to Disability News Service (DNS) that the breaches of the convention by the UK government were both grave and systematic.

A spokeswoman for the committee said: “The committee can confirm that some violations were grave, some others were systematic and some were both: grave and systematic.”

The committee had concluded in the report that the UK government had discriminated against disabled people across three key parts of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Most of the breaches – which were all under articles 19 (independent living), article 27 (work and employment) and article 28 (adequate standard of living and social protection) of the convention – were caused by policies introduced by Conservative ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) between 2010 and 2015.

It was the first such high-level inquiry to be carried out by the committee, and was a result of years of research and lobbying by DPAC.

DPAC’s work was led by one of its co-founders, Debbie Jolly, who died just a few days after the report vindicating her and DPAC’s efforts was published.

Linda Burnip, a DPAC co-founder, who also played a key role in ensuring the UN inquiry took place, said: “When violations are systematic, or both grave and systematic, then the actions of the Tory government that led to this are obviously based on a deliberate intention to cause harm without any regard to the horrendous consequences for disabled people.”

She pointed to actions such as cuts to social care, the impact of the work capability assessment – which has been linked by public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford to hundreds of suicides between 2010 and 2013 – the hugely damaging introduction of personal independence payment and consequent cuts to support, the increased use of sanctions and the resulting deaths of benefit claimants, and the introduction of the bedroom tax.

Burnip said: “What is particularly damning is that we know the government was aware of the harm their actions were making to disabled people’s lives yet carried on regardless with their unrelenting attacks and scapegoating.

“Even now they refuse to consider a cumulative impact assessment, which might at the very least be a first step towards acknowledging their culpability in the abusive violation of our rights.”

DWP said last November that the UN report presented an “inaccurate” picture of life for disabled people in the UK, and dismissed all 11 of its recommendations.

A DWP spokeswoman said this week: “We have responded to the [committee]in full. As discussed in our response, there are individual facts in the report which are incorrect, and the report fails to place the government’s reforms in context.

“The UK is a recognised world leader in disabled rights and equality and as a share of GDP, our public spending on disability and incapacity is higher than all other G7* countries bar Germany.

“Not only do we spend over £50 billion a year to support disabled people and those with health conditions – more than ever before – but we also offer a wide range of tailored and effective support, which this report fails to recognise.

“Our focus is on helping disabled people find and stay in work, whilst providing support for those who can’t.”

*The other G7 countries are the USA, Japan, France, Germany, Italy and Canada.


ANOTHER PIP ATROCITY: Woman ‘forced to sit in her own urine for two hours’ by PIP assessor

A disabled women says she was left to sit in her own urine for nearly two hours after her plight was ignored by a healthcare professional carrying out a disability benefit assessment.

Maria Lane has spoken up about the “devastating” experience she endured during her personal independence payment (PIP) assessment, in the hope that other disabled people will not have to go through similar experiences.

She told – and showed – the assessor just 10 minutes into the assessment that she had had an accident and had emptied her bladder into her incontinence pad, and that urine was leaking into her trousers.

But she said the female assessor – who works for the government contractor Atos – “looked for a second at the pad” and then continued typing.

Atos has now launched an investigation.

For nearly two hours, she was forced to continue answering questions, with the assessor warning her whenever she failed to do so that if she did not respond she would have to return for another assessment.

Maria Lane has a number of long-term health conditions, including diabetes, osteoarthritis – which affects all of her joints and has spread into her spine – sciatica, a slipped disc, high blood pressure, and depression.

She is waiting for a major operation on her bladder, because of severe incontinence which means she has to wear pads permanently.

She said: “Once your bladder starts, you have to go. It will continue, no stopping, and then it leaks. I have no control over it.

“It just comes and I have to be prepared and change [my trousers]and if you’re nervous it is worse.

“I showed her all that, she must have seen, it was all over my trousers. She ignored me. She ignored me completely or she didn’t believe me.

“She has heard me alright because I showed them to her. She looked for a second and then went back to her report. She was like a robot. She had no emotions.”

She was also appalled by the way she was handled during a physical examination.

The assessor placed a chair behind her in case she fell over during the examination, which at one stage she did, and was “pulling my arms about” and causing her “terrible pain”, she said.

Now she says she has lost all her confidence, and has been left “devastated” by the “very upsetting” experience at the assessment centre in Enfield, north London.

She said: “It is embarrassing for me. I didn’t know what to do when I came out, I was crying.

Rebranding of ‘toxic’ Atos will fail, activists promise 

“I want to prevent this happening to other people. I would hate to see other people going through what I have.”

She added: “I am 59 years old and I have never been treated like that. She took all my rights, all my dignity.

“It was inhuman to allow me to sit there.”

She currently receives the highest rate of PIP through the enhanced rate for both daily living and mobility, but is terrified about what will happen if the assessor recommends that she loses any of that entitlement.

She currently spends about £55 a week on incontinence pads, which is paid for with some of her PIP.

She said: “If I lose that money, what is going to happen?”

She believes she has been discriminated against by Atos, and is writing a letter of complaint to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), while one of her two daughters – both of whom work in the healthcare sector – has made an appointment to see her MP on her behalf.

She is the latest PIP claimant to come forward to describe appalling experiences at the hands of private contractors paid hundreds of millions of pounds every year by the government to assess their eligibility for disability benefits.

The future use of companies like Atos to carry out disability benefit assessments was an issue at last week’s general election, with Labour pledging to end the use of private contractors to carry out all disability benefit assessments, while the SNP had already pledged to ban the private sector from involvement in Scotland’s benefit assessments.

Atos has now promised to investigate what happened to Maria Lane, while DWP has described her account as “very concerning”.

An Atos spokesman said: “We were concerned to hear of this and that is why we have written to Ms Lane explaining that an investigation into the issues raised is underway.”

A DWP spokeswoman added: “All claimants deserve an objective, accurate and high quality service and Mrs Lane’s account is very concerning.

“Atos is contacting the claimant and we will work with them to look into the issues raised.

“We expect the highest standards from the contractors who carry out PIP assessments, and work closely with them to ensure PIP is working in the best way possible.

“Assessment providers have to conform to a strict set of quality standards regarding staff recruitment and training, to demonstrate that their health professionals meet all of our requirements before they are approved to carry out assessments.”

The assessors must be either occupational therapists, level one nurses, physiotherapists, paramedics or doctors, and must be fully registered and have at least two years post full-registration experience.

She said: “All health professionals are subject to on-going quality audit to ensure they continue to deliver high quality assessments.

“Where assessors fall below the required standards and do not improve, processes are in place to stop them carrying out assessments.”

She added: “Assessment providers have their own complaints process regarding the services they provide.

“This signposts complainants to the Independent Case Examiner if they remain dissatisfied with the provider’s final response to their complaint.”