Standards body promises new safety rules around disability evacuation plans in wake of Grenfell fire
The organisation that sets building standards has withdrawn the document that allowed building owners to ignore Disabled people’s pleas for personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs).
The public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire heard that 15 of the Tower’s 37 Disabled residents died in the fire – despite many having repeatedly warned that they were at particular risk.
In its phase one report, published in October 2019, the inquiry chair said housing providers should be subject to a “legal requirement” to develop PEEPs for all disabled residents of high-rise buildings unable to self-evacuate. The Home Office consulted on proposals to require PEEPs earlier this summer. The consultation proposed that owners or agents responsible for buildings over 18 metres, discuss fire safety and evacuation with residents unable to self-evacuate and produce personalised evacuation plans.
Now, the British Standards Institution (BSI) has confirmed it is dropping its current guidance, PAS 79-2 The guidance document described the preparation of individual PEEPs as “usually unrealistic”.
The BSI suspended the document in March and removed it from sale but It is still available on the institution’s website with the sections on PEEPs blacked out.
In a statement, the BSI this week pledged to work with stakeholders to build a “consensus” around a new standard.
DR UK’s Head of Policy, Fazilet Hadi, said: “This announcement is welcome and the BSI now needs to work with Disabled people to coproduce guidance that promotes our equality and rights. Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans need to be developed for every Disabled resident who needs and wants one, whatever the hight of the building. We urge building owners and managing agents in the public and private housing sectors to move quickly to integrate PEEPs into their business as usual activities
Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan in his response to the Home Office consultation has urged the government to clarify how PEEPs should be funded, to extend the requirement to all buildings and to impose a duty on the ‘Responsible Person’ to inform vulnerable people of their right to a PEEP.
Scottish Government launches consultation on national social care service
The Scottish Government is proposing a national social care service in a consultation launched this week.
The consultation sets out some of the options for delivering social care in a way which changes the system from one that supports people to survive to one that empowers them to thrive. It recognises that this will involve significant cultural and system change that will need to be supported by new laws, and new ways of working.
It pledged “strong local accountability” would continue despite the switch to a national service.
This would be achieved through Community Health and Social Care Boards to strengthen the voice of the local population, with people with lived experience and local elected members sitting alongside professionals.
Minister for Social Care Kevin Stewart said: “The Scottish Government commissioned the Independent Review of Adult Social Care during the pandemic, because it was clear we needed to do things better in future…I am committed to implementing the recommendations of the Independent Review and staying true to the spirit of that report by building a system with human rights at the heart of it. What we are now proposing is the biggest public sector reform for decades, since the creation of the National Health Service.”
In a statement, the Social Covenant Steering Group, which will advise on the creation of a National Care Service, said: “Most of us have waited many years to see plans for major improvements in the way social care support is delivered and we welcome the publication of this consultation. Many people may feel they have been consulted before and are keen to see some action. But this time it is an important legal step in order that a bill can be put to Parliament.
“So, it is important that as many people as possible including current users of social care, unpaid carers, the workforce and everyone else who cares about this vital support will take this opportunity to express their views on the kind of system we need to enable everyone to reach their potential.”
A number of consultation events will be held throughout late August, September and October.
DR UK Get Yourself Active team announces practical pack for social care staff
The Disability Rights UK Get Yourself Active (GYA) team has launched its new Social Care Activity Pack.
The team has previously co-produced guidance with social workers to support asset-based approaches to discussing the opportunities and outcomes that physical activity can deliver.
GYA spokesperson Mikey Erhardt said: “Carers and support workers can enable and support Disabled people to take part in physical activity and the pack will develop their knowledge of how best to do this. It will assist conversations with Disabled people and suggest ways of building exercise into everyday activities.”
You can get the pack by visiting the GYA site. It covers topics such as defining physical activity, starting conversations about physical activity and how to boost levels of physical activity.
DR UK CEO Kamran Mallick said: “We know that physical activity is hugely important to people’s health and mental wellbeing. We also have extensive evidence of the barriers to physical activity for Disabled people and how these increase the health inequalities between Disabled and non-disabled people.”
“In our interviews with Disabled people the message was clear, those who are inactive want to become active and those who are active want to be more active – and all mentioned the multiple barriers getting in the way of their plans to be active.”
“DR UK’s Social Care Activity Pack offers a series of practical solutions to this problem. It tackles the barriers head-on and provides social workers, care staff and family members with the knowledge and tools to become agents of change, supporting Disabled people to realise their physical activity aspirations.”
Cecilia Kumar, Head of Disability at Sport England, said: “Research shows that people who provide support to disabled people or people living with long-term health conditions – such as family members, personal assistants or support workers – can be key to unlocking the benefits of sport and physical activity.
“This online resource, developed by Disability Rights UK in partnership with social care and physical activity experts, will empower people to increase their knowledge and confidence around supporting disabled people to be active.”
Campaigners win first round of legal battle over Hampstead Ponds charges
Christina Efthimiou, a Disabled woman, has won permission for a judicial review of a new charging scheme introduced at the famous Hampstead Ponds in North London. Christina, who is 59 and receives disability-related benefits, has claimed the new scheme is discriminatory as she has been priced out of accessing the ponds which are crucial to her ability to manage her disability. She says the ponds also provide mental and physical benefits.
Christina has several health conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and sees swimming at the ponds as a lifeline.
Her argument hinges on the belief that the City of London Corporation, which manages the Heath where the pools are located, breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments to the charging scheme, and that the new changes indirectly discriminate against Disabled people. The case is now likely to be heard before the end of the year, as a High Court judge has said her case is arguable under the 2010 Equality Act.
Speaking to The Guardian, Christina said: “I’ve got challenges from the moment I wake up, but when I’m there, mentally, emotionally and physically I feel on top of the world,”.
The first enforced mandatory fees were imposed at the Ponds in March 2020 following a self-policed system that has been in place since 2005, before which it was free. Now the 6-month pass price has changed with a 140% increase in concession charges. Christina argues that the new policy introduced in April adversely affects Disabled people disproportionately, in clear contravention of section 19 of the Equality Act.
She notes that this new cost was unaffordable as a one-off payment for Disabled people who rely on benefits, and The Corporation had declined requests to allow people to spread the cost by paying monthly. She also pointed out that single ticket prices are too expensive for those on low incomes – and she wouldn’t have been able to swim if she didn’t get help from her family.
Christina is eligible for free swims before 9.30am when she turns 60 next year but early swimming will not be feasible as she is mostly reliant on a friend to accompany her as her carer.
“When you’ve got disabilities, you can’t plan like that. Being able to go when my body allows me doesn’t fit into a booking system,” she said.
Energy price rise set to hit Disabled people hard
DR UK has joined dozens of disability groups and anti-poverty campaigners in condemning an unprecedented rise in energy costs.
Regulator Ofgem announced that the energy price cap will increase from 1 October for the 15 million customers it protects. People on default tariffs paying by direct debit will see an increase of £139 from £1,138 to £1,277. Prepayment customers will see an increase of £153 from £1,156 to £1,309.
The End Fuel Poverty Coalition estimates that the 12% increase will see an additional 488,000 households plunged into fuel poverty, a month after the £20 Universal Credit uplift ends.
A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition said: “This unprecedented hike in energy bills comes at the worst possible time for millions of households across the country. It is difficult to put into words just how devastating this news will be for people. Especially hard hit will be vulnerable customers and those on pre-pay meters who are unable to switch suppliers and will be facing a winter in abject fuel poverty.”
Fuel poverty can make respiratory illnesses worse – meaning conditions such as Covid may be exacerbated by living in cold damp homes.
Fazilet Hadi, DR UK’s Head of Policy, said: “this price increase is a shocking blow to millions of people on low incomes and will disproportionately hit many Disabled people and those living with long term health conditions.
“We know that many Disabled people already have to choose between eating and heating and the increase in energy prices will make this situation far worse.
Level Playing Field’s largest ever survey reveals significant shortcomings in access for Disabled fans
Level Playing Field, a charity that focuses on removing barriers for Disabled people wishing to follow live sports as fans, has revealed the results of its annual fan survey.
The report has the most in-depth answers of any in the charity’s 22-year history.
The survey received 1,408 responses. Key findings include:
- 30% of respondents stated that there were sports or sporting venues that they felt unable to attend due to poor access for Disabled supporters
- 25% of respondents said that ‘anxiety or lack of confidence’ was a barrier when attending live sport.
- Following lengthy restrictions on attending live sport due to the pandemic, 73% of the supporters surveyed said they would want to attend a match ‘right away’ once permitted.
- The top three Covid measures that fans want in place when returning were:
- Hand sanitising stations
- Hand washing facilities
- Mask wearing (bar exemptions).
The report aims to receive greater feedback year on year, helping to drive change towards better access and inclusion for Disabled sports fans. Although the charity has carried out many specific surveys in the past, this is the most comprehensive survey ever, reviewing the matchday experience of Disabled fans. The survey is a first of its kind, with a strong focus on club-specific feedback that will help clubs target specific areas to improve their facilities and services.
The Chair of Level Playing Field Tony Taylor said: “This first Level Playing Field annual fan survey provides a great insight into the experiences of Disabled supporters as they attend live sport.
“We are grateful to the 1,408 fans who took the time to share their experiences with us. It is our hope and expectation that their responses will serve to bring about improvements to services and facilities as clubs see their feedback and comments.
“There is clearly much that still needs to be done to ensure that Disabled fans have an equal matchday experience to non-disabled fans. The fact that 30% of respondents said there was a sport or sports venue they felt unable to attend, due to poor access, highlights this inequality. Level Playing Field will continue to promote full access and inclusion for Disabled fans, and we expect that will be reflected in the results of our future fan surveys.”
Debate starts over booster vaccine jabs
A senior Government adviser has suggested that only a relatively small number of people with low levels of immunity against Covid might need booster shots of the coronavirus vaccine in the autumn.
Professor Adam Finn, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said it was still unclear whether all over-50s should be given a third shot – possibly administered when they receive their flu vaccine starting next month.
Health secretary, Sajid Javid, said plans were in place to offer the whole cohort a booster.
Professor Finn told BBC Breakfast: “I think it’s becoming quite clear that there are a small group of people whose immune responses to the first two doses are likely to be inadequate – people who’ve got immunosuppression of one kind or another, perhaps because they’ve got immunodeficiency or they’ve been receiving treatment for cancer or bone marrow transplants or organ transplants, that kind of thing. I think it’s quite likely we’ll be advising on a third dose for some of those groups.
However he said the JCVI is still to determine whether a booster shot should be offered to everyone over 50 – the first nine ‘priority’ groups when the vaccination rollout began last December.
“We need to review evidence as to whether people who receive vaccines early on in the programme are in any serious risk of getting serious disease and whether the protection they’ve got from those first two doses is still strong – we clearly don’t want to be giving vaccines to people that don’t need them.”
DWP failing to send UC claimants limited capability for work questionnaires – new research report
In 2020, the Welfare Benefits Team at Central England Law Centre (CELC) noticed a trend in the ‘UC50’ limited capability for work questionnaire form not being issued to claimants in circumstances where that would have been expected.
CELC has since been investigating and found that this seems to be a widespread problem across the country. It has been difficult to find out exactly how the system is supposed to work but they have found a number of potential weaknesses where it could be going wrong.
Note: when someone claims Universal Credit and submit medical certificates (fit notes) they should be sent a limited capability for work questionnaire (ESA50) to complete and return. Following this they should have a work capability assessment (WCA).
CELC highlights that:
“People who are unable to work due to ill-health or disability but who do not receive a UC50 are unlikely to know they should have received one. This means they are unlikely to contact the DWP to pursue the matter unless they have a benefits adviser who has explained the system to them. Many people do not have access to specialist advice. The consequences for those affected could be serious. They may not receive all the benefits to which they are entitled. In particular, they may lose access to exemption from the benefit cap.“
CELC’s research suggests that the problem in issuing UC50s is a significant national problem. 60% of National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers (NAWRA) members who responded to the CELC’s April/July 2021 survey with a percentage figure reported that the percentage of their relevant caseload that had been affected was 50% or more. The respondents worked in locations across the country.
CELC says that while it found several different accounts of the DWP’s process for issuing UC50s, its conclusions about the key steps and weaknesses in the process include:
- The UC50 form is supposed to be generated ‘automatically’ by a computer system (Medical Services Referral System – MSRS) once the claimant has been referred for a work capability assessment (WCA). However, there is some inconsistency in the information available as to whether the DWP or the medical assessment service is responsible for sending the form out.
- The referral for a WCA should be made on day 1 (for certain medical conditions) or day 29 (for all others) following someone reporting their unfitness for work. If the referral for a WCA is not made, no UC50 will be issued.
- Once the claimant has entered the initial fit note dates in their journal this triggers the setting of automated 29-day reminder to DWP staff on the UC computer system to consider a WCA referral. The MSRS and the UC computer systems appear to be independent of one another.
CELC is recommending that the following safeguard is set up to ensure “a fairer process”.
If the UC computer system were to generate a standard letter explaining the ‘unfit for work’ process at the point when a claimant inserted their fit note dates in their journal, they would know to expect receive the UC50, and when, if they remained unfit for work.
If they did not receive the form they would know that something had gone wrong and they could take steps to make sure it was put right. This would make for a much fairer system.
CELC has produced a summary briefing and a detailed full report on its UC50 research.
A copy of the UC50 limited capability for work questionnaire is available from gov.uk.
See also our work capability assessment factsheet.
DBC and DPAC urge six-week extension to Green Paper consultation response time
The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) and Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) have written an open letter to the Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson MP, expressing their concerns about the consultation period for the recently published Health and Disability Green Paper.
The Green Paper was published on the 20 July 2021, following a two year wait, but the Government are only providing the standard 12 week consultation timeframe for feedback, leaving many disabled people without time to respond fully or even at all.
This is why we are calling on the Government to extend the consultation period of the Green Paper by six weeks, to ensure that this crucial feedback to its proposals can be properly heard.
Click here to read the DBC and DPAC letter