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A disabled campaigner who has been refused permiss

first_imgA disabled campaigner who has been refused permission to apply for a vital disability benefit in a way that is accessible to him has begun legal proceedings against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).Graham Kirwan has been told that he is unable to communicate via email as he attempts to claim personal independence payment (PIP).Kirwan had previously been a long-term claimant of disability living allowance (DLA) but had his payments suspended when he failed to respond to letters asking him to apply for PIP, letters that he says he never received and that would not have been accessible to him anyway.Kirwan, who is partially-sighted, has computer software that can magnify text, but it does not generally work with scanned or PDF documents.He has been told by DWP to use the charity Citizens Advice to help with his application for PIP – which is gradually replacing working-age DLA – but he wants to fill in the form himself, so he can take responsibility for the accuracy of the answers.And he points to DWP guidance that states that email is an acceptable alternative for communication for people with his access needs.Kirwan says that while most people can fill in their PIP claim form with a pen costing just 10 pence (DWP provides a free envelope and postage), he has spent £1,200 equipping himself with the necessary technology to communicate effectively, as well as facing annual costs of about another £700.He said: “In this instance the disability is being deliberately created by the DWP. I have no communication disability? when allowed to use email and assistive software.“Email is cost effective and creates independence, choice and control?.“Using Citizens Advice when I can do something for myself is using up their valuable resources and my limited time?.“Although they may be experts in the field of compiling forms, it only takes one mistake (by a first-time volunteer)? on their part for me to fail to be awarded PIP.“The responsibility would be mine, as I am forced to sign a piece of paper which I cannot be 100 per cent sure is correct.”Kirwan has told DWP that completing forms over the telephone or through a home visit from a civil servant places him at a substantial disadvantage to other disabled people, while he has been told that forms completed over the telephone would still need to be sent to him to be read and signed.He has told DWP in a legal letter that “the DWP system for sending and receiving information to blind and partially sighted people is at best ad hoc and prone to consistent failure”.Kirwan, who represents Dudley Centre for Inclusive Living on accessible information issues, has already secured one legal victory over a government department, after a threatened judicial review led to the Department of Health publishing its first accessible information standard earlier this year.A DWP spokeswoman confirmed that the department had received Kirwan’s email, but she said she was unable to comment further because of the legal nature of the complaint.last_img read more

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The future of the governments Access to Work AtW

first_imgThe future of the government’s Access to Work (AtW) disability employment scheme is in jeopardy because of “bureaucratic incompetence” and a cost-cutting drive to reduce people’s support packages, according to new research.The report, commissioned by Inclusion London, found that “shocking levels of delay, error, and the de-skilling of staff” were putting Deaf and disabled people’s jobs at risk.The Barriers to Work report, written by disabled researcher and campaigner Catherine Hale, is based on a survey of 320 AtW customers – more than half of whom were Deaf or had hearing impairments – which was carried out last year by the campaign group StopChanges2AtW*.Hale said the AtW scheme – set up in 1994 and providing disabled people with funding to pay for some of the extra disability-related expenses they face at work – was “a cornerstone of the movement for equality and civil rights for Deaf and disabled people in the UK”.But her report concludes that the programme has been “beset with so much bureaucratic incompetence and obstructionism in recent years that, in many respects, Access to Work is no longer fit for purpose”.Marsha de Cordova, a disabled Labour MP and her party’s new shadow minister for disabled people, told a parliamentary event held to launch the report that “poor policy” and “severe cuts” had left the scheme “unworkable for so many of us”.She said the reviews that led to people’s packages being cut “ultimately will result in many Deaf and disabled people being unable to stay in or retain their work”.De Cordova (pictured, speaking at the event), who said she had benefited from AtW support through most of her career, said: “This scheme, as we all know, is a fundamental part of employing Deaf and disabled people and ensuring that we can stay in work.”She said her own experiences ranged from the programme being “very good to being poor and incredibly frustrating”, and added: “They make it so difficult to be assessed for support.”She said: “I intend in my role, just as an activist, because I am first and foremost a disability rights activist, to press on the government to ensure that they adequately fund this scheme, but also they have to address, they have to reverse, all of the stripping away of cuts, because without that the scheme is not going to work and we will not see more Deaf and disabled people into work.”One of the aspects the report warns about is the imposition of a cap – currently £42,100 – on annual AtW packages, which already affects new claimants but will not affect existing customers until next April.The cap is expected to affect 200 AtW customers, of whom about 90 per cent will be Deaf or have hearing loss.StopChanges2AtW believes this will discourage employers from recruiting Deaf people, increase the likelihood of discrimination, and reduce equality of opportunity.Paul Redfern, the British Deaf Association’s senior community development manager, told the launch event that a number of Deaf professionals had lost their registrations because they were not given enough interpreting support by AtW to maintain their “continuing professional development”.He said the new cap meant that Deaf people would be forced “to leave work and be replaced by hearing people”, and he added: “Employers will become more and more reluctant to employ Deaf members of staff because they will be seen as expensive.”Penny Parker, who uses Access to Work, and is employed by the disabled people’s organisation Equal Lives, had her account of her AtW experiences read by Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives, as she was not able to attend the launch event.She said she couldn’t fault the scheme when she began claiming support in 2010, but since AtW began to review her package towards the end of 2015 she said her experience had been “horrendous”, and ended – after a year – with a package “that meant I go to work less and pay more”.Parker, who is totally blind, said one adviser had “felt the need to question why I don’t drive myself to work”.The process had affected her job, her mental health, her relationship with her support workers, the taxi company that drives her to work, and her family and private life.She said: “I was so impressed by the scheme when I set out in 2010. Now it’s a sham and disables rather than enables disabled people to work.”Harrison said Parker had called him while he was on the way to the event to say that the taxi company she uses had told her it would not be able to take her to work the next day because AtW had not paid its invoices since April.He said: “AtW said, ‘We have changed the way we want our invoices formatted,’ but they had not informed either Penny or the taxi company.“She is a prisoner in her own home, unable to do her job because of AtW.”Deidre Brock, the SNP’s shadow spokeswoman for fair work and employment, who was also at the launch, said people were facing “nothing more nor less than discrimination”.She said the report’s 11 recommendations for improvements to the scheme – which include commitments not to place Deaf and disabled people at financial risk, and to put the scheme at the heart of the government’s strategy to increase the number of disabled people in work – were “more than acceptable” and “actually quite modest in scope”.Most of those surveyed by StopChanges2AtW had full-time jobs, while a third had received AtW for at least 10 years.But only 15 per cent of those surveyed said they found it easy to apply for AtW or to use it.Among the problems they faced were: not being told when their AtW award was ending, which left people in debt to their support workers; significant amounts of time spent disputing their needs with AtW staff; lengthy delays in assessments for support, which in some cases left people unable to take up a new job or offer of work; and lost paperwork, again leaving many people in debt.As many as 50 respondents said that without AtW they would be unemployed and reliant on benefits.Of the survey respondents, nearly half (46 per cent) said there had been changes to their AtW package, but only three per cent said this had led to an increase in their support.There was substantial evidence of: “rationing” of support by AtW, with more frequent re-assessments and tighter eligibility criteria; a higher burden of proof to show need for support; increased complexity and unnecessary repetition in AtW forms; and a perception by respondents that they were “under surveillance and suspicion”.AtW staff frequently used phrases such as “funding cuts”, “too expensive”, “need to make savings” and the “need to reduce fraud” when they told claimants that their levels of support were changing.One of those who took part in the survey, Sayeeda, said: “The way Access to Work treated me was horrible.“I was talked to in a way where the advisor thought that they knew better than me about the support that I need to do my job. It was always a very aggressive tone.”Another, Angela, said it took her seven months to secure the funding she needed to pay for support workers while she was at work.She said: “During this period, I frequently went without anything to eat and drink all day because I did not have a support worker to assist me with feeding.”A third disabled woman, Sue, said the way she had been treated by AtW “and the amount of obstacles repeatedly put in my way, have very seriously affected both my ability to continue working, and my mental health, to the point that my GP has had to intervene”.The report concludes: “An apparent agenda of cost cutting rather than investing to save is putting Deaf and Disabled people’s jobs and livelihoods at risk.“If this trend continues we will see reduced diversity in the UK workforce, and an increase in the numbers of Deaf and Disabled people claiming out of work benefits.”Asked to respond to the report, a DWP spokeswoman said: “We want more disabled people to get into employment and keep their jobs.“The Access to Work grant can provide over £40,000 of practical support a year, which is tailored to individuals’ needs and can include travel to work, support workers and specialist equipment.“We continuously review the scheme to make sure it’s working in the best way possible, and last year we launched a digital service to make the application process more accessible and efficient.“Last year 25,000 people had their request approved by Access to Work, an increase of eight per cent from 2015-16.”In the November 2015 spending review, the government pledged to increase the number of people the scheme helped by 25,000 a year by 2020, increasing spending by nearly a quarter.But earlier this month, the government was accused of manipulating statistics in an attempt to hide the ongoing barriers, cuts and harassment experienced by AtW claimants, following the release of experimental figures which showed the number of disabled people approved every year for support from the programme had fallen by 15 per cent under seven years of Conservative rule.The number of people who had Access to Work support approved in 2016-17 was nearly 2,000 higher than the previous year, but the figure for 2016-17 (23,630) was still more than 4,000 lower than in the final year of the last Labour government (27,760).Critics said the way DWP was publishing AtW statistics meant it was impossible to know how many disabled people were currently receiving support compared with previous years, or how the average level of support packages had risen or fallen.*Its publication was delayed by the general election, the parliamentary summer recess and the party political conference seasonlast_img read more

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Police and prosecutors are facing questions over w

first_imgPolice and prosecutors are facing questions over why they failed to treat the ordeal of a disabled teenager – who was kept as a slave for more than two years and subjected to brutal daily beatings – as a disability hate crime.It is just the latest in a lengthy line of cases in which police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have faced accusations of failing to secure recognition of disability hate crime through the courts.This week, both South Wales police (SWP) – one of six forces criticised last year for their “unacceptable” performance on disability hate crime – and CPS repeatedly refused to say what steps they took to confirm whether the teenager’s horrific ordeal should be treated as a hate crime.SWP has described the injuries experienced by the young disabled man during the forced, unpaid labour as “horrendous” and said he was left without a single uninjured part of his body when he was finally rescued.The young man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is autistic and has ADHD, and was fed just one meal a day, often just a tin of soup or baked beans.He was regularly beaten by Anthony Baker and his son Harvey with a metal pole and was forced to work in their scrapyard (pictured) in Jersey Marine, near Swansea, and to live “in squalor” in a small caravan.Reports of the trial say that when he was discovered by police in January – following a tip-off from a member of the public – he had a series of horrific injuries, including open wounds, was dirty and malnourished, and found it difficult to speak because of injuries to his jaw, which had been broken on multiple occasions.Wales Online said the judge described the way the young disabled man was treated as “brutal and savagely inhuman” and said he had been subjected to a regime of “immense brutality” and “sadistic behaviour”.The Bakers deliberately broke one of his fingers, bit his nose and “treated him as a human punchbag”.Neither of the men has shown any remorse for what happened, said SWP.The Bakers were jailed at Swansea Crown Court on Friday (14 June) for a total of 16 years after admitting assault, grievous bodily harm and unlawful wounding, while Anthony Baker also admitted a modern slavery offence*.But because police and prosecutors apparently failed to consider or treat these offences as possible disability hate crimes at any stage of their investigations and preparation for the trial, the judge was not asked to increase the sentences under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act.It is just the latest case to highlight how the criminal justice system is failing victims of disability hate crime.Last October, West Midlands police and CPS faced similar questions over their failure to treat an “utterly barbaric” campaign of violence and abuse directed at a disabled mum and daughter as disability hate crime.The following month, Suffolk police was criticised for failing to treat an attack on a disabled woman – who was spat at and left covered with flour by a group of teenagers as she sat on a park bench – as a disability hate crime.That case had come just days after the CPS annual hate crime report showed the number of disability hate crime cases referred to prosecutors by police forces in England and Wales plunged in the previous year by nearly a quarter.The number of disability hate crime convictions also slumped, from 800 in 2016-17 to 564 in 2017-18 (a drop of 29.5 per cent).Earlier that month, a report by two watchdogs found that the work of police officers on more than half of the disability hate crime investigations examined across six sample forces – including South Wales police – had been found to be “unacceptable”.Disability News Service has been reporting on the criminal justice system’s failings in dealing with disability hate crime since 2009.This week, a South Wales police spokesperson repeatedly refused to say if his force took active steps to investigate whether disability-related hostility was a motive for the Bakers’ crimes.Instead, he said in a statement: “At no stage of the investigation was there any evidence that the victim was abused due to a disability.“If there was evidence of this nature then it would have been presented to the CPS.”A CPS spokesperson refused to say what steps were taken by prosecutors in relation to considering disability hate crime as a possible motive for the Bakers’ crimes.Instead, he said in a statement: “The crimes of Anthony and Harvey Baker were despicable and their prison sentences reflect the harm they did.“The victim was subjected to verbal abuse but this was related to their perceived lifestyle and work. The motivation for the assaults was the work the victim did.“The law gives prosecutors the power to request that judges increase the sentence when there is evidence the offender demonstrated hostility or was motivated by hostility based on a person’s disability.“Where it exists, we won’t hesitate to put this evidence before the court.”He added later: “For an offence to be prosecuted by the CPS as a disability hate crime and therefore get a sentence uplift there has to be evidence that the offenders demonstrated hostility or were motivated by hostility based on a disability.“That evidence was not there in his case.”David Wilkin, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said: “The inconsistencies inherent in the prosecution of hate crime are underpinned by much evidence from many victims.”He suggested there was now a need for an “operational stipulation” that forces police officers to “process hate crime with the seriousness that it deserves”.He pointed to the ongoing Law Commission consultation on current hate crime legislation, which could – if it produces new laws – enable prosecutors to treat hate crime “with the gravity it deserves”, and provide judges with “the clarity that will enable them to make proportional sentencing decisions”.*Anthony Baker, aged 49, had previously pleaded guilty to requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, four counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, unlawful wounding, and inflicting grievous bodily harm, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison and another five years on licence.Harvey Baker, aged 19, had previously pleaded guilty to six counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, three of inflicting grievous bodily harm, and one of unlawful wounding, and was sentenced to six years in a young offender institution. 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

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The 29yearold new signing is settling into life

first_imgThe 29-year-old new signing is settling into life at the club and is looking forward to what he hopes will be a successful season.“I’ve been here for just under four weeks and I’m slowly adapting,” he said. “It’s been a busy few months; I got married, had the honeymoon and then moved over here.“Our partners have made the biggest sacrifice and making sure they settle in is important. I guess for us as new players it is easy as we have moved into our environment and made friends with 30 players straight away.“It is an awesome playing squad and they make it very enjoyable and exciting to turn up every day at training. There are a lot of characters in the team too but everyone has been definitely welcoming and it has been very peaceful for myself to get to know the lads.”Kevin is one of Saints’ four new signings for the 2019 campaign and says the decision to join the club was easy.“It was a deep desire in me to come over here and compete in Super League,” he added. “I’d had a few offers but St Helens was the best fit for me. It is a proud and historic club that has been very successful and I wanted to be part of it.“With the coaching staff and playing group we have here there is definitely a great opportunity looming. We were unlucky this year and I’m sure with the new additions we can better our chances next year.”He continued: “Over the last few seasons I have played at centre and haven’t looked back. The style of footy here does suit me and I’m sure Lachlan (Coote) and Joseph Paulo think the same too.“It is entertaining for the fans so hopefully we can continue to build on that and give the fans something to cheer about.“I’m hoping the football I play is what Justin brought me here for; that’s being fast, explosive and creating opportunities on the edge.“That’s hopefully what I will continue to do and help put some points on the board.”Saints kick off the new season at home to Wigan on January 31.They beat the Warriors twice last season and will want to get their season off to the best possible start against the 2018 Champions.Tickets can be bought by calling into the Ticket Office at the Totally Wicked Stadium, telephoning 01744 455 052 or online here.last_img read more

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