Disability Rights UK - News In Brief
Chancellor fails to implement levelling-up agenda
In a budget which saw the welcome continuation of support for furloughed workers and the self-employed until the end of September, there were barely any measures to support the poorest in our society, apart from a six month extension on the £20 per week uplift to those on Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit.
For the seven million people who either have a disability or have someone with a disability in their household, the budget offered very little. With over two million Disabled people on legacy benefits not receiving the £20 per week uplift and 18% of Disabled people experiencing food insecurity (against 6% of non-disabled people), the budget brought little hope that the Government will level-up society.
There was no mention of any increase to the social care budget despite the system being chronically under-funded and Disabled people not receiving adequate levels of care and support.
Apart from an increased incentive for employers to take on apprentices, there was nothing additional or specific to support Disabled people into work. This is despite a disability employment gap of nearly 30%.
DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “With the National Disability Strategy soon to be published, it is seriously worrying that the Government didn’t do anything to tackle the big issues facing Disabled people such as poverty, lack of social care and barriers to employment.”
Number of people who think benefits are too high falls to 15%
A survey by YouGov has found that most people now think benefits are too low or about right – a turnaround from the 37% of people who thought they were too high at the height of austerity measures in 2013.
Only 15% of people now think benefits are too high. The data also shows a sharp fall in the number of people who think the welfare system is open to abuse, and more people believe that not enough help is given to those both in and out of work. 1.7 million people of working age are currently unemployed, and five million are on furlough.
DR UK’s Fazilet Hadi said: “We know that Disabled people who have to live on benefits often really struggle. The extra costs of living for Disabled people can be over £500 per month. Benefits don’t touch these additional costs. It is frustrating that it has taken a pandemic, mass unemployment, and the pinching of the purse strings due to furlough wages, to finally grasp that a life on benefits is not a life of ease – it is hard, exhausting and often punitive.”
A fifth of shielders not vaccinated when government declared vaccines win
A fifth of people on the government’s clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) list had not had the Covid vaccine by 14 February – the date by when the government said that everyone in the first four groups had been offered the vaccine.
NHS Englanddata shows that between 92% and 99% of people in the 70 to 80+ age brackets had had at least one dose of the vaccine by 14 February, but only 81.2% of the listed 2,272,491 clinically extremely vulnerable people in the UK had had the vaccine.
The DHSC has suggested that shielders on the clinically extremely vulnerable list became eligible for the vaccine later than those aged 75 or above which may account for the discrepancy. DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “There are whole demographics of Disabled people who we still believe were not properly prioritised for the vaccine. For example people with asthma may have been put in group four, or group six, or not prioritised at all. We know that people with breathing conditions are at higher risk of complications and dying. The same goes for people with Muscular Dystrophy and spinal injuries. We would encourage people with underlying health conditions who have not yet been put into a group or received a text or letter inviting them to be vaccinated to contact their GPs as a matter of urgency, to outline their conditions, and to request to be put into the current cohort, group six.”
Doctors assumed Disabled people not capable of discussing care
A report by the British Institute of Human Rights said that doctors assumed elderly and Disabled people were not capable of discussing how they should be treated and as a consequence, do not attempt resuscitation orders were applied at a higher rate for Disabled and elderly people in the early part of the pandemic amid fears that Covid cases would overwhelm the NHS.
Of the cases the British Institute looked at, only one in four do not resuscitate orders saw a formal assessment undertaken to see if a patient had the opportunity to discuss their care.
Over half of nurses, social workers and managers surveyed for the report said they believed discrimination happens at least sometimes in decisions over do not resuscitate orders.
Over 40% said it was assumed that Disabled people with a do not resuscitate order on their file did “not have mental capacity” to have input into their care.
The report has been submitted to the Care Quality Commission’s inquiry into the orders.
Sanchita Hosali, Director of the Institute, told the Financial Times that the issues with the orders were “deeply rooted in the daily discrimination faced by disabled people and older people”.
Fazilet Hadi, Dr UK Head of Policy said “This report is extremely important. It reveals that behind the issue of blanket DNAR notices lies the deeper and more fundamental issue of systemic discrimination against Disabled and older people within the NHS. During this pandemic, it has often felt like Disabled people’s lives aren’t valued equally and unfortunately this report shows this to be the case. The NHS and professional health bodies, need to take urgent action to challenge negative attitudes and poor processes, which are putting our health and our lives at risk.”
Government approach to closing the disability employment gap heavily criticised
At the Work and Pensions Select Committee, disability campaigners gave compelling evidence that there was no government plan to close the almost 30% gap between the employment rates of Disabled and non-disabled people.
The Committee heard that there had been no progress in closing the employment gap over the last ten years, that government employment schemes only supported a small fraction of Disabled people who needed support to gain employment and that the Disability Confident Scheme wasn’t working.
Fazilet Hadi, DR UK Head of Policy, spoke about her personal experience of the Access to Work Scheme. Whilst she thought the Scheme was amazing and she wouldn’t have been able to work without it, she said that the administration was poor and that officials made you feel like you weren’t telling the truth about your needs. Access the transcript or view the session.
Homes still ‘failing us’ – new report
The Centre for Ageing Better has published a new report with Ipsos MORI, ‘Getting our homes in order: How England’s homes are failing us’,exploring the experiences of people aged 50-70 living in ‘non-decent’ homes. The report is part of theGood Home Inquiry looking at the causes of, and solutions to, the poor quality of much of England’s housing.
The report has been published alongside findings from the NatCen panel Homes and Communities Study which looked at how people feel about their homes and the impact of lockdown on those aged 50-69.
It found that cold, damp and fall hazards are leaving people feeling ‘miserable’ and ‘overwhelmed.’ Emotional attachments to the home can prevent people from making necessary changes. People who feel they can make changes often face financial barriers. DR UK’s Fazilet Hadi said: “We know that many Disabled people of all ages live in inaccessible housing. There is a real and present housing crisis in the UK. Housing is too often not able to be adapted, out of reach financially, and people find they have to wait years on a waiting list to be offered somewhere suitable on a take it or leave it basis. As for choices, they don’t exist. We are not even at the stage where one property is available to be offered for many on the list.”
Digital Lifeline scheme now open to people with learning disabilities
People with learning disabilities will be able to access a new government £2.5 million Digital Lifeline scheme providing tablets, data and digital support.
The scheme will fund 5,000 tablet devices preloaded with data and free tech support for people with learning disabilities who face financial barriers to getting online and who have had to endure social isolation as a result of Coronavirus. Three quarters of people with a learning disability reported that their wellbeing has been affected by the non-viral impacts of Coronavirus compared with 37% of non-Disabled people.
Digital Minister Caroline Dinenage said: “The pandemic has been incredibly tough for Disabled people who have struggled to get online for basic things like catching up with loved ones. The Digital Lifeline fund will tackle this divide head on by putting thousands of devices in the hands of those who need them most, with free data and tech support on standby to help people with learning disabilities.”
The first devices will be delivered from March. The government is working on the project with charities including AbilityNet. The Good Things Foundations has more information on how to apply.
Council accused of discouraging Disabled voters in May elections
Woking council has been accused of potentially discouraging Disabled voters from participating in the forthcoming borough, county council and Police and Crime Commissioner elections by asking people to provide photo ID for a postal or proxy vote, despite there being no legal precedent for the presentation of ID.
The council says that voters are “requested” to provide ID and proof of address, which does not violate electoral rules.
DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “This is yet another potential barrier to groups of voters, including Disabled people, who are less likely to have relevant documentation. Instead of focussing on ID, a plan the government is likely to implement from 2023, the focus should be on ensuring that the systems we have now are fully accessible. As things stand, election literature is often inaccessible, and some locations for polling stations are not fully accessible. New measures should not be introduced until the current election process is accessible to all.” Read more about this article on the Guardian.
Disabled people must form major part of rail review
Keith Williams’ review of the railway industry is set to form the basis of the Government’s White Paper and reform package. The Review has been delayed since last year, but Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris has now pledged to publish it “as soon as possible”. DR UK’s rail ambassador Stephen Brookes said: “It is vitally important that Disabled and older people are a major part of Williams’ future rail plans. So many Disabled and older people depend on public transport for day to day life, leisure and key journeys for medical reasons. Given the major changes driven by Covid, access must be recognised in this important set of steps. Read more about the reforms on the Rail Magazine website.
Budget 2021: “Outrageous” that over 1.9 million disabled people on legacy benefits refused £20 week financial lifeline
In last week’s Budget 2021, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that: “To support low-income households, the universal credit uplift of £20 a week will continue for a further six months, well beyond the end of this national lockdown [and] we’ll provide working tax credit claimants with equivalent support for the next six months.”
Director of the Joseph Rowntree FoundationHelen Barnard said that this change made “no sense”:
“It is unacceptable that the Chancellor has decided to cut the incomes of millions of families by £1040-a-year in six months’ time. He said this Budget would “meet the moment” but this decision creates a perfect storm for the end of this year, with the main rate of unemployment support cut to its lowest level in real terms since 1990 just as furlough ends and job losses are expected to peak. This makes no sense and will pull hundreds of thousands more people into poverty as we head into winter.”
She added: “It is not too late for the Chancellor to do the right thing: announce an extension of the £20 uplift to Universal Credit for at least the next year. It is also totally indefensible that people who are sick, disabled or carers claiming legacy benefits continue to be excluded from this vital support. The Government must urgently right this injustice.”For further reaction and more information visit the DR UK website.
House of Lords vote to criminalise domestic abuse by carers
Following an amazing debate initiated by Baroness Jane Campbell, the House of Lords voted in favour of bringing domestic abuse by carers into the Scope of the Domestic Abuse Bill. The vote was 318 in favour and 234 against. Unfortunately, the Government continues to oppose amending the Bill.
Baroness Jane Campbell put forward a strong case for carers to be covered by the Domestic Abus Bill, given their close personal connection with individual disabled people and their position of power. Baroness Campbell made a compelling case for the right of disabled people to be protected from abuse in our own homes, in the same way as others. Baroness Campbell shared legal advice, which showed that excluding carers from the Bill would be discriminatory.
Lord Shinkwin urged the House of Lords to remember that anyone could experience disability and that everyone would benefit from this protection being available.
The government refused to change its position saying that abuse against disabled people was covered by other legislation, missing the point that we need equality of treatment under every piece of legislation.
There was overwhelming support for the amendments with the vote being 318 in favour and 234 against. For more information and to read the transcript of the vote visit the DR UK website.
Atos pays £2,500 compensation for negligent PIP assessment only after visit from bailiffs
A court has forced Atos, the private company contracted to carry out PIP assessments by the DWP, to pay £2,500 compensation to a disabled woman, after a negligent assessment left her in debt and experiencing significant mental distress.
Atos delivers its PIP assessment contracts through Independent Assessment Services, a trading name of Atos IT Services UK.
The contractor, which failed to defend the case, originally ignored the order to pay the compensation awarded by the county court but was eventually forced to pay up after being visited by debt enforcement officers. For the full story visit the DR UK website.
Shocking Food Foundation figures on Disabled People experiencing food insecurity
A report by the Food Foundation shows that the most seriously disabled people are experiencing 5 times the level of food insecurity as the wider population.
The report states that 25% of disabled people, who are limited a lot by their impairments, experience food insecurity, and 11% of disabled people who are limited a little. This contrasts with 5% of the non disabled population experiencing food insecurity.
These figures confirm that millions of disabled people are living in extreme poverty. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that 7 million of the 14 million people in poverty, are either a disabled person or have a disabled person in their household. The Trussell Trust says that 75% of food bank users are disabled people or have a disabled person in the household.
Fazilet Hadi, DR UK Head of Policy said “ Experiencing food insecurity is a symptom of poverty, benefit levels are far too low and are not enabling disabled people to live safely or with dignity. Despite this, the Chancellor failed to extend the £20 uplift per week to those on legacy benefits.
There needs to be a fundamental review of the level of benefits, accepting that many disabled people will rely on the safety net for longer, due to ill health or impairment and or discrimination in securing employment.For more information and to read the report in full visit the DR UK website.
Barriers removed for Deaf Jurors
The government has announced that the law will be changed to allow BSL interpreters into the jury deliberation room. Up until now, BSL has been permitted in court but not in the jury room. This has meant that in order to participate in jury service, Deaf People have had to lip read in the jury room.
The proposed change in the law will clear the way for the full participation of over 80,000 Deaf People in jury service. Read a statement from the Lord Chancellor.
Victory towards fire evacuation plans for Disabled People
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommended that disabled people have Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans that can be implemented in the event of fire. The fire saw the death of 72 people some of whom were disabled people not able to safely evacuate the building.
Last year, the Government was set to ignore this recommendation, however following a judicial review taken by the family of a disabled person, who died in the fire, the Government agreed to bring forward proposals on Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans. These proposals will be consulted on later this year. For more information visit the DR UK website.
Shielding to end from 1 April
More than 3.79 million clinically extremely vulnerable people in England are to be told they are no longer advised to shield from Thursday 1 April 2021.
People on the shielded patient list will be told they can begin to follow national restrictions alongside the rest of the population, but are still advised to take extra precautions to keep themselves safe from COVID-19.
Letters to patients with updated guidance will be sent, starting from today, over the next two weeks, setting out practical steps people should take to reduce the risk of catching the virus, including continuing to maintain strict social distancing, to keep overall social contacts at low levels and to work from home if possible.
Over 90% of shielders – clinically extremely vulnerable people – have now had a first vaccination.
Local councils and supermarkets will continue to provide support for shielders until 31 March, with supermarket delivery slots continuing to be available until 21 June 2021.
DR UK Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “The formal ending of the shielding programme will affect people in different ways. Some will feel relief that an end is in sight for the mental torture of enforced isolation, while others will feel that there is no real change, as they haven’t had any meaningful support for several months.
“There is also a small pool of people who cannot have the vaccine for medical reasons who will now be left without any support, such as priority food deliveries after mid-June, and workers who may be called upon to return to work with no right to insist upon home working .
“The government needs to provide clear information to this pool of people on how their health can continue to be safeguarded while society returns to some sort of normal.
“People who still feel anxious or need some level of support, should talk to their GP, local authority and local voluntary services.”
DPOs demand removal of Coronavirus Act easements
Disabled People’s Organisations from across the UK led by Inclusion London and Disability Rights UK have written an open letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock asking for the suspension of easement powers for local authorities contained within the Coronavirus Act 2020. The Act will be reviewed by Parliament next week.
The letter cites how evidence continues to mount about the lethal and disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on Disabled people.
Disabled people have made up almost two thirds of all deaths. People of colour, including Disabled people of colour, have also been disproportionately impacted, facing higher risks and higher death rates from the virus.
The letter argues that the provisions in Schedule 12 of the Coronavirus Act diminish Disabled people’s rights to care and support and should be removed. Disabled people should have full Care Act rights restored.
Eight councils officially implemented easements for a limited period last spring and they have not been used by any councils since. Given the Government’s road map to recovery, there is no justification for retaining these powers.
Sections 92 and 93 of the Coronavirus Act allow for the easement powers granted to local authorities to be suspended by statutory instrument.
The Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP, has also written to health and social care and education Ministers urging swift action to remove the easements.
DR UK’s CEO Kamran Mallick said: “These easements still hang over the heads of Disabled people, adding anxiety and uncertainty to what has been a devastatingly hard year for so many of us. It is only right that as the Government steers the country into the recovery phase, that they are suspended, and that Councils are given the resources they need to provide adequate care and support for those who need it.”
Inclusion London CEO Tracey Lazard said: “Including the Care Act easements in the Coronavirus Act was a big mistake. This sent a clear message to disabled people that our rights and support can easily be removed. The pandemic has shown the government can find resources to make things happen, but unfortunately ensuring continuity of social care support for all disabled and people was not a priority. We heard many stories of people losing their social care support during the pandemic.
“The government must act now to make things right. The easements must be scrapped, the government must also recognise the importance of social care support for disabled people, ensure it is adequately funded and listen to our voices when developing proposals for social care reform.”To read the letter and for more information visit the Disability Rights UK website.
Fears over right to protest under PCSC Bill
Fears have been raised about the impacts of sweeping changes to rights to protest in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill, which had its second reading in Parliament this week. The PCSC Bill seeks to make the first major changes to the Public Order Act 1986 since 2003.
Disabled campaigners fear it will remove the rights for people to undertake direct action – one of the main forms of protest which resulted in transport finally being made accessible, as Disabled campaigners handcuffed themselves to inaccessible trains and buses in the 1990s.
Section 59 of the Bill, which has been voted through in draft form by MPs, would see protesters who put people at risk of “serious inconvenience” or “serious annoyance” facing jail terms of up to a decade.
There are also fears that people who present with non-neurotypical behaviours would face more threat of arrest, charge, conviction and imprisonment, with such behaviours often being misconstrued as acts of aggression, rather than non-neurotypicality, or anxiety, distress or stimming (which can include physical behaviours such as erratic movement).
DRUK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “In a 2018 case at the European Court of Human Rights (Alexei Navalny v Russia) the court said: “Freedom of assembly as enshrined in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects a demonstration that may annoy or cause offence to persons opposed to the ideas or claims that it is seeking to promote… Any measures interfering with freedom of assembly and expression other than in cases of incitement to violence or rejection of democratic principles – however shocking and unacceptable certain views or words used may appear to the authorities – do a disservice to democracy and often even endanger it.”
“The Bill as it stands is in direct opposition to the Convention, to which the UK signed up in 1950. The Minister for Policing told Parliament last summer that the right to peaceful protest “will never be curtailed by this government”. And yet this Bill has the potential to undermine fundamental freedoms and silence already marginalised voices.
“We would urge MPs to think twice about the place of protest in society, and how it can so often be a power for positive change where otherwise people would go unheard.” Read the briefing on the Bill on the Good Law Project website.
COVID certification review – call for evidence
The government has launched a call for evidencefor its COVID Status Certification review, in essence, vaccination passports.
The government is weighing up whether certification could and should play a role in reopening the economy, reducing restrictions on social contact and improving safety.
Certification would be available to both vaccinated people and to unvaccinated people who have been tested.
The government is looking to consider the ethical, equalities, privacy, legal and operational aspects of a potential certification scheme, and what limits, if any, should be placed on organisations using certification. Disability Rights UK is preparing a response to this call for evidence. We would ask DPOs to contact us with their evidence, concerns and views no later than noon on Tuesday 23 March. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 0330 995 0400.
‘Blanket’ approaches to DNARs criticised in CQC report
The Government has announced the publication of the Care Quality Commission’s CQC report into the use of Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (DNACPR) decisions taken during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The investigation was commissioned following concerns raised at the beginning of the pandemic around the use of ‘blanket’ DNARs (do not attempt resuscitation) decisions across groups of people, particularly people with learning disabilities and older disabled people in Care Homes.
The report identified 500 cases where DNACPR notices were placed incorrectly. It tells the stories of people who were denied the opportunity to discuss their DNACPR decisions, as well as families and carers who felt unable to support loved ones or challenge DNACPR decisions. This poor practice is completely unacceptable and the report calls for additional training, greater personalisation and better recording and monitoring of decisions.
The Government has pledged to tackle bad practice and will establish a Ministerial Oversight Group to drive progress on this critical issue.
Half of people with a learning disability and autistic people reluctant to provide feedback on care
New research from the CQC has revealed that people with a learning disability or autism are more reluctant to give negative feedback on their care in case it increases pressures on staff or services.
Debbie Ivanova, Deputy Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care, said: “Listening to the lived experience of people with a learning disability and/or autistic people has to be at the centre of how we decide to regulate and improve care. It is so important to hear their voices and allow our approach to be shaped by this in order to properly address the challenges of closed cultures and inadequate care.
“Families and people with lived experience keep telling us that it’s so much harder to speak up in services that care for people with a learning disability or autistic people, and we’ve recognised this. The work I am leading will be about improving the way we can hear from people and making sure that their experiences drive the action we take.”
CQC research also showed that people with a learning disability and autistic people are more likely to accept health and social care providers offering a lower standard of care as a result of Coronavirus and that more than a quarter (27%) of survey respondents with learning disabilities and autistic people had noticed a lower standard of safety when accessing health and social care during the COVID-19 pandemic– more than double the average.
The CQC report Out of Sight – Who Cares? Released in October 2020, found that many people with a learning disability and or autistic people are still being looked after in unsuitable hospital environments, and some are subject to high levels of restrictive practice. People with a learning disability and autistic people should be cared for either in their own home, or in their communities, with as much choice as possible.
People can give feedback on their experiences of care, or those of someone they care for, on the CQC website or through their local Healthwatch. Local Healthwatch organisations can also help you with advice and information to access the support people need.
Boost to bus services
Disability Rights UK has long been pressing the government and operators to provide bus services which will enable disabled people to access day to day activities more easily. The launch of the new government bus strategy has important implications for disabled people which at last recognises that buses are a lifeline to employment, education, medical appointments and leisure, as well as being essential to the economy. The strategy highlights key issues that buses will be more frequent, cheaper, greener, and easier to use as government continues its levelling up agenda, and councils and operators will work in partnership for the benefit of passengers. It says that passengers across England will benefit from more frequent, more reliable, easier to use and understand, better co-ordinated and cheaper integrated services and ticketing across all transport modes, so people can easily move from bus to train.
The Department for Transport is also announcing the government’s ‘Rural mobility fund’, which enables on-demand services – such as minibuses booked via an app – to be trialled in areas where a traditional bus service isn’t appropriate.
Disability Rights UK’s Stephen Brookes said: “The proposals are a welcome step in the right direction in delivering improvements for passengers. However delivering the scale of change needed to get people out of their cars and on to fast, frequent, clean, affordable and accessible public transport will require a long-term, sustainable funding model to drive investment in the years to come.”
Wheelchairs on planes – new prototype revealed
A Denver, Colorado firm has unveiled a prototype of a new airline seat that will allow wheelchair users to fly on airlines in their own wheelchairs.
Currently passengers in wheelchairs need to transfer from their wheelchair into a seating device to get down the narrow aisle and then transfer again into their airline seat. Read more.
Government continues to fail Disabled election candidates
Questions have been asked this week in the House of Lords about why there isn’t a Government fund to support the reasonable adjustments of Disabled election candidates. The Government continues to argue that it is the responsibility of political parties, ignoring the fact that the structures and organisation of such parties don’t always provide the necessary support and that candidates may stand independent of political parties.
DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “Given the appallingly low representation of Disabled people in political office, the re-introduction of a fund that supports reasonable adjustments is a modest step to take. The Government could even ask political parties to refund the expenses, taking away the negotiation from individual Disabled candidates.”
The Government has failed to release two key reports, one evaluating the Enable Fund, which did provide support for reasonable adjustments, and the other outlining the barriers Disabled people face in seeking political office.
This week, Disability Rights UK has again written to the Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, asking for a permanent fund to be re-introduced .
DR UK CEO Kamran Mallick said: “The voices of Disabled people need to be heard in Parliament and across local government. We make up 21% of the population and as the pandemic has shown, we are often overlooked or ignored.
“A fund which meets the reasonable adjustments of standing for elected office, where people can apply for mobility or communication support, is a very modest step and should be part of a wider plan with concerted commitment and effort to increase the number of Disabled people in political office.”
Coronavirus Care Act easements to be removed
The Care Act easements which allowed local authorities to remove Disabled people’s rights to social care under the Coronavirus Act, are to be removed ‘at some point’ after Easter.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that: “We are rightly ending as many national measures as safely as possible, while maintaining those which remain necessary and proportionate to help reduce and control infections further as we cautiously but irreversibly ease restrictions and our historic vaccination programme continues apace.”
Eight local authorities in England used the easements at the start of the pandemic, but the powers have not been used since 29 June 2020.
In a new report on its one-year review of the 2020 Act the government says that the decision has been made to expire twelve sections that are no longer seen as necessary to respond to the pandemic, including section 15 that relates to 'Local authority care and support' in England. Read the one-year review report here.
Coronavirus SEND easements to remain in place
Despite the Government’s decision to remove Care Act easements, measures which allow the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to amend parts of the Children and Families Act (CFA) 2014 to let local councils use only “reasonable endeavours” to provide named needs in Disabled children’s Education, Health and Care plans (EHC plans) will stay in place.
Under the Coronavirus Act, a school also no longer has a duty to admit a Disabled child if that school was named in the child’s EHC plan.
Disability Rights UK, The Alliance for Inclusive Education, Liberty and Inclusion London have written to the Education Secretary to ask him to remove the CFA easements from the Coronavirus Act.
DR UK Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “There is no consistency in scrapping the Care Act easements and keeping the CFA easements. It is just plain wrong that we are putting back the human rights of Disabled adults but not those of Disabled children.”
ALLFIE Policy and Campaigns Co-ordinator Simone Aspis told Disability News Service that some local authorities and schools had used the CFA easements last year when they were introduced, but: “some local authorities and schools are still acting as though those easements are still in place” even though they have not been switched on since last July.
“It is very serious in terms of the impact. It could end up with more and more children being out of school, being denied access to education and falling behind in the progress they could be making, and not having the same opportunities.
“We could be finding ourselves with a lost generation of Disabled people as a result of this.”
Special educational needs assessment system a ‘roll of the dice’
Schools are a ‘lottery’ and have the most bearing on whether a child will be identified as having Special Educational Needs or Disability (SEND) according to a new report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI).
The report says that the school that primary school children attend makes more difference to their chances of being identified with SEND than anything about them as an individual, their experiences or what local authority they live in, and matters an awful lot as to whether they receive SEND support at both the lower and higher levels. The system of assessment is inconsistent and not well adapted to children’s individual needs.
This is in stark contrast to school attainment, where between-school differences explain only a small minority of the differences in pupil test results.
The report also found that there is a mismatch between what schools focus on in assessing SEND needs and what local authorities focus on. Schools focus mostly on communication, language and literacy skills, but local authorities make decisions that are more aligned with personal, social and emotional development.
Academy schools are associated with depressed chances of being identified with SEND. This is not just the case for children attending academies; in local authorities with the highest proportions of academised primary schools, the chances of being identified with SEND at the higher level are just one tenth of those in local authorities with the fewest academies. This is not explained by deprivation levels, ethnic mix or a range of other factors. This is likely to indicate under-identification of children with SEND.
DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “We welcome this report which backs up what parents have been saying for years. It is completely unfair to children that there is such inequality of SEND provision across the country. We know that the pandemic has compounded problems for families trying to access adequate SEND support. It is vital that the Government acts on the findings of this important report.” Read the EPI report here.
Grenfell recommendations – DR UK open statement
Almost four years after the Grenfell Tower fire in which 72 people died, including Disabled people, the Government has still not implemented the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations relating to the safety of Disabled people in high-rise buildings in the event of fire.
This week, Disability Rights UK has circulated an Open Statement to MPs (PDF) involved in the Fire Safety Bill calling on them to implement the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations relating to Disabled people.
DR UK Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “There appears to be strong resistance from some within the housing sector and fire service, to putting in the basic protections that Disabled residents need in the event of fire.
“Building owners and managing agents in the private and public housing sectors, rightly need to keep buildings well maintained and up to modern safety standards. Ensuring that there are evacuation plans for Disabled residents who cannot self-evacuate in the event of fire. These should be viewed as part of their safety obligations.” Read more on Grenfell here.
Business leaders call on Government to improve employment opportunities for Disabled people
Business leaders, including the CEOs of the Post Office and Schroders, have written to the Prime Minister urging him to make changes to improve employment opportunities for Disabled people. In the letter, co-signed by (among others) Lord Shinkwin, Baroness Grey-Thompson and Mark Harper MP, former Minister for Disabled People, they advise that "Equality of opportunity at work is key to progress." Further, government is urged to "...harness the talent of people with lived experience of disability, and ensure they are driving and leading the conversation...".Read the full story on employment opportunity equality here.
Blind woman secures promises from government to provide accessible pandemic communications
A blind woman has won a legal case which secures fundamental promises of changes to how the Government communicates with people during the pandemic.
Sarah Leadbetter, who is registered blind, was due to have a judicial review hearing concerning the government’s failure to provide her with accessible shielding information.
DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “Accessibility should be standard across all NHS and government communications. It’s incredible that 25 years after the Disability Discrimination Act became law, that we are still having to bring cases like this to court.” Read more on Sarah’s case, including the promises that have been secured, here.
Students unable to access online exams
The Thomas Pocklington Trust (TPT) is urging universities to review their exam practices, amidst fears that blind and partially sighted students will be unable to complete their exams remotely online.
Many new exam platforms block assistive technology and screen adjustments which blind and partially sighted students have to rely on to access on-screen information.
The charity has published guidance to help Higher Education Providers tackle the issue.
TPT Student Support Manager Tara Chattaway said: “These new circumstances demand changes to how we work, and we are all learning to adapt. We want to help universities understand what they can do to support their blind and partially sighted students and enable them to sit their exams remotely and independently.”The guide can be found on the TPT website.
New CSJ report on Disability
The Centre for Social Justice’s Disability Commission chaired by Lord Shinkwin has released a new report including proposals for the forthcoming National Disability Strategy. It covers recommendations for a range of issues including education, employment, housing and transport. You can read the executive summary here.