“Residential training” for disabled people to be extended

I’ve just come across this government document “Residential Training Provision – Independent Advisory Panel Report” [PDF] and I’m freaking out a bit. I may be wrong – I’m too exhausted to get through the whole document – but it’s full of scary statements.

“Although the primary focus of the panel’s work has been to review the provision of what is often referred to as specialist disability employment training as delivered by Residential Training providers, the panel has been mindful of other DWP programmes such as Work Choice and Work Programme and note the disappointing statistics published recently.”

The document is a review of residential training for disabled people. It makes plenty of reference to “markets”, to “cost/benefit analysis” and to how the programme is great because it is “intensive”. It doesn’t make any mention of the potential health impact of an intensive course on a sick or disabled person, or the practicalities of being away from home with familiarity, provisions for medicines and care, or the impact of upheaval and stress of being forced to go away. In my opinion the most scary statement is this one:

“In the vast majority of cases, the type and severity of a person’s impairment/health condition has little bearing on their ability to secure and sustain employment”

It seems that plans are already in place to send a lot more people on such residential training.

“If the provision continues following this review it will be subjected to an open competition to tender for contracts for provision post August 31st 2014.”

There are plans for non-disabled people too.

The panel considers that the provision can be improved in the following ways:
1) Increase numbers that use the residential element including reaching out to nondisabled people who are long term unemployed and would specifically benefit from the provision e.g. they would benefit from a holistic and intense approach. It could be more cost effective to increase numbers of RT trainees, as the unit cost of provision would then be driven down.

Read the full document – Residential Training Provision – Independent Advisory Panel Report” [PDF]

UPDATE

This isn’t what I thought it was on first impressions, however I still have serious reservations about it. As is pointed out in the comments below:

“This is talking about residential colleges that currently exist that are primarily for adults with severe learning difficulties and/or multiple complex needs. When people in that group reach 19 it often their fervent wish to go to one of these residential places and they often don’t get the chance.”

So, I can see that this can be a positive thing in some circumstances and I was wrong to call it a work camp. However, the attitude of the review bothers me a lot. To claim that impairments and health conditions don’t keep people out of work is just plain wrong. Overcoming barriers in society can only get someone so far; sometimes an impairment just will not let a person work. The suggestion to roll this scheme out to long-term unemployed people shows there is a view that this “holistic intensive approach” is to be used elsewhere, and my fear is that it will be applied to people who are significantly sick or disabled but unlucky enough to be in the work related activity group for ESA. Combined with the DWP’s penchant for sanctions this could be a very bad thing. Also not addressed is how sick and disabled people will function away from their support structures at home.

Victory! DWP to launch PIP mobility consultation

The Department of Work and Pensions have today announced that they will hold a “further consultation on the mobility component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP)”.

This follows the outcry after the threshold to be eligible for the most help with moving around was tightened from fifty metres to twenty metres with no indication during the consultation that this would be the case. Myself and two others had initiated a Judicial Review against the DWP to declare the consultation invalid and force a rethink. The Judicial Review would have taken place at the end of July.

The DWP would very much like you to believe that it is holding this new consultation because it is a kind and listening department and their announcement does not mention the court proceedings at all.

“However, the department has received significant feedback from disabled people and their organisations that they want a further opportunity to comment on the finalised assessment criteria rules around the mobility component. That is why it is now giving notice of a further consultation to be launched late June.”

However the emails sent out to my solicitor and to members of the stakeholder consultation forum had a subject line of “Re: Judicial Review” so make of that what you will.

While this new consultation is very good news it is not an admission that the twenty metre eligibility is wrong or an indication that the DWP will change their minds. We will have six weeks to make sure that the DWP has no choice but to admit that the twenty metre limit will cause serious harm to a great deal of people, withdrawing support from people that desperately need it. I will publish details of how to contribute to the consultation once they are available.

A lot of credit is due to Jane Young and We Are Spartacus for getting legal action organised to bring about this new consultation.

I will be discussing with my solicitor and other people involved what step to take next.

Press release: DWP to launch Personal Independence Payment mobility consultation

Why I am suing the government

We Are Spartacus

 

Whistleblower says Atos Work Capability Assessments are unfair

A doctor who worked for Atos carrying out Work Capability Assessments has resigned and has told the BBC that the assessments are unfair. He says that pressure was put on Atos staff to change the outcome of the reports.

But Dr Wood has criticised some of the tests which he says contain “dubious concepts and shaky reasoning”.

He claims assessors are told that if a claimant can walk from the kitchen to the sitting room, it proves they can walk 200m (650ft); and if a person can dress themselves once during the day that is proof they have enough concentration and motivation to hold down a job.

He insists these rules are not published in handbooks and guides, instead they are simply spoken about in training sessions.

Dr Wood, who was given special responsibility to champion mental health at Atos, said: “I was instructed to change my reports, to reduce the number of points that might be awarded to the claimants. I felt that was wrong professionally and ethically.

Watch the BBC Six O’Clock News report:

BBC News talked about this some more an hour later:

Tom Greatrex MP has written to David Cameron to urge him to order an investigation.

BBC News: Disability benefit assessments ‘unfair’, says ex-worker

The Guardian: Atos benefit claimants face biased medical assessments, doctor alleges

Benefit Scrounging Scum – Q: When is a target not a target? A: When its a statistical norm

Sue Marsh – What’s the state of ESA?

If it’s not a bedroom tax then it’s not a spare room subsidy policy either

This is a clip from the Six O’Clock News on Radio 4 today. It is about a woman who killed herself and left a note blaming the government cuts to her housing benefit.

I suppose I should be grateful that the BBC are reporting this story at all, because most people who get their news from the BBC would hardly know that cuts to welfare are even happening. However, I am furious about this story because of the way they phrased the report. Here’s how they referred to the cuts:

“her benefits were being cut as a result of the coalition’s spare room subsidy policy.

…she was facing financial difficulty because of what critics have called the bedroom tax”

This is repetition of government propaganda. True, the cut is not called the bedroom tax. Nor is it the removal of a spare room subsidy, because there never was any such thing, merely people receiving enough housing benefit to cover their rent in the available social housing. The official name of this cut in the legislation is the under-occupancy penalty. Because that’s what it is – a penalty for having a spare room, even if you had no choice about the number of rooms in the home you were allocated or if you need that room for medical equipment or numerous other reasons. It was never, ever a subsidy in the first place to remove. “Removal of the spare room subsidy” was a name given to the cut by a panicking government because people were calling it a bedroom tax and that was too close to the truth.

That the BBC repeated the official government line and referred to a spare room subsidy when reporting a suicide is a serious problem. Of course I don’t believe the BBC is unbiased any more; if anything the BBC follow a pro-government line no matter who is in power. But if the BBC won’t call it a bedroom tax then they shouldn’t call it a spare room subsidy either. They should use the official name of under-occupancy penalty, but they won’t because the word penalty is too revealing about this government’s actions when they are still claiming that this is not about money and that they are protecting the most vulnerable.

 

PIP Judicial Review given the go ahead

The court gave the go ahead on Friday the 3rd of May for the legal challenge against PIP to proceed to a full judicial review.

justice - lawyersitesThis decision represents a big step in the process as it means that a judge has heard from both my own lawyers and the Department of Work and Pensions and has decided that the case has enough merit to proceed to a full hearing in July.

Although the case was initially brought by three people through two different solicitors (Two people in conjunction with We Are Spartacus and one separately) the DWP have convinced the court to put two of the cases on hold and to proceed with only one case. Our lawyers have agreed that my case is the best one to proceed to a full judicial review. Solicitors for the other two cases will be watching my case and will request to rejoin the proceedings should they have something different to add.

We Are Spartacus: High Court gives green light to PIP legal challenge

A Latent Existence: Why I am suing the government

Tumblr: Why I am suing the government (Quick version)

Why I am suing the government

I receive Disability Living Allowance. DLA provides help for people who are disabled to live a normal life on a more equal footing. DLA provides two components, care and mobility, that pay for carers, cars, wheelchairs, but also taxi fares, pre-prepared food, adaptations for the home, and many more things. I asked people on Twitter what they use their DLA for and you can read their answers on Storify.

The Welfare Reform Act replaces DLA with Personal Independence Payments. Under PIP eligibility for the highest rate of help with mobility has been drastically reduced, from 50 metres to 20 metres and I fall right in the middle of those two. If I do not qualify for the enhanced rate of mobility then the biggest change is that I will no longer be eligible to lease a car from the Motability scheme. That means that I will have to rely on my wheelchair and public transport for every trip to the shops, to the doctor, to the hospital, and that means that every trip will turn into an far longer ordeal of exhaustion and pain that will leave me stuck in bed for hours or days afterwards. It means that I will only go out for the essential trips and will stay isolated the rest of the time and that will affect both my physical and my mental health. DLA is paid to disabled people regardless of whether they work or not, and in fact it enables a lot of people to get to work. If I were ever to return to work then it would be the help from DLA that got me there. Without it, I don’t stand a chance.

I am one of three people, likely to be badly affected by the change, that is taking the government to court and asking for a judicial review to declare the consultation invalid.

Jane Young of wearespartacus.co.uk did a huge amount of work to start the legal action, finding lawyers to take the case pro bono, finding people willing to put themselves in the firing line and put their name to the case. A call for volunteers was made through blogs and social media (Social media being a lifeline for isolated sick and disabled people) and lawyers picked those with the best case from about 50 volunteers. Although I volunteered early on I was not initially involved until one of the other people withdrew for personal reasons. This meant that I was brought in to the process at a late stage and had to rush through the paperwork. Even with a solicitor doing most of the work I had to work with her over the phone to produce my statement and I had to read and sign an awful lot of pages, each of which had to be emailed, printed, signed, scanned and both posted and emailed back because of time constraints. All very draining stuff for a sick person.

Some have criticised us because the legal case focuses on one part of PIP and didn’t cover mental health, among other things. Believe me, if I could have taken the government to task over all the other aspects of PIP I would have done. (Not least because I have mental health problems myself.) As it happens I was in the right place at the right time to take on this particular aspect and so that is what I have done. Unfortunately it isn’t possible to just go to court and tell them that PIP is rubbish, we had to specify exactly how the law was broken and attacking just this one aspect has been a lot of work for the people involved.

If we are successful in the judicial review then the consultation will have to start all over again with the 20 metre limit rather than the 50 metres mentioned in the first consultation. However, given the arrogance of the government I see no reason why they would pay attention to a new consultation any more than they paid attention to the one that they already did. I see this judicial review as a tool to give time to shine a spotlight on the injustice of PIP and bring attention to the arrogance of the government rather than the ultimate goal in itself. I think it will be public pressure that will change this policy, and the judicial review could be instrumental in bringing that about. I believe the best result would be if the government dropped PIP and kept DLA.

My solicitor, Karen Ashton from Public Law Solicitors explained the legal case to BBC West Midlands:

[audio:http://latentexistence.me.uk/media/20130409-Karen_Ashton-PIP-BBCWM.mp3]

For the official press release and contact details for enquiries please see my announcement about the case.

UPDATE: The case was heard on the 9th and 10th of July.

Replacement of disability living allowance headline news for hours

The replacement of DLA with PIP was the main story all morning until cruelly kicked from the headlines before the evening news. Here are some collected clips and links.

Steven Sumpter on Sky News – Video (Main headline all day)

Steven Sumpter on LBC Radio at 08:05

Margo Milne on LBC Radio at 08:15

Sue Marsh on 5 Live at 09:05

Sue Marsh on Radio Leeds at 09:50

Steven Sumpter, Ema, Kaliya Franklin and Sophie Christiansen on 5 Live at 10:35

With Stephen Duckworth of Capita

Rebecca on on BBC WM

The Guardian – Three disabled claimants launch legal action against new mobility tests

The Independent – Ed Miliband attacks ‘nasty’ George Osborne as DWP faces court challenge over benefit reforms

Ed Miliband criticised the government’s welfare policies but still fails to understand what went wrong with the work capability assessment

Sue Marsh has attempted to combat some of the lies the government tell about DLA

I’m one of three people taking legal action against the DWP over the PIP consultation

Announcement: legal action against the DWP over the #PIP consultation

I am one of three people asking for a Judicial Review over the consultation for Personal Independence Payments.

The request for a judicial review is on the basis that the Department for Work and Pensions did not conduct a proper consultation for PIP and if we are successful then they will be ordered to start the consultation again. If a judicial review is granted than it should take place sometime in July.

The initial consultation for PIP used inability to walk 50 metres to define eligibility for the enhanced rate of mobility component. That is, anyone who could not walk 50 metres without the use of a wheelchair would get highest rate of the benefit. After the consultation ended it emerged that the goalposts had been moved, and that the cut-off point for high-rate mobility would be just 20 metres. Those who can walk more than 20 metres but less than 50 metres safely, reliably and repeatedly may qualify for a lower rate of the benefit.

We will be arguing that the DWP were required to consult on such a fundamental change  and that they did not provide adequate information during the consultation that did take place. We will also argue that the DWP failed in their duty under the Equality Act 2010 to assess the impact of the new regulations on disabled people.

This change will affect me personally, albeit probably not until 2015 when those whose DLA has not already run out will be transferred to PIP. Those who receive the high-rate of mobility allowance under DLA are eligible to lease a car from the Motability scheme. If this requirement is kept with PIP then as someone who can usually walk more then 20 metres but not 50 metres without pain pain and exhaustion I will lose the high-rate mobility component and will therefore lose the car that restores much of my freedom and independence.

Public Law Solicitors are taking action on my behalf while Leigh Day are representing the two others involved in this case.

Press are welcome to contact me by email on latentexistence at gmail dot com or through the contact link at the top of this blog.

More information will be at www.wearespartacus.org.uk

Please sign WOWpetition to demand a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform.


Press release from Public Law Solicitors / Leigh Day 08/04/2013

Lawyers have announced that they are taking legal action against the Government on behalf of three disabled clients who are challenging the decision by Ian Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and pensions, to bring in more stringent measures to qualify for the higher rate mobility benefit which the Government has estimated will result in 400,000 fewer people being eligible to claim.

The three clients currently receive disability living allowance (DLA) including the higher rate of the mobility component. This non-means-tested cash benefit has been available since 1992 and provides people with assistance towards the costs of an adapted car, powered wheelchair or scooter through the Motability scheme.

Under DLA a person is entitled to the higher rate of the mobility component if they are ‘unable or virtually unable to walk’. Usually claimants are considered to be ‘virtually unable to walk’ if they cannot walk more than around 50 metres.

The new Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) Regulations 2013 (PIP) have reduced this benchmark distance to 20m.

Kim Storr has rheumatoid arthritis and other severe progressive conditions and her mobility is affected by joint swelling and pain. She relies on crutches. She currently receives DLA including the higher rate of the mobility component. Ms Storr needs an adapted vehicle to enable her to go out independently.

Steven Sumpter has ME, which has caused him increasing mobility problems. He can walk short distances with a stick, but is otherwise dependent on a wheelchair.  He was assessed as eligible for the higher rate of the mobility component of DLA last year, which he has used to lease a Motability car.

The third claimant is protected by an anonymity order to protect their identity.

Law firms Leigh Day and Public Law Solicitors argue that a consultation process set up by the Government to reassess the benefit was flawed. The Secretary of State did not consult on the proposal that the limit would be reduced to 20 metres. This suggestion was only introduced after all the consultation stages had passed.

Consultees were therefore denied the opportunity to comment on the proposal or to explain to the Secretary of State how such a restriction to the benefit will affect them and their independence.

The 50 metres distance is widely recognised in relation to other disability benefits and in guidance on the built environment, to represent a minimum functional level of mobility.

Proceedings have been issued against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Ian Duncan Smith, claiming that the new regulations regarding the PIP payment are flawed and unlawful. They argue the policy-making process failed to properly consider the practical impacts the withdrawal of the benefit will have on people with significant mobility impairments.

Rosa Curling, from the Human Rights team at Leigh Day who is representing two of the disabled clients said:

“We have advised our clients that the consultation undertaken by the Secretary of State was unlawful. People were not properly informed that the limit might be reduced to 20 metres and had no opportunity to provide the Secretary of State with their views on this proposal.

“Removing this vital benefit to disabled people will have a devastating effect on many people’s lives and their ability to access and be part of our communities. The Secretary of State has a legal obligation to consider such impacts before deciding whether to limit access to this benefit.”

Karen Ashton from Public Law Solicitors who represents Mr Sumpter, said:

“What is at the heart of this legal challenge is fairness.  The extra costs of getting out and about for those who have severe mobility problems can be huge. The higher rate mobility benefit can make the difference between being able to do everyday things that everyone else takes for granted  – such as doing your own shopping and visiting friends and relatives  –  and only leaving the house for absolutely essential appointments. But the Government failed to mention the reduction to the 20m threshold in their consultations with disabled people and so those who are potentially affected have not had the chance to explain how devastating the consequences will be.”

ENDS

For further information please contact:

David Standard – Head of Media Relations, Leigh Day 0844 800 4981 or 07540 332717

Karen Ashton –  Public Law Solicitors 0121 256 0327 or  07812 165090

No wheelchair for you!

My old broken power wheelchair
My old broken powerchair

I wrote back in March about the death of the power wheelchair that I had been given and my quest to obtain a new one.  It was old but it served its purpose in letting me go further from home and use public transport without requiring another person to push my wheelchair. Since my ability to walk is fairly limited I do need a wheelchair when I am out of the house. There are four ways that I know of to obtain a manual or powered wheelchair.

  1. The NHS
  2. Lease one from Motability using the mobility component of DLA
  3. Buy one
  4. Get a charity to buy one

It should be obvious that buying one is not really an option for most people living on sickness and disability benefits. Many people who need a high end power wheelchair do lease one from the Motability scheme however that option is not available to those who already use their DLA to lease a car through the scheme, or who do not receive DLA at all. In some circumstances a charity might be willing to foot some or all of the bill for a power wheelchair. Specialist charities for certain diseases or impairments might do this although in practice most do not have this option either. In my case there is a charity that helps people in the area that I live in who might be able to pay for part of the cost of a power wheelchair for me but since charity funds must be carefully looked after they require me to need a wheelchair but be unable to get one from the NHS before they will help. That leads me to the main option, to ask for a wheelchair from the NHS.

Soon after my power wheelchair broke an occupational therapist referred me to Worcestershire Wheelchair Services and I was told that I would get an assessment but that I would have to wait a long time. In the meantime I bought a manual wheelchair using my credit card. I have a bankruptcy in my past because of my illness so that credit is at an interest rate of 34% APR.

I knew when I was referred for a wheelchair assessment that I would not qualify for a power wheelchair because I only need a wheelchair when out of the house but that was OK because once I had an assessment I could turn to my local charity. As I understood then from other doctors and therapists I should qualify for a manual wheelchair, although probably one with small wheels that required an attendant to push it because self-propelling a wheelchair soon hurts my arms as much as walking hurts my legs. (This is why I purchased a self-propel chair, since I would like to be able to turn myself around even if I mostly have someone pushing.)

Then, today, I received this letter from Wheelchair Services. (Click to enlarge.)

Letter from wheelchair services

The letter informed me that I would not receive any wheelchair from the NHS because in Worcestershire they are

“Currently only able to supply wheelchairs to people who meet higher level needs i.e. to those clients who have a permanent mobility problem, who are unable to walk and who require a wheelchair within their own home.”

So, because I can walk or stagger around at home, I will not receive any kind of wheelchair to help outside where I cannot walk more than a few metres or stand up for more than a few seconds – not even a manual wheelchair. They won’t even visit to assess me. There are also many people who need a power wheelchair but are unable to get one from the NHS because they, like me can walk to some extent around their own home. In a lot of these cases they would use a wheelchair inside if only they could fit one in their home, but because they cannot they too are denied any help from wheelchair services. I know of several people who are currently trying to raise funds through donations to purchase their own power wheelchair because of this.

I’m not too worried about this in my own case because I have the manual wheelchair that I bought, and I have my wife to push it much of the time, and I still hope to get help from a local charity. I am far more worried about all the other people who haven’t been so fortunate and have no chance to buy a wheelchair, no charity help, no car and no one to offer lifts. I struggle to understand the justification for the NHS in Worcestershire not giving a wheelchair to people who need one but only when outside. If applied nationally, this policy would trap tens or hundreds of thousands of people in their own homes, unable to go out to medical appointments, to buy food or to visit family and friends. I don’t know how long this policy has been in place in Worcestershire but I hope that it is the only area doing this.

Worcestershire Wheelchair Service informed me that their qualifying criteria have been this way for a number of years due to low funding. Worcestershire is not looking like a good place for a chronically sick or disabled person to live right now; Worcestershire council are planning to remove funding for care at home for a large number of people and send them to live in care homes instead. This is a huge backwards step, a removal of freedom for a lot of people and reverts to the old method of locking those with disabilities away from society. This policy on wheelchairs will ensure that more people are trapped at home and so require care from the local authority, which in turn may put them into a care home.

Are we as a country really so short of money that this is the route we want to take?