|DPOs dismayed at One Month Window to respond to National StrategyDisabled people have been given just one month to influence the government’s National Strategy for Disabled People. On 15 January, the government launched a survey to find out what disabled people want to see in the Strategy. The government has said that for views to be considered to shape the Strategy, they must be received by 13 February. On the gov.uk website, it says:
“If you share your views by 13 February, your views will inform the development of the National Strategy for Disabled People, but thereafter we will continue to listen. The survey will remain open until 23 April, and your views will be used to inform the delivery of the plans we set out.”
Disabled People’s Organisations including Disability Rights UK have expressed dismay that the window of opportunity to respond to the survey and fully influence the Strategy is so small, especially during the pandemic.
Whilst the government has been engaging with regional disability forums and with disability experts and professionals over the past few months, this is the first time it has asked the wider disabled public, 14 million people, for its views.
Fazilet Hadi, DR UK’s Head of Policy said: “The starting point for the Disability Strategy should be the views of people with lived experience of disability, not government departments or professionals.
“It is understandable that engagement has been made more difficult due to the Coronavirus crisis, but giving disabled people one month to respond is not remotely acceptable. For many of us, information on the survey will take time to reach us, some of us will want to discuss our responses with others, and some of us will require assistance to respond. A month just isn’t sufficient to enable disabled people to genuinely influence groundbreaking changes in the way society treats us.”
The survey can be found here:
End Unfair Charges for Shielders, Supermarkets Told
Supermarkets must end unfair delivery charges and minimum spend thresholds for shielders – that is the message delivered to the CEOs of the UK’s leading grocery retailers by Disability Rights UK and twenty other charities.
Shielders are unable to shop in supermarkets in the third lockdown without high risk to health. Many disabled people who are shielding live on benefits. Basic state benefits amount to around £74-90 (excluding rent). The average minimum spend requested by supermarkets for free delivery is £40 (£75 for Ocado), with delivery when charged costing up to an additional £7.
DR UK’s Fazilet Hadi said: “The thresholds required by supermarkets might be achievable for a double middle income working household, but for shielders who have no option other than to use delivery services right now, it is often a choice between heating or eating.
“We are at the worst point in the pandemic, at the coldest point in the year. We read economic headlines about profit margins tumbling because supermarkets are investing in more online solutions. They are still making a profit, at the expense of those in society who are currently living in extreme isolation and penury.
“We are asking supermarkets to practically help shielders until the group four vaccine rollout has been completed. Tesco says ‘every little helps’. Sainsburys says ‘live well for less’. Asda says ‘save money, live better’. We would ask them to make their slogans a reality for shielders right now by suspending delivery charges and lowering minimum spends.”
Read the letter here: https://www.independentage.org/news-media/press-releases/joint-open-letter-to-supermarkets
Woman challenged by police to produce mask exemption document
A woman was removed from a supermarket by police in Kent after refusing to show evidence of her medical exemption from needing to wear a face covering.
National and local press picked up on video recorded by the woman and first published on social media. The Daily Mail branded her an ‘anti masker’.
The woman is seen to correctly and calmly tell police that the evidence is not necessary and shows them a print off from the government website which they refuse to read before escorting her off the premises.
DR UK sought urgent clarification from the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott that officers are clear that there is no legal basis for individuals to be challenged to produce evidence to prove exemptions from wearing face coverings.
A spokesman for Kent Police replied: “At 10.55am on Saturday 16 January 2021 Kent Police was called to Sainsbury’s in Dartford following a report of a dispute between staff and two customers.
“It was said that staff had requested a man and woman to leave the premises due to them not wearing a face mask.
“Officers attended to prevent any possible breach of the peace and sought to engage with the couple before escorting them from the shop. No further action will be taken.
“All officers are familiar with the government’s health-care legislation and, in line with national standards, they have always sought to engage with individuals, and encourage them to comply with the restrictions. Enforcement is only used if it is considered proportionate.
“As a force that has been graded as ‘outstanding’ by the independent policing inspectorate for its legitimacy for the past four years, the public can be assured that officers treat people from all groups in an open, fair and consistent manner.
“No formal complaints have been received from anyone involved in the incident.”
The Kent Messenger originally alluded to ‘confusion’ around the situation of needing evidence of exemption but have now amended their story with better clarification around exemptions:
Government guidance is explicit – exemption documentation is legally unnecessary:
DR UK’s Fazilet Hadi said: “We understand the challenges that the police face when dealing with mask refusers. But such people are distinct from people with disability-related exemptions. This woman is calm, clear and correct on the law in the video footage. Disabled people who cannot wear masks are not ‘entitled’ or ‘anti mask’, they are simply trying to go about their daily business.
“Just last week we wrote to Martin Hewitt, Chair of the National Police Chiefs Council about this very issue.
“The language the media uses around disabled people who cannot wear masks is fuelling public fury towards disabled people. The law is clear.”
Read the letter to Martin Hewitt by clicking here. Read the guidance sent by the Equality and Human Rights Commission to supermarkets about face coverings here.
Emergency Evacuation Plans needed for Disabled People in High Rise Blocks
The Grenfell Tower fire saw disabled people and their loved ones who stayed with them tragically die as they were unable to leave the building. Shocking and heart breaking evidence was presented to the Grenfell Tower inquiry, which led to it recommending that disabled people in high rise flats should have personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs).
There was considerable concern that the government wasn’t going to act on this recommendation and legal action was taken. Now, the government is planning a consultation on the implementation of personal emergency evacuation plans for disabled people.
Disability Rights UK is in contact with the Grenfell Next of Kin Group which is keen to ensure that disability groups are fully involved in the consultation.
We have contacted the relevant civil servants and it has been confirmed that a consultation will take place in the near future. We will share details when these become available.
The concerns regarding how disabled people can safely evacuate from flats is now also being taken up by the Leaseholder Disability Action Group (LDAG). In addition to safety concerns, disabled leaseholders are worried about the falling value of their flats, the cost of replacing flammable materials and the difficulty of moving out of specifically adapted accommodation. You can follow the Leaseholder Disability Action Group here: https://twitter.com/claddag
SSAC: DWP should recruit large scale panel of disabled people with experience of social security which it can consult and draw from to work on detailed projects
The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) has published a new wide-ranging and detailed report that focuses on how the DWP involves disabled people when developing, delivering and evaluating social security programmes that affect them.
The report highlights that that it is clear that the level of trust between the disabled people and the DWP has deteriorated over a period of successive administrations, during which time a number of significant benefit changes have been introduced.
In meetings with the DWP, officials acknowledged this to the Committee: “They told us that lack of trust was a major issue; and a barrier not only to joint working but to the effective delivery of their services. They said they wanted our study to give them feedback on how far they had come, and to provide advice on how to improve further. This report is written in that spirit.”
The SSAC Occasional Paper 25: How DWP involves disabled people when developing or evaluating programmes that affect them is available from gov.uk. Read a precis of the recommendations here:
Errol Graham Case Heard by High Court
The High Court has heard how Errol Graham, who starved to death in 2018, was left at risk of “serious harm” by the government, after his benefits were stopped
His body was found in his Nottingham flat in June 2018 when bailiffs broke in to evict him.
His family, which has brought the case, says that the Department for Work and Pensions’ handling of his case was unlawful and breached his human rights.
Alison Turner, Errol’s son’s fiancée, says that equality legislation was breached because his mental state was not considered as a factor when he missed a fitness for work assessment and did not answer phone calls or answer the door to home visits. She is claiming the government puts the onus on vulnerable people, who may be too ill to do so, to have to prove why they have missed appointments.
Barrister Adam Straw told Mr Justice Bourne the claim concerns “a well-recognised cohort of [benefits] claimants who are unable, because of mental disabilities, to engage with, or respond to the DWP”.
He said claimants are “frequently unable to respond to or engage with the DWP because of mental disability or illness”, with rejected applications presenting “a significant risk to their health”.
He continued: “It is a momentous decision which will often entail a sudden and complete loss of income – leaving the person destitute without food and housing.”
“Withdrawing benefits for a vulnerable claimant like Mr Graham will often put that individual at risk of serious harm.”
The judge will give his ruling at a later date.
Network Rail North West Commits to Better Accessibility
Network Rail North West has signed a legally binding commitment to improve services and make reasonable adjustments for disabled passengers during refurbishment works.
Disabled passengers were forced to drag themselves up steps last year at Manchester Victoria station when there was no working lift during a refurbishment project. Network Rail had failed to complete a Disability Impact Assessment or to consult with disabled passengers or groups to determine whether arrangements to replace lift access were appropriate.
DR UK’s Rail Policy Adviser, Stephen Brookes, said: “We are working with the Network Rail Area Station Manager to set up a pan disability access user group for Manchester, which now has a membership of 12 disabled people.
“We have jointly planned a fully accessible Travel Reception Lounge incorporating a Changing Places facility and we are currently working on mitigations for further lift maintenance at Piccadilly Station. This simple outcome will ensure that future decisions on stations and trains automatically includes disabled people as part of access and inclusion groups and panels. It will also ensure that following Covid, confidence in rail needs will be rebuilt and our various access needs and experience will ensure that by getting it right for disabled people, we will get it right for everyone.”