Disability Unit’s response to DR UK’s call for accessible survey ‘immensely frustrating’
The government’s Disability Unit is currently running an online survey which will help to shape the forthcoming National Strategy for Disabled People. Comments must be received by 13 February in order for them to be taken on board before the publication of the Strategy.
Following calls from DR UK that the survey needed a longer response time and more accessible formats, including offline formats, the Disability Unit has written back to us to clarify which formats are available.
It says that a Word document and Easy Read documents are available and that “you can print the documents off, fill in your responses and post them to the Disability Unit, Cabinet Office,10 Victoria Street, Westminster SW1H 0NB.”
It says that it has “made it easy for you to tell us that a parent, carer or any other person is supporting you. There is a box to let us know that someone is supporting you with filling in the form.
“If you are unable or would prefer not to complete this survey but would like to contribute your views on the National Strategy, please post your thoughts to the Disability Unit Cabinet Office,10 Victoria Street, Westminster SW1H 0NB.
“The survey is available in BSL videos with additional subtitling and voiceover. You can also request a braille format of the survey at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are blind or partially sighted and are having difficulty filling in the online survey you can email the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) for advice or support at email@example.com.”
DR UK’s Fazilet Hadi said: “It is immensely frustrating that a survey designed for Disabled people is inaccessible to millions. Being able to respond by email or phone must be options. Providing solely online communication is not acceptable.
“The survey’s purpose appears to be more about gathering insight into our lives rather than asking us as Disabled people what should be in the Disability Strategy. Six weeks from the Strategy being published, this seems very strange and doesn’t constitute true engagement with Disabled people.
DR UK’s Our Voices group is calling on the government to delay the Disability Strategy pending a full and open engagement with disabled people.”
Read Our Voices’ letter to the Government about its concerns.
Grenfell measures slammed by Disability groups
Housing Minister Robert Jenrick has announced another £3.5 billion of funding to remove and replace unsafe cladding from towerblocks.
The announcement comes three and a half years after the Grenfell Tower disaster in which 72 people died, including Disabled people.
Leaseholder Disability action group CladDAG has accused the government of failing to do enough for Disabled residents in the wake of the disaster. It says that £15 billion is needed for the removal of cladding, which will result in the £3.5 billion becoming a lottery, and that the funding doesn’t cover flammable balconies, and missing firestopping in buildings.
It has also been critical of the government’s lack of impetus to put in place evacuation plans for Disabled people, and highlighted how the funding will only be given to buildings which are six storeys and taller, leaving Disabled residents living in the upper storeys of lower rise blocks at the same risk they ever were, and living in ongoing fear and anxiety about their safety in case of fire.
Robert Jenrick said: “We continue to take a safety-led approach and this funding will focus on the higher-rise buildings where the independent expert advisory panel tells us – time and again – the overwhelming majority of the safety risk lies, in line with the existing building safety fund and the anticipated scope of the new building safety regulator that we’re establishing and will shortly be legislating for.
“This will ensure that we end the cladding scandal in a way that is fair and generous to leaseholders.”
With regards to buildings with less than six storeys, he said: “The Government will develop a long-term scheme to protect leaseholders in this situation, with financial support for cladding remediation on buildings between four and six storeys.
“Under a long-term low-interest scheme, no leaseholder will ever pay more than £50 a month towards the removal of unsafe cladding, many far less. Taken together this means the Government is providing more than £5 billion including a further £3.5 billion announced today plus the significant cost of the very generous financing scheme which will run for many years to come to ensure all leaseholders in medium and high-rise blocks face no costs or very low costs if cladding remediation is needed.”
DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “The government funding proposals aren’t enough to protect leaseholders. They don’t cover the full costs of removing cladding for those covered by the scheme and leave many leaseholders out completely. Disabled people are often on very low incomes and will not be able to shoulder the financial burden.
“The safety considerations affecting Disabled leaseholders, who wouldn’t be able to evacuate from buildings in the case of fire aren’t addressed at all. This puts the lives of disabled people at risk. It is seriously affecting the mental health of Disabled leaseholders, forcing people to live in fear of fire and feeling unsafe in their own homes.”
Disabled people between 3 and 4 times more likely to die of Coronavirus – ONS
New data from the Office for National Statistics shows that Disabled people were at more than three times the risk of dying from Coronavirus than non-disabled people between January and November 2020.
The risk was 3.1 times greater for more-disabled men and 1.9 times greater for less-disabled men, compared to non-disabled men. Among women, the risk of death was 3.5 times greater for more-disabled women and 2.0 times greater for less-disabled women, compared to non-disabled women.
Disability status was self-reported as collected in the 2011 Census. Those who said in the census that their day-to-day activities were ‘limited a little’ or ‘limited a lot’ are referred to here as ‘less-disabled’ and ‘more-disabled’ respectively, whereas people reporting no limitation on their activities are referred to as ‘non-disabled’.
The ONS says that: “no single factor explains the considerably raised risk of death involving COVID-19 among disabled people. Place of residence, socio-economic and geographical circumstances, and pre-existing health all play a part. An important part of the raised risk is because disabled people are disproportionately exposed to a range of generally disadvantageous circumstances compared to non-disabled people.” Patterns in excess Coronavirus mortality risk experienced by disabled people remained largely unchanged between the first and second waves of the pandemic.”
The risk for Learning Disabled people was 3.7 times greater for both men and women.
DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “It’s good that the ONS is recognising out loud that Disabled people face disadvantage across all aspects of life, and that they recognise the disproportionate loss of life of Disabled people during this pandemic. This information must feed into the National Strategy for Disabled People to level up life expectancy and day to day experience for Disabled people. Our lives matter. It is shocking and heartbreaking that so many of us have died during this pandemic.”
MPs back calls for Universal Credit uplift extension until April 2022
The Commons Work and Pensions Committee has said that the increase in Universal Credit, slated to end at the end of March this year, must be kept until April 2022 as the “bare minimum” and has warned against plans for a one-off payment to take its place.
The top-up, introduced at the start of the pandemic, is worth more than £1,000 a year.
The support from the cross-party group of MPs who make up the Committee comes after calls to keep the uplift from major welfare and Disability charities including Disability Rights UK, unions, the Labour Party, Citizens Advice, and Marcus Rashford, who has spearheaded the campaign to feed underprivileged school children throughout the pandemic.
Work and Pensions Minister Will Quince told the House of Commons that discussions “remained ongoing” with the Treasury. He went on to say that the Chancellor had a “proven record of stepping up to protect the poorest, the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our country throughout this pandemic and I have no doubt he will continue to do so”.
DR UK’s Ken Butler said: “The Work and Pensions Committee has now joined other cross-party bodies including the APPG for Poverty and the Women and Equalities Select Committee in forcefully calling for the keeping and extending of the £20 per week uplift.
“Within the past week a group of leading health and care bodies and the Trussell Trust have added their voices.
“The evidence is clear – removing the uplift will sweep hundreds of thousands of families into poverty or even destitution.
“Those on legacy benefits, which includes over two million Disabled people, were not even included in the uplift.
“The cost of extending the uplift is less than 3% of the £280 billion figure for total spending on Coronavirus support measures this year. It is a price that must be paid.”
Read more on our website.
Blueprint for post-pandemic NHS and social care reform launched
The Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock has set out new proposals to bring health and care services closer together.
The measures, set out in a government White Paper, intend to modernise the legal framework, and make it less bureaucratic, more accountable and more joined up to address the needs of communities as a whole.
The tendering process introduced over a decade ago will be reduced, to allow staff to focus more on patient care than procurement processes. The Healthcare Safety Investigations Branch will be put permanently into law as a Statutory Body so it can continue to reduce risk and improve safety. A package of measures to deliver on specific needs in the social care sector will be introduced to improve oversight and accountability in the delivery of services through new assurance and data sharing measures in social care, update the legal framework to enable person-centred models of hospital discharge, and introduce improved powers for the Secretary of State to directly make payments to adult social care providers where required.
The Department for Health and Social Care says that the pandemic has shown the impact of inequalities on public health outcomes and the need for Government to act to help level up health across the country.
However, Disability groups are concerned the Paper will not go far enough on social care. Edel Harris, Chief Executive of the learning disability charity Mencap said: “There are huge benefits to further integration between the NHS and the provision of social care. However, this reform will backfire unless the crisis in social care is addressed now. Social care has been treated as the poor relation to the healthcare system for too long, and it needs to be placed on an equal footing before we embark on any reform.”
DR UK’s Fazilet Hadi said: “Bringing health bodies and Local Authorities together to plan services across local areas and tackle inequalities is a laudable aim, however without genuine co-production with Disabled people at the heart of the reform, and without increased investment in social care, there is a danger that this will just be a shuffling round of the deckchairs.”
People with mental health conditions £8.4k poorer than those without
The incomes of people with common mental disorders such as anxiety and depression are just two-thirds (68%) of those of people without such conditions according to a new Mental Health and Income Commission (MHIC) report.
The gap is equivalent to £8,400 per year.
The Commission has found that one in five people with mental health problems – equivalent to 3.7m people across the UK – say they have suffered workplace discrimination due to their condition, including being passed over for promotion or being made redundant.
The Commission says that the Government should adopt several emergency measures to help people with mental health problems stay in work during the pandemic, as well as long term changes to tackle the systemic employment issues which have driven the “mental health income gap”.
Read more on our website.
Partner of “distraught” ESA claimant says DWP drove him to his death
The DWP has been blamed for causing the death of a Disabled man whose partner had warned he was too ill to undergo an upcoming benefit assessment that had left him “distraught” and “devastated”, reports the Disability News Service.
It is just the latest death to be linked to ongoing and widespread flaws in the benefit system, following years of concerns raised by disabled activists and grieving relatives, and has concerning similarities to the death of Philippa Day.
Philip Pakree, who died on Boxing Day, had been told he probably needed a heart transplant, while he also had multiple mental health conditions, and had grown increasingly distressed as the date of the “fitness for work” re-assessment approached.
He was already claiming ESA, in recognition of the barriers he faced due to personality disorder, depression, anxiety, borderline schizophrenia, adjustment disorder, asthma, a serious heart condition, and a long history of self-harm and suicide attempts.
When he was first told, last October, that he would need to undergo a telephone work capability assessment (WCA), he had to be admitted to Royal Derby Hospital several days later with breathing difficulties and heart failure.
His partner, Elizabeth Nicholson, said: “There was a distinct downturn in his health. He told me: ‘They do this to me every time.’”
He was later told the assessment would take place on 4 December, but outsourcing giant Maximus – which carries out WCAs on behalf of the Government – eventually agreed to cancel it after Nicholson sent them a letter from his consultant cardiologist that detailed his multiple health conditions.
But just 19 days later, on 9 December, Maximus sent another letter to Pakree, telling him he would have to make himself available for a WCA, again by telephone because of the pandemic, on New Year’s Eve.
Ms. Nicholson, said: “Phil was nearly hysterical. It made his mental and physical health so poor it was beyond belief.
“He was devastated, he was absolutely devastated. He said he would be better off dead.
“He wasn’t sleeping. He was getting obsessed that people were talking about him and believed that DWP were part of the SS.”
She said she could see him “going down and down” as 31 December approached.
She called Maximus to beg the contractor to reconsider, but a call handler said her partner would have to take part in the assessment or it would “affect his benefits”, telling her: “It’s been delayed once, we are not delaying it again.”
Ms. Nicholson said the attitude of the call handler was lacking in empathy and understanding and “completely and utterly disgusting”.
They moved into a bungalow on 23 December, because the mobility problems caused by his heart condition meant he could no longer cope with the stairs in their house.
Ms. Nicholson said it was the imminent assessment, rather than moving, that caused the stress that killed him.
He told her on Christmas Day, the day before he died: “I hope I don’t wake up, because I don’t want this.”
Early on Boxing Day, she found that he had died in his sleep. He was 49 years old.
Although he is believed to have died of natural causes, she said: “As far as I am concerned, the DWP killed him.”
Ms. Nicholson said this week that the harassment her partner had faced over the WCA was the culmination of 18 months of problems with his disability benefits.
In August 2019, a paramedic working for another DWP private sector contractor, Capita – which was implicated in the death of Philippa Day – had produced an inaccurate and misleading report after he had attended a face-to-face PIP assessment.
Mr. Pakree had been receiving DLA for seven or eight years, receiving the higher rate for mobility, and the middle rate for care, after being given a lifetime award.
He described in his claim form how he experienced constant anxiety, paranoia, could not eat without support, had to stop two or three times for two or three minutes at a time to walk just 50 metres and could not use public transport “because of my fear of crowds or of misinterpreting conversations overheard which are not about me”, and how he “will not bother to eat unless encouraged to do so by someone else”.
But the Capita assessor awarded him zero points, leading to DWP finding him ineligible for PIP, a decision that was rubber-stamped in December 2019 after a mandatory reconsideration.
He had to wait until July last year for a tribunal to hear his appeal.
The tribunal found him entitled to PIP at the enhanced rate for both mobility and daily living, dismissing the findings of the Capita report and the conclusions of the DWP decision-maker, and instead awarding him 13 points for daily living and 14 points for mobility.
Ms. Nicholson said she was appalled at the way her partner had been treated by DWP over the last 18 months of his life.
She said: “I would like people to know that this is what is happening.
“It is my opinion the DWP are totally responsible for this and they have robbed us of a much-loved man.”