Month: July 2019

Ministers have finally announced that they will ac

first_imgMinisters have finally announced that they will act to protect the rights of wheelchair-users to travel on buses, nearly 14 months after a ground-breaking Supreme Court ruling.The Supreme Court ruled in January 2017 that First Bus had breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people under the Equality Act through its “first come, first served” policy on the use of wheelchair spaces.The ruling followed a five-year legal battle fought by disabled campaigner Doug Paulley (pictured after the ruling), who had been planning to travel to Leeds to visit his parents in February 2012, but was prevented from entering a bus because the driver refused to insist that a mother with a sleeping child in a pushchair should move from the only wheelchair space.The Supreme Court ruled that a driver must do more than simply ask a non-disabled passenger to move, but did not say exactly what actions bus companies should take, or how the needs of passengers should be taken into account.The Department for Transport (DfT) subsequently set up a group of six advisers – two representatives of the transport industry, two from the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) and two from the transport user watchdog Transport Focus – to produce recommendations for action.The task and finish group on the use of wheelchair spaces on buses – which did not include any representatives of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) – submitted its report to transport ministers last September, but DfT has only now published it, nearly six months later.And despite ministers welcoming its four main recommendations “in principle”, they have now announced a period of “further engagement”, with “a view to bringing forward a package of measures” later this year.The task and finish group concluded “that drivers need to play an active role in ensuring that the wheelchair space is made available for passengers in wheelchairs, which includes requiring other passengers to move where necessary, but that drivers also need more powers than they have currently to enable them to do this effectively”.They said that other passengers “should be expected to vacate the space” so a wheelchair-user can occupy it, unless there are other passengers who “may have legitimate calls on the space”.A DfT spokeswoman said later that these other passengers should include “people with walking aids, parents with disabled children and assistance dog owners”.The task and finish group also recommended that the government should update conduct regulations, which detail drivers’ duties and expected behaviour – and produce fresh guidance – to make it possible for drivers to remove passengers from a bus if they “unreasonably refuse to move” from the wheelchair space.The group also called for efforts to raise public awareness about how the wheelchair space should be used, and to improve training for bus drivers.Paulley said he did not understand why the report was only being released now, six months after it was completed, with the prospect of a further period of consultation.He welcomed the prospect of amendments to the conduct regulations but said there was a lack of “very concrete recommendations” to the government.He also raised concerns about the apparent prospect of drivers being given the power to remove passengers from buses.He said: “I don’t think drivers actually want that power.”Instead, he said, they should be able to treat someone failing to move from the space “just as any other anti-social behaviour on the buses”, for example by stopping the bus and refusing to continue the journey until the passenger in questions leaves the space.And he said it was “really not good” that there was no DPO represented on the task and finish group.Paulley said he believe the task and finish group’s report was “far too woolly”.He said: “I am glad that they recommended changing the conduct regulations and that the government have not entirely rejected that out of hand as they did previously [in an earlier consultation].“Other than that, it seems far too slow. There’s going to be further consultation. It’s taking far too long for something that should be decisive and quick.”Alan Benson, chair of the user-led campaigning charity Transport for All, said: “We welcome the Department for Transport’s commitment to improve bus access.“It’s been over a year since the very clear ruling from the Supreme Court, so we’re delighted to see the government finally taking these steps to improve bus access.“It’s time to put an end to wheelchair and mobility scooter users’ daily struggle to access the wheelchair priority space.“We also need awareness campaigns so that drivers and the public better understand that this space is there to meet all mobility needs, including walker and assistance dog users.“As well as strengthening their policies on wheelchair priority, we want to see bus companies introduce better inclusive designs for buses, with a larger wheelchair spaces and a separate spaces for buggies and luggage to ensure that disabled and older people can travel with confidence.“Some buses on Transport for London routes… already have a space big enough to comfortably accommodate both a wheelchair and a buggy.“We also know that a few bus companies around the UK have such a design.”Philip Connolly, policy manager for Disability Rights UK, said: “The government appear to have a new policy position that will be enforceable, providing they are willing to change the law.“This is not a case of wheelchairs versus buggies, it is a move which should restore rights to access transport to wheelchair users.“Disability Rights UK was at the forefront in demanding a change in the law as the only viable solution to this issue. We hold the government to their promise.”Transport minister Nusrat Ghani said: “Passengers with disabilities must have the same opportunities to travel as other members of society, and it is essential that the services they rely on are accessible and work for them.“That’s exactly why last year we set up a group representing a broad range of stakeholders with a variety of different perspectives, to examine how we support disabled people in their day-to-day lives.“We have also developed guidance on disability awareness training for bus drivers, which we plan to publish later this year. “This is the next step in our work to ensure transport networks help those with disabilities to live independent lives.”Asked why there had been no DPO represented on the task and finish group, a DfT spokeswoman said its membership had “represented a broad range of stakeholders with a variety of experiences and perspectives” and that it was appropriate to seek DPTAC’s advice because it was “statutorily charged with advising ministers on the transport needs of people with disabilities”.Asked why it had taken DfT so long to publish the report, she said it had been “extremely important for government to listen carefully to stakeholders on this issue and come to a considered response, taking all views into account”.She added: “We understand the importance of improving access to the wheelchair space swiftly and appropriately, and look forward to continued dialogue with a broad range of stakeholders as we develop specific interventions.”She said the task and finish group had produced “a balanced package of measures giving drivers the tools to address inappropriate behaviour, clarifying our expectations of drivers and passengers, and encouraging passengers to act with greater consideration.“We know that implementing measures in isolation is unlikely to result in a better, more consistent experience for passengers with disabilities, which is why we are continuing to work with stakeholders on this.”last_img read more

A charity has refused to criticise the Department

first_imgA charity has refused to criticise the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over four deaths linked to universal credit, hours after a minister announced it would receive tens of millions of pounds to support claimants on the new benefit system.Work and pensions secretary Esther McVey (pictured) told the Conservative party conference on Monday that the advice charity Citizens Advice would receive the funding to deliver support to claimants.It will be delivered through “universal support”, which provides universal credit claimants with advice and assistance, particularly with budgeting and the online aspects of their claims.Since last year, local authorities have provided this service, funded by DWP, but Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland will take responsibility for delivering a “strengthened” version across England, Wales and Scotland from next April.The two charities will receive £12 million in the run-up to April 2019 to “ensure a smooth transition to the new delivery model” and then another £39 million from April 2019 to provide the service.A DWP spokeswoman confirmed today (Thursday) that the funding of £39 million was for just one year, “with a review at the end”.But she also appeared to confirm that the contracts signed by the charities includes a clause preventing them from attracting “adverse publicity” to the department or to McVey herself, as in contracts signed by some of the disability charities who have signed up to deliver services as part of DWP’s new Work and Health Programme.Such a clause is likely to say that Citizens Advice must “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of McVey and must promise not to do anything that harms the public’s confidence in her or DWP.Asked whether the contracts do include such a clause, a DWP spokeswoman said this afternoon: “Such paragraphs are typical in DWP grants.“The grant sets out the relationship with DWP and its grant recipients so that both parties understand how to interact with each other.“The wording is intended to protect the best interests of both the department and the stakeholders we work with, and it does not stop individuals from acting as whistle-blowers under the provisions of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, nor from raising any concerns directly with the department.”Disabled activists have already raised serious concerns about whether the DWP funding will put the independence of Citizens Advice at risk, and this admission is likely to fuel those concerns.Disabled activist Rick Burgess said in a blog this week that people he had spoken to in the advice and welfare rights sector were “aghast” and “appalled” by the charity’s decision to take the funding.He said: “Make no mistake, this is a historic betrayal that is not business as usual and is not ‘okay’.“The executives and board of [Citizens Advice] have catastrophically sabotaged their organisation’s independence and reputation in return for medium term financial security.”Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said on Twitter: “[Citizens Advice] selling out to DWP for £51million. No wonder we don’t trust charities.”And Dr Jay Watts added: “Can’t believe [Citizens Advice] has sold out to the DWP for £51 million after 79 years of independence.“It is near impossible to bite the hand that feeds – as we have seen with so many charities – so a clever way to mute criticism of #UniversalCredit.”Just hours after McVey’s announcement, Citizens Advice’s head of policy on families, welfare and work, Kayley Hignell, spoke at a Conservative conference fringe event on universal credit and its impact on mental health.Hignell and the other panellists were asked by Disability News Service about secret DWP reviews that have linked the deaths of four universal credit claimants with the department’s activity, and whether they thought DWP had taken those deaths seriously enough.One of the deaths was linked to the “claimant commitment” that universal credit recipients must sign, with DWP’s panel of reviewers warning in their report that it appeared to be “overtly threatening, especially to individuals who are vulnerable”.But Hignell, who had been told about the reviews before the fringe event, failed to raise concerns about this report or the four deaths, criticise the government, or call for urgent action.Instead, she spoke about how much more there was to do to implement universal credit properly and how people with more “niche” support needs were currently “losing out”.She said: “Those groups of people need much, much more attention within the system.”She said DWP faced a challenge over the “speed” of the rollout and its “capacity” and that the department needed to do more work to “tailor” universal credit to the needs of individuals.Earlier in the meeting, hosted by The Trussell Trust – which runs a national network of 400 foodbanks – Hignell’s comments about the universal credit roll-out had also appeared to contrast with much stronger criticisms of DWP from her fellow panellists.Hignell had told the meeting that universal support was “not consistently available across the country”.And she said that universal credit was “at a critical point at the moment” and that there was “more to do” for DWP in preparation for the “significant upheaval” of “managed migration” for disabled people.From next year, and over the following four years, managed migration will see hundreds of thousands of disabled people forced to end their existing employment and support allowance (ESA) claims and apply instead for universal credit.Hignell said: “We do believe government needs to do everything they can to identify those who may struggle with the system.”She added: “We want to make sure that UC works for everybody and that it’s ready for its next stage of rollout.”In contrast, Sophie Corlett, head of external relations for the mental health charity Mind, described managed migration as “a juggernaut that’s rolling towards us” and “something that we are really concerned about”.She described the flaws in the system that will make managed migration difficult, if not impossible, for many people with mental health conditions.She warned that the implications of failing with a claim for universal credit as part of managed migration were “really huge”, as the person would then be treated as a new claimant and would not be entitled to transitional payments previously announced by ministers.She also pointed to the tight deadline for claimants to complete their online application for universal credit once they have been told their old ESA claim is about to end.Corlett said: “There can’t be a deadline at which point your current benefit stops dead. That is a ridiculous situation.”Sue Weightman, who manages three Trussell Trust foodbanks in the Taunton Deane area of Somerset, one of the first to cope with the universal credit rollout, in October 2016, said the impact of its introduction had been startling and immediate.She said: “Almost overnight we went from a foodbank that would see maybe a dozen clients in an afternoon to opening the door at two o’clock and having a queue of 15 to 20 people around the corner.“Almost overnight I needed more volunteers, more food donations, more funding. I also needed more training for the volunteers who were working at that time.”She said there had been an improvement since changes to universal credit announced by the government last November, but that many people were still suffering from the after-effects of falling into severe debt when they were moved onto universal credit two years ago.She said this particularly affected those with mental health conditions or learning difficulties, whose problems have “got a lot more severe in the last two years”, including struggles with the complexity and length of the system.She said: “We have a much higher rate of sanctioning for clients with any form of mental health illness than with any of the others and some are getting sanctioned two or three times.”And she said many people with mental health conditions were still “fearful” of taking out advance payments through universal credit because they were worried they would not be able to pay the money back and would fall further and further into debt.She said: “Most clients with any form of mental health illness we have seen in the last two years have seen a spiralling down of their health.“We have seen a high percentage of people having to move home and getting into rent arrears.”Citizens Advice has so far refused to confirm that its contract with DWP includes an “adverse publicity” clause.But a spokeswoman for the charity said in a statement: “Citizens Advice is independent of government and always will be.“The people we help are our first priority, and this funding will mean Citizens Advice will be able to help even more people who are struggling to make a universal credit claim.“The advice we give people will always be totally impartial, and we’ll continue to advocate on behalf of the people who come to us for help.” A note from the editor:Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations. Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009. Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…last_img read more