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Disability Rights UK - News in Brief
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Almost half of Grenfell fire deaths were Disabled people and children   
Fifteen of the 37 Disabled residents and 17 of the 67 children living in Grenfell Tower died in the fire that killed 72 people in total, according to evidence shared in the latest phase of the Inquiry.

Fazilet Hadi, DR UK Head of Policy said: “Just read those figures again – almost half of those people who died in the Grenfell Tower fire were Disabled people or children. 41% of Disabled people who lived in the Tower died that night. A quarter of all the children who lived in the Tower died that night.

“Disabled people knew they were sitting ducks should there be a disaster. They raised safety concerns which were dismissed time and again. The Inquiry has heard from residents who said they were "bullied" and "stigmatised" when they raised such concerns.

“The disproportionately high death rates of children and Disabled people in the Grenfell Tower fire is truly shocking and heart breaking. The evidence provided on the callous neglect of safety precautions by the Council and Management Company is breath taking.

“Disability Rights UK is calling on the Government to urgently implement the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations, requiring building owners and managing agents to prepare Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans for Disabled people who can’t self-evacuate.”

Three quarters of shielders won’t stop shielding
Research by disability charity Scope has found that 75% of Disabled people do not want to stop shielding. Shielding officially ended on 31 March, but many Disabled people have fears that they will not be able to return to safe workplaces, continue to work from home or procure food and medicine supplies safely.

30 million people have now had a first dose of a Covid vaccine, but less than four million have had a second dose, leaving Disabled people fearful they are still vulnerable to catching the virus.

DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “Shielders need cast iron protections in place – the unequivocable right to work in safe workplaces, to work from home, not just to request it, and to receive benefits if the safety of their work environments cannot be assured. Shielders also need the continuation of food shopping deliveries until the entire population has been fully vaccinated. Priority delivery slots are due to end in June. More Disabled people have died of this virus than any other group, and our safety is not assured until the entire country has been vaccinated with both doses. Less risk is nowhere near no risk. Given our increased risk as a population, the government needs to hear that clinically extremely vulnerable people still need assured protections and adjustments in place.”

UK ‘no longer’ systemically racist – report called into question
The UK is "no longer" systemically rigged against people from ethnic minority backgrounds, according to a review set up by the Government.

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities said that the structure of families and social class had a more significant impact on life outcomes than race.

DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “This reads, quite literally, and despite the Commission being made up of people from minority ethnic backgrounds, like a whitewash.

“That ‘anecdotal’ evidence of racism was found, but not ‘systemic’ evidence, shows a lack of understanding of how tickbox culture can be used to mask inequality of experience when dealing with institutions and the people who work within them. It is dangerous to draw a line between anecdotal and experiential evidence and data driven evidence, and claim that the data speaks the louder truth. The old adage about lies, damned lies and statistics appears to be at play here.

“There is not one example of the use of the word ‘Disabled’ or ‘disability’ in this report either, which is indicative of the Commission having no clue about negative intersectionality for people who come from a background of more than one ‘minority’ social classification. We know that people whose lives intersect with non-white ethnic backgrounds, non-heterosexual sexuality, non-binary gender and Disability have less successful life outcomes than people who have less or none of these intersectionalities. The Commission appears to have missed an opportunity to truly explore and amplify the experiences of those from minority backgrounds.” Read the report here.
Read more on this story.

Face-to-face assessments to resume for health and disability benefits
The DWP has announced that, “in line with the latest public health guidance and adhering to strict safety protocols”, it is to begin reintroducing face-to-face assessments for health and disability benefits.

Ken Butler, DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said:

“The Covid pandemic has meant that benefits face-to-face medical assessments have not happened for over a year, so inevitably a backlog now exists.

“But it will be important for both assessment providers and the DWP to be sensitive and flexible in arranging these.

“Disabled claimants do not have the final say in whether they can be assessed on paper, by phone, by video or face-to-face. This is an assessment provider decision.

“If the DWP decides that a person has not had “good reason” not to attend an arranged face to face assessment then their claim can be closed.

“Many Disabled people who have been shielding as they are extremely clinically vulnerable may be reluctant to attend such an assessment at present, especially as contracts permit assessments to be held up to 90 minutes’ travel from a claimant’s home.

“The DWP should at least suspend its rule on removing benefits if someone cannot show “good cause” for not attending a medical assessment.

“Phone and video assessments have worked well for many during lockdown. People should be able to choose their preferred method of assessment, in line with the reasonable adjustment provisions of the Equality Act.”

For more information see www.disabilityrightsuk.org/sites/all/modules/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=59780&qid=9405801.
Read more on this story here.

NAO report lays bare shortfalls in adult social care
Short-term funding and a lack of a long-term vision is hampering planning, innovation and investment in adult social care, according to a report by the National Audit Office (NAO).

The DHSC has not met previous commitments to tackle recruitment and retention challenges for the 1.5 million people who work in care. It has not produced a workforce strategy since 2009, despite committing to do so in 2018. The DHSC does not have a clear strategy to develop accommodation for adults with care needs and does not monitor the condition of current accommodation itself. Funding for new investment is ad-hoc with no co-ordinated, long-term vision across government about how new accommodation will be developed or existing accommodation adapted to meet care needs. Future demand for care is likely to rise in the next two decades.

DR UK Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “The lack of DHSC oversight and planning for social care is clearly demonstrated in the NAO report.

“The government is beginning to engage on the shape of social care reform.

“It is vital that reform is based on the right to independent living contained in article 19 of UN CRPD, that it is based on personalisation, parity with health and that it is given the required level of funding.

“Disabled people should also have clear ways of challenging poor decision making.” Read more here.

Government releases ‘shocking’ new figures on transport hate crime
Disability Rights UK is calling a meeting of key people in the rail industry after the government released ‘shocking’ new public transport hate crime data.

The data shows that between 2014 and 2016, the numbers of disability related hate crime incidents in England reported to the British Transport Police decreased by 37%. But since 2016, the number of incidents has seen an increase of 24%. Only 1.6% of reported hate crimes saw charges brought in 2019-2020.

DR UK Rail Policy Adviser Stephen Brookes said: “After ten years leading work on hate crime, this is a distressing report to read. Hate crime has continued to be an underlying and growing issue, and it is now critical that we look at what is contributing to its increase.

“It is not simply a staffing problem as some unions are suggesting. The solution must involve removing the confusion Disabled people have experienced when reporting such incidents; the actions (or otherwise) of rail and station staff; the fear of escalations and repercussions, and the failure of the justice system to act proportionally on sentencing those found responsible.

“We need joined up and lasting actions and a new multi-agency policy which will make a difference in reducing Disability hate crime on transport”.

Lockdown impacts speech and language therapy
Earlier this month, the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists published the findings of its survey into people’s access to speech and language therapy during the first COVID-19 lockdown (March-June 2020). The findings revealed that lockdown had a significant impact on people’s access to speech and language therapy. Many people were not able to access any therapy at all. Of those who could access therapy, many reported it was considerably less than they received before lockdown. Since the March-June lockdown ended, many people have not received in-person speech and language therapy. The new ways of therapy being delivered, for example, over the phone and online via video call, have not worked for everyone. People also said that having less speech and language therapy made their mental health, their education, their home and domestic life, and their social life and friendships worse. To help improve things, 83 organisations wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister on 17 March calling on the Government to improve support for people with communication and swallowing needs. Read more here.

Covid causing huge rise in Disability
At least 122,000 NHS staff have Long Covid according to new Office for National Statistics data that also shows that 1.1 million people in the UK are affected by the condition.

Patient care within the NHS is being affected because many of the effects of Long Covid on workers who can subsequently only work part-time, are too ill to work, or need time off for pain, exhaustion or brain fog.

114,000 teachers also have Long Covid, raising fears of stretched Special Educational Needs and Disability support.

And the ONS has found that around 30,000 social care workers have Long Covid, which could affect staffing levels for care homes and at-home care workers.

Further, research from University College London, the Office for National Statistics, and the University of Leicester has found that a third of hospital-admitted Covid patients are readmitted within four months and that one in eight dies, often of associated organ failure. Most often, these are people under the age of 70 and from non-white British backgrounds.

And a report in Lancet Psychiatry shows that one in three people who had severe Covid were subsequently diagnosed with a neurological or psychiatric condition within the next six months.

Dr Sarah Burns and Dr Sue Warren, who founded a Facebook support group for medical professionals with Long Covid, recently told the British Medical Journal that doctors with Long Covid feel “intense feelings of failure and grief for leaving colleagues with increased workloads and not personally contributing to the ‘fight against Covid’… many felt angry … and felt abandoned or even penalised by colleagues… A small but not insignificant number have been asked to leave roles due to prolonged sick leave.”

The Guardian newspaper reported that some doctors with Long Covid say that the NHS has not understood their condition and that support has been ‘patchy’. NHS England has said its new network of specialist Long Covid clinics is treating NHS staff with the condition.

DR UK’s CEO Kamran Mallick said: “As Long Covid continues to take its toll on people, so the ranks of Disabled people are swelling.

“Public discourse prefers to term Long Covid as an illness. Make no mistake: an illness which lasts for a prolonged, life-impacting period is a disability. Long Covid is, at best, a hidden disability, with many symptoms in common with other hidden disabilities such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) and Fibromyalgia, and at worst, life threatening months after diagnosis.

“Not only is Covid causing mass Disability, but the profession which has been hardest hit by the virus, healthcare, is the one most often so critically needed by Disabled people.

“For too long Government has ignored Disabled people’s voices. It has not been ignoring Covid. As part of that, Government needs to recognise what it means that Long Covid is part of the UK’s mix of Disabilities, and use its understanding of how it is affecting lives and livelihoods to gain a deeper understanding of how Disabled people live across the board. Now is the time for deep listening, deep learning, deep research, and action.”

Care home residents treated like ‘different species’
Campaigners have started legal action over government guidance which was preventing care home residents from leaving their care homes, and which still insists that residents need to isolate for a fortnight after visits where they go beyond their care home boundaries.

Almost all care home residents have had at least one vaccine dose, and care homes have been cautiously allowing changes to visiting, including two named visitors now being allowed to visit from this week.

Government guidance from March said that trips to see family or friends "should only be considered" for under-65s while national Covid restrictions apply because they increase the risk of bringing Covid into a home.

New guidance was released on Wednesday 7 April allowing visits out of care homes from 12 April, but a two week quarantine period is still required. The new guidance  states that: “a resident making a visit out of the care home should isolate for 14 days on their return (the day of return is day zero). This is to ensure that – in the event they have unknowingly become infected while out of the home – they minimise the chances of passing that infection on to other residents and staff.”

A legal letter sent to the Department of Health and Social Care by John's Campaign says the decision whether someone can go on a visit outside a care home should be based on individual risk assessments and says that without this, decision on visits contravene equality and human rights legislation.

Campaign Co-founder Julia Jones told the BBC: "The 440,000 people living in care homes include some who moved in through their own volition, with full mental capacity, never guessing that this simple freedom, enjoyed by everyone else in the population, apart from prisoners, could so easily be denied them.

"Those who cannot make their own choices have relatives and friends who would normally be glad to take responsibility but have been excluded [these] choices."

She said that people in care homes were being discriminated against and had been "comprehensively ignored".

"The Department of Health, and particularly Public Health England, looks at care home residents as if they are a different species," she said.  Read more from the BBC here.

MPs call for greater food security
MPs are calling on the government to consult on a ‘national right to food’ and to appoint a Minister for food security.

The calls come in a report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA), which follows on from its Coronavirus and food supply report last summer.  

Today’s report said a new minister should be appointed to work across departments to ensure “that everyone and especially the most vulnerable”, has access to enough “affordable nutritious food”.

It also says that the Government must consult on a legal “right to food” in its White Paper responding to the National Food Strategy, due out this summer.

One in ten households experienced food poverty in the past two lockdowns.

The report also tells supermarkets to “recognise their responsibility” to assist shielders. EFRA guidance encouraged scrapping delivery charges and minimum online spends for shielders, as well as ensuring that ‘Covid secure’ measures in-store do not exclude Disabled people.

DR UK CEO Kamran Mallick said: “We know that Disabled people, including clinically extremely vulnerable people, had a hell of a time accessing food during lockdowns. Many Disabled people who were official shielders or felt they needed to shield for their safety on low incomes were forced to shop beyond their means because of the postcode lottery approach to allocating priority home delivery slots from local supermarkets. Others received food boxes with no dietary requirements taken into consideration, which were often made up of less nutritious long-life foodstuffs. It is astonishing that Government should even need asking to assure the right to food for all people. Shelter, warmth, food and water should surely be among the most fundamental of assured human rights.”

DR UK joins calls for better housing laws
UK housing laws must be strengthened to ensure that new builds are suitable for Disabled people. The latest calls come in a letter to The Daily Telegraph from charity chiefs, including DR UK CEO Kamran Mallick, as well as architects.

The letter calls on Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick to toughen up regulations on accessibility standards for new homes.

At the moment, new build houses must fulfil four accessibility criteria: they must have level access to a main entrance, doorways and circulation spaces must be wide enough, there must be a toilet at entrance level, and there must be a flush threshold offering easy entry to the property.

70% of new builds won’t have to meet accessible standards. A fifth of the population is Disabled.

The letter reads:


We desperately need to reverse the trend of building homes that are unfit for older and disabled people to live in.

Our country’s need for accessible homes is urgent and growing all the time.
Habinteg’s new analysis of ‘Local Plans’ reveals that 70% of all new homes built in England over the next 10 years aren’t required to meet any ‘accessible’ housing standard. So, just one accessible home will be built for every 77 people. This is despite the fact that we have an ageing population and already one in five of us is disabled.

The government is currently considering raising accessibility standards for new homes. The time is right to change regulations, so we get the homes we so urgently need now and in the future. As it stands, 91% of existing homes do not provide even the most basic features that make a house ‘visitable’, never mind accessible or adaptable.  These changes are widely supported across the housing, charitable and disability sectors, as well as by home builders and local government. We urge the Housing Minister to strengthen the mandatory accessibility standards without delay.

Housing Made for Everyone (HoME) Coalition: Anna Dixon, Chief Executive of Centre for Ageing Better: Bryonie Shaw, Interim Chief Executive of Habinteg Housing: Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of Age UK: Sue Adams, Chief Executive of Care & Repair England: Gavin Smart, Chief Executive of Chartered Institute of Housing: Kamran Mallick, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK: Jeremy Porteus, Chief Executive of Housing Learning & Improvement Network: Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of National Housing Federation: Alan M Jones, President of Royal Institute of British Architects: Fiona Howie, Chief Executive of Town and Country Planning Association

Robert Jenrick said the housing consultation would look at “bold options to ensure more new homes are built to higher accessibility standards and with the features needed to give people the dignity and security they deserve in their homes".

Number of DWP disability employment advisers falls by a third during the pandemic
The DWP is facing questions over its commitment to disability equality after new figures revealed the number of Disability Employment Advisers (DEAs) fell sharply during the pandemic, while the number of mainstream work coaches soared.

The figures were finally released – weeks late – by the DWP, in response to a freedom of information request by the Disability News Service (DNS).

They show that at the start of 2021 there were just 447 full time equivalent DEAs in post across the DWP, compared with 661 on 1 February 2020.

But over the same period, the number of Work Coaches across the DWP rose from 12,555 full time equivalent on 1 February 2020 to more than 19,000 at the start of this year, as part of Ministers’ pledge to recruit 13,500 new Work Coaches to deal with the pandemic unemployment crisis.

This means that the number of DEAs fell by 32% during the pandemic while the number of work coaches was rising by 51%.

According to a parliamentary briefing, DEAs are trained to “help Disabled people to find suitable jobs, and work alongside work coaches to provide additional professional expertise”.

In March last year, the Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, stressed the importance of the DEA role, suggesting to MPs that they would play a key part in achieving the government’s target of seeing one million more Disabled people in work between 2017 and 2027.  Read more here.

A million Disabled Londoners should be spared ULEZ charges - campaign
Campaigners are demanding that all people who use vehicles for the benefit of Disabled people are made exempt from charges for London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) charges.

The ULEZ scheme charges the drivers of older, more polluting cars and is due to be extended into new areas of London including Kensington and Chelsea this October.

DR UK Ambassador Kush Kanodia says that London's 1.2m Disabled residents and their carers should be exempt. Highlighting the cost of living for Disabled people, he told My London: “we are just going to have more inequality and more deprivation, we are going to have more people suffering unnecessarily. With ULEZ we're probably talking about the impact of this on a million people in London. The scale of this is huge."

Many Disabled Londoners have Blue Badges but do not own a car and will use their badges when getting lifts from carers and friends. Blue Badges often give exemptions from parking charges. But ULEZ rules mean that only cars registered to Disabled people will be exempt. People taking them shopping or giving them a lift or caring, would have to pay a charge if their vehicle doesn’t comply with the ULEZ rules designed to cut pollution.

“These are critical barriers to health and social carers. They may be travelling from outside London and may not have a car that’s ULEZ compliant due to lower salaries and will have to pay a £12.50 charge for the journey.

“The Government has an ambition for an extra one million disabled people to be in employment by 2027. We are supposed to be full participants in our society. We need to take away these barriers. It is completely unacceptable to put new barriers in place.”

TfL’s Head of Transport Strategy and Planning, Christina Calderato said: “We are supporting people to adapt to the ULEZ by giving those with a disabled tax class vehicle until 2025 to bring them up to the cleaner standards.

"Disabled people can also receive £2,000 to scrap their older, more polluting cars through the ULEZ Car and Motorcycle Scrappage Scheme and eligible NHS patients that need to use a vehicle to access a hospital appointment can be reimbursed for the charge. It is vital that we take bold action to improve the capital’s air quality and protect all Londoners. High levels of traffic and pollution disproportionally affect the most vulnerable. This will reduce harmful nitrogen dioxide by 30 per cent across the whole city."

Now is the time report released
The Centre for Social Justice’s Disability Commission’s detailed submission to the National Strategy for Disabled People consultation, Now is the Time, has been released.

The report echoes much of the sentiment DR UK heard from Disabled people across the UK in our own We Belong submission.

DR UK CEO Kamran Mallick said: “The evidence on the quality of Disabled people’s lives, our life outcomes, and the barriers stopping us from truly thriving is clear. Disabled people have spoken loudly and clearly on this consultation. Government must listen, and be led by those with lived experience. The Strategy must be 100% informed by the evidence gathered and submitted by Disabled people, not dreamed up by well-intentioned Mandarins in Whitehall. We are waiting for a Strategy which truly, radically, changes the national playing field for all Disabled people.”

Face-to-Face Assessments Resume for Health & Disability Benefits
The DWP has resumed face to face benefit assessments. Those for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit recommenced this week, while Work Capability Assessments (WCAs) (for claims for the additional limited capability for work component of Universal Credit and Employment and Support Allowance) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP), will resume from May. 

You can read more, including our Welfare Rights & Policy Adviser, Ken Butler, outlining our stance on this, by clicking here

NICE Guidelines on Chronic Pain
The new NICE guidelines on chronic pain are causing anger and distress in the chronic illness and chronic pain communities. 

Catherine Hale, from Chronic Illness Inclusion, said:

"For many disabled people living with chronic pain, pain relief medication can make the difference between leading a fulfilling life and one that is consumed by distress. The new NICE guidelines have devastated the chronic illness and chronic pain communities because they will deny the pain relief that we rely on to function on the basis of a somewhat arbitrary distinction between primary and secondary pain. Very often the distinction between primary and secondary pain depends on the success of the treating physician in diagnosing the cause of pain.

Many conditions causing chronic pain, such as multiple sclerosis, endometriosis and EDS/hypermobility syndromes can take years to diagnose or lack proper diagnostic tests. Exercise, talking therapies and anti-depressants can help with some forms of pain but applying them as a blanket solution when standard tests come back as “normal” can be very harmful. Research has shown that exercise therapy can make things worse for some chronic illnesses like ME/CFS and Long Covid.

Above all, the NICE judgement is deeply invalidating and disempowering for disabled people who are experts in managing their own pain, and who have gained no benefit from anti-depressants or CBT as pain-relief treatments. It implies both that their pain is “all in the mind,” and that they can’t be trusted with drugs. The result will be increased stigma as well as diminished opportunity to be active and take part in society."

The NICE guidelines can be read here.

Call for Task Force to Implement Past Inquiries into Race Inequality
The Runnymede Trust has received over 12,000 signatures from organisations and individuals, to its letter asking government to reject the findings of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED).

In recent days, some commissioners have said that they didn't see the final report and that the Prime Minister's Office made changes to the text.

The CRED report continues the recent Government narrative that diminishes the importance of race, disability and other protected characteristics, and instead points to the importance of class, education and geography. This is in spite of the Government's failure to enact the provision in the Equality Act requiring public bodies to give consideration to socio-economic factors.

Kamran Mallick said "Disability Rights UK supports the Runnymede Trust and all those speaking out against the findings of the CRED report. Of course there is a strong interplay between race discrimination and socio-economic status and much of this relates to systemic inequality. There is also abundant evidence of institutional race discrimination.

Disabled People and those from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds are more likely to be in poverty, living in poor housing and out of work, and facing significant barriers to accessing public services. There is absolutely no doubt that structural and institutional inequality plays a huge part in determining our life chances.

COVID-19 has starkly brought out societal inequalities and we should all be very concerned by Government moves to sweep it under the carpet. We join with the Runnymede Trust in calling for a task force to implement the recommendations of past race reports."

You can read the Runnymede Trust Open Letter here.

Easy Read Election Materials
Learning disability charity MENCAP have produced a range of election easy read guides. The guides have been written with the aim of getting as many people with a learning disability voting as possible in the upcoming elections. The elections, which are taking place across England, Scotland and Wales, will be held on 6th May. Please see below for more information and to download the guides:  www.mencap.org.uk/get-involved/campaign-mencap/elections/guides-voting

Launch of Disability Passport 
Disability Passport is a new app that to give disabled people a quick, easy and trusted way to identify themselves and their needs to places like shops and venues. Currently, there is no single recognised, validated and accepted way for disabled people to prove our disabilities to an organisation. This causes huge frustration, wastes time on both sides and fundamentally creates a barrier to essential services. The Disability Passport service looks to solve this problem. 

The app will also allow you to book accessible travel tickets, hotel rooms, disabled or companion tickets for events. 

Visit https://disability-passport.com to find out more and register your interest. 

ORR - Rail Company Website Access Requirements
Disability Rights UK can report that The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has advised train and station operators to improve passenger information on websites, and to confirm operators are fulfilling commitments to achieve industry-recognised accessibility standards.

This work will mean that all train operators’ websites will be accessible to assistive technologies such as screen readers, and all policy and guidance documents will have sufficient colour contrast between text and the background and this will be applied across all web pages.

BUT...Stephen Brookes, DRUK Rail Policy Adviser, cautioned the moves by saying “It is vitally important to recognise that there are considerable numbers of disabled people for whom smart technology and IT access is not possible, so we must be careful not to create a two tier society which excludes some people from these rail travel access improvements.

DR UK Support RNIB Tactile Strips Campaign
Following a meeting this week between Disability Rights UK and RNIB Policy Officer Roisin Jacklin and North West Regional Campaign Officer Terri Balon, we are supporting RNIB's campaign to increase the provision of tactile strips on rail station platform edges. This follows the tragic death last year of Cleveland Gervais, who fell onto the rail tracks at Eden Bridge station and was struck by a train.

DRUK Rail Policy Adviser Stephen Brookes says, ‘An urgent rethink is needed by the industry on tactile strip installation, as the current policy appears to be that this is only to be undertaken during a full station refurbish, but we cannot put more lives at risk by having to wait for up to 10 years for most stations to be made compliant’.

The Rail Accident Investigation branch made several recommendations following the incident, with one being that a plan is developed to install strips as a priority and timely manner. This is supported by information which shows that that following the installation of tactile surfaces the rates of people falling from platforms reduced by around 65 percent for visually impaired people and around 45 percent for the general population.

Stephen says ‘It is vitally important that we see the wide-ranging benefits which demonstrate that tactile paving is not only vital for blind and partially sighted people but is an important safety measure for everyone, and that the fact that about half of all mainline stations do not have tactile paving is a real danger to many rail passengers. A Freedom of Information Request by Greater London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon last year found that over a third of platforms in the region did not have tactile paving, and we know that around the country even main line stations have many non-compliant platforms.

Disability Rights UK is helping to promote the RNIB petition calling for tactile strips to be installed across the network and stations to be made safe. The petition can be accessed by clicking Petition: Railway stations must be made accessible after report finds blind and partially sighted people ‘at significantly higher safety risk’ - RNIB - See differently. The RNIB team have also produced a powerful short film with Sehka, Cleveland’s partner. This is a link to Sehka’s video on Youtube.

Increase to the Number of Disability Employment Advisers
Last week the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced that it planned to increase the number of Disability Employment Advisers (DEAs) by 315, taking the total number of DEAs up to 1,115.

DEAs play a crucial role in supporting disabled people into work, providing specialist advice to Work Coaches – the main point of contact for those approaching Jobcentre Plus as jobseekers. DEAs can help to signpost disabled jobseekers to local and tailored programmes more suited to their needs.

Increasing the number of DEAs has been a key lobbying point for both Leonard Cheshire and members of the Youth Employment Group’s Disability Sub-group, which Leonard Cheshire co-chairs with the National Deaf Children’s Society, to ensure that the post-pandemic economic recovery is disability inclusive.

Although the increase in DEAs is a welcome step forward, the numbers remain small in comparison to the DWP’s recruitment of Work Coaches at Jobcentre Plus. Numbers of the latter have doubled, with an additional 13,500 recruited recently.

The Youth Employment Disability Sub-group would like to see the number of DEAs also doubled in the same way, to ensure that disabled people – and particularly disabled young people – can receive expert and tailored advice when looking for work.

Government responds to WEC report
The Government has responded to the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) report on the impact of coronavirus on disabled people. The Committee found that disabled people had experienced serious challenges in accessing health, social care and education services. It also highlighted the horrendous difficulties disabled people had experienced in buying food.  The WEC report criticised the Government for its failure to engage with disabled people and for its failure to provide information in a range of formats, including BSL at government coronavirus broadcasts.

A Westminster Hall debate on the WEC report and the government response took place on 15 April. To read the WEC Report, click here
For the government's response, click here.

ONS Release Fifth Report on Impact of COVID-19 on Disabled People
The statistical bulletin Coronavirus and the social impacts on disabled people in Great Britain: February 2021 is now available on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) website.

This is the fifth in a series of articles exploring the social impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on disabled people in Great Britain, from their well-being to impacts on their day-to-day life. New analysis also looks at vaccine behaviours: www.ons.gov.uk/releases/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsondisabledpeopleingreatbritainfebruary2021

Over three quarters of a million Disabled people left out of shielding help
The government is still not sure if over three quarters of a million people who should have been shielding and offered practical support at the start of the pandemic were overlooked.

A Parliamentary committee report said that poor data meant it took too long to identify those in greatest need of shielding help and advice. 800,000 people may have been missed off the list, with 375,000 of those not contactable due to gaps or errors in their contact details on their NHS records.

After failing to make contact with the 800,000 clinically extremely vulnerable people, it took a month for a new central contact centre, set up at a cost of £18.4 million, to pass details to local authorities.

The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts said the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government still has no idea whether these people ended up being contacted by their local authorities.

The way in which GPs identified vulnerable people varied hugely across different areas of the country, although it was recognised that it was GP action that led to the eventual increase of the list of clinically extremely vulnerable people from 1.3 million to 2.2 million people.

People with visual impairment who could not socially distance, and people aged over 70, were missed off the list entirely, leading to them being unable to access food.

DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “We have been banging this drum since the start of the pandemic. We welcome the Committee shining a spotlight on these issues and drawing the same conclusions as leading Disability charities who were crying out about these issues at the start of the crisis. This is further proof that Disabled people were side-lined and put at greater risk despite the clear clinical evidence at the time that Disabled people were making up the bulk of those dying and suffering serious long term health effects from Covid. The anger we feel as a demographic is entirely justified and borne out in this report, which should form part of an urgent Inquiry into how the pandemic was handled. We continue to push for this to ensure lessons can be learned and agile response systems can be put in place to prevent loss of life.”

The government has called the report’s findings “disappointing and misjudged” and said: “Many people chose not to take up the offer of government support as they felt they didn’t need it.” Read more here.

Disabled people excluded from mass participation event trials
Government guidance is causing venues to directly discriminate against Disabled people by advising them to exclude ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ people from early-access large scale public events as part of its Events Research Programme.

Venues running the events have been told to refuse entry to ‘vulnerable’ people, including Disabled people.

DR UK’s Fazilet Hadi said: “This policy amounts to direct discrimination against Disabled people, who are now frequently referred to by the Government, as ‘vulnerable’. Direct discrimination is unlawful. We have written to the Prime Minister (PDF) to highlight that this policy is in direct contravention of the Equality Act.”

A Government press officer told Disability News Service (DNS) that the government has not imposed a ban but was advising clinically extremely vulnerable people not to attend the events, in line with Public Health England and Department of Health and Social Care guidance. DNS reports that the guidance says the Science Board has “agreed that given the nature of the pilot programme it would not be possible for those high-risk categories to safely participate”. Organisers of some of the test events are insisting that this advice means that CEV people are banned from attending. Read more here.

Self-driving cars pose threat for Disabled people
A new generation of self-driving cars which is supposed to eliminate human error can actually increase mistakes as it fails to recognise the behaviours of Disabled people. 

The Law Commission is drawing up a legal framework for self-driving vehicles, and has said that: “Systems may not have been trained to deal with the full variety of wheelchairs and mobility scooters.”

It claims the motor industry has allowed “bias” to creep into the design of vehicles and automated systems. For example, “air bags save many lives, but the first generation ... posed risks to smaller passengers, such as women of small stature, the elderly, and children, because they were developed with adult males in mind.” Airbags caused 291 deaths between 1990 and 2008 because of the extreme force required to protect male passengers who were not wearing seatbelts. Crash test dummies are also based on male bodies.

DR UK’s Fazilet Hadi said: “Transport innovations must stop being implemented at the expense of equality for users of shared public spaces. The introduction of almost silent electric cars causes increased risks for people with cognitive and visual impairments. The use of equally silent, fast electric scooters, and borrow a scooter or bike schemes also causes risks as people dump them in the middle of pavements. Science fiction often portrays technical innovation as something which increases inclusion and accessibility. Government need to ensure that science fact makes these things a reality.” Read more here.

Train company websites to be made accessible
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has led train and station operators to improve passenger information on websites, and to confirm operators are fulfilling commitments to achieve industry-recognised accessibility standards.
This work will mean all operators’ websites will be accessible to assistive technologies such as screen readers, all policy and guidance documents will be fully accessible, and sufficient colour contrast between text and the background will be applied across all web pages.
DR UK’s Stephen Brooks said: “It is important to recognise that there are considerable numbers of Disabled people for whom smart technology and IT access is not possible. We must be careful not to create a two tier society which excludes some people from rail travel.”

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