Equality for disabled people

What do you think? • Have 5 years of the Equality Act made any difference for disabled people? • Will House of Lords review of equality legislation make any improvement for disabled people? • Do disabled people face systemic and institutionalised discrimination?

There has been a recent call for evidence from The House of Lords Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability as part of their review of whether the legislation is working for disabled people.   Drawing on previous blogs over a couple of years, I sent them the following comments – and couldn’t hope to cover all the other areas in which we still aren’t getting an equal chance.

Without doubt, five years of legislation have had limited positive benefit for disabled people and, in some ways, their situation is probably worse.  This is particularly true in relation to the failings of the Public Sector Equality Duties. The Government initiative to enable disabled people to fulfil their potential and have equality of opportunity by 2025 has become a creature of smoke and mirrors, shackled by austerity cuts, deaf to the legislation’s demands during policy creation and blinkered to it’s requirements in delivery.  The generous amongst us may believe these failings are simply oversights of lazy, broad-brush policy thinkers whereas the more cynical may perceive systemic and institutionalised discrimination emanating from the very heart of the nation’s public sector.  Would other laws be flouted so blatantly?  How can we possibly hope that employers, businesses and others will comply and make a difference when it is so obvious that the public sector does not?

 Perhaps the answer is really simple?  The majority of “disabled” people (about two thirds of us according to the Office for Disability Issues research) wouldn’t use this label about themselves.   So we are very unlikely to have any homogenous coordinated political voice.  Would another 20% of the electorate be ignored so consistently?

 One wonders how these public policies, practices and procedures will be squared with the protection afforded by the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People when the UK’s performance is next reviewed.

 Just a few examples of issues that have been publicly evidenced over recent years:

Life chances:

  • Prisoners.  The 2014 Ministry of Justice report was lamentable (out-of-date data and disability definitions) but did reveal that the proportion of prisoners with limiting long-term health conditions was about twice that in the general population.  Does this mean that, as a nation, we manage some impairments through the criminal justice system or does the system itself create those impairments – or both?  We are probably unimpressed by other nations that imprison disproportionate numbers of those from, say, ethnic minorities but seem to barely raise an eyebrow at similarly skewed outcomes of our home-grown justice system.
  • Bedroom Tax.  There is a disproportionately higher level of disabled people in social housing.  They are more likely to be receiving housing benefits.  It is good news that there has been more flexibility in waiving “bedroom tax” for those disabled people who need extra space for their impairment-related equipment.    But how were their needs considered when the policy was created and the rules designed?
  • Disproportionately poor health outcomes.  The Chief Medical Officer’s 2014 report highlighted that people with visual (like me) or hearing impairments are more likely to acquire dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, other long-term health conditions, anxiety or stress and have less confidence in managing our health.    Yet suggestions to her that a key issue is the failure of the health sector to communicate effectively with us using alternative formats, auxiliary aids etc received just the response that Equality Act compliance rests with individual health providers.  So where is the leadership and policy drive to redress the situation and implement the legislation?  The consequences are not just discriminatory but life threatening.

Employment issues.  My primary interest area:

  • Increased age requirements for State pensions.  Expecting people to work longer before they can claim their state Retirement Pension goes hand-in-hand with an ageing population.  But does all the supporting policy make this feasible for that majority of disabled people who acquire their impairments during their working lives (some 70% according to DWP).  It is very well known that propensity for disability increases with age (under 5% of those starting their careers which more than quadruples to 23% of those approaching retirement).  So, let’s have the policy but make sure that it works in reality by tailoring and delivering employment legislation, practices and support accordingly rather than jeopardising the livelihoods of even more people with impairments.
  • Work Programme and Work Choice.  The original concept was good: help people to get back to work.    But it needed much more attention to practical realities to avoid disproportionate outcomes for disabled people.  Instead, flawed funding models, poor contract management and insufficient specialist delivery has left those facing most work barriers still on the shelf.  Overall, it looks as if the improvement in the economy is probably the biggest factor in the employability of jobseekers whereas publicly-funded employment support has more potential impact amongst disabled benefit claimants.  But this depends on good delivery: holistic, individual, specialist, tailored, flexible, local with all adjustments in place and empathetic, experienced front-line teams – so quite different from much current delivery.
  • Employment and Support Allowance, Work capability Assessments and Access To Work (ESA, WCA and ATW).  These should be the three pillars that help disabled people get back to work.  But a 2014 Select Committee report described WCA as de-humanising and distressing, stressful, confusing, uncertainty and more.  Another Select Committee report the same year was similarly highly critical of the ATW system for providing in-work support for disabled people and said it required substantial improvement (and those self-employed have had a particularly hard time).   So, with two legs buckling if not actually broken, are the policies properly in place to give us equality of opportunity?  Instead, it seems that unlawful discrimination and harassment are endemic in the delivery systems.
  • New Enterprise Allowance.  Where is the evidence that the policy design and delivery detail for this initiative took account of the needs of disabled people?    It should have been a basic consideration that then merited even higher attention because disabled people are the largest and most costly group of unemployed people and, as shown by the 2011 Census, those who work are more likely to be self-employed than their non-disabled peers.  Of course, some disabled entrepreneurs will have survived the judgemental processes and inadequate timescales but was the real potential of the initiative fully realised?  We receive phone calls and e-mails from across the UK each time one of our new disabled business owners is featured by the BBC –showing that the demand is there but the NEA is not hitting the mark.

Return to the old box-ticking equality impact assessment processes would just risk resistance to bureaucratic red tape.  But we know that one-size doesn’t fit all.  Instead those creating and delivering public policies need to undertake more robust success and risk impact assessments that address equality issues.  Where citizens with protected characteristics such as disability will be most affected by a policy, those characteristics need to be at the heart of decision making and delivery design in order to be successful.  “Most affected” means that disabled people (or other protected groups) may experience positive or negative consequences at disproportionately higher levels in relation to either/both the overall population or individual impact.

There is an untapped resource of experts with practical experience who can contribute to shared goals alongside those in the Government Departments that most affect disabled people.  Utilising them offers more chance of getting policy and delivery right from the outset rather than years of subsequent criticism and costly change.

Current enforcement seems patchy at best and very difficult for individuals to access.  While there is scope for improving enforcement, it is highly preferable for those in the public sector to be better motivated from the outset by recognising that effective consideration of disability issues will improve the success of their policies.  More carrot than stick!

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

In-work support for disabled people failing

Did you know? •Access To Work support highly criticised and needs substantial improvement says Parliamentary Committee. •Legal compliance seems optional for Access To Work and the Equalities Commission hasn’t managed to bring them to book. •Government more focussed on disabled people watching sport rather than whether we can work and pay for the tickets?

Access To Work is the scheme run by the Department for Work and Pensions to assist disabled people to work. It can provide funding for special equipment, some work travel, support workers and more. But the report published by a Parliamentary Select Committee on 19 December exposed how this vital support has failed to keep up with the efforts of Welfare Reform and the Work Programme in moving more disabled people in to work.
Published just as most people started their Christmas breaks, the report hasn’t had much visibility so it needs wider support if ATW is going to tackle the high unemployment rates amongst people with long-term health conditions . Here are points I’ve picked out of the summary:
•ATW needs substantial improvements.
•The Department seems to be trying to increase the number of people receiving ATW support but with only a slightly increased budget. This means that some people who have high support needs are bearing the brunt of the inadequate funding. My perception is that people are considered to be “Fit for Work” by the Work Capability Assessment process (with all it’s other well recognised flaws) on the basis that ATW support is available for those who need it – but that this is not backed up by sufficient funding to make it happen.
•It seems that savings from the closure of the Remploy factories that had been earmarked for ATW didn’t get transferred. Funding has been provided through the Work Programme but this has had very limited success in supporting people with long-term health conditions.
•ATW appears to focus primarily on people with sensory and physical impairments but there are many more people with a much larger spectrum of conditions that need help.
•Policy that caps support for Deaf people who use BSL interpreters needs urgent resolution. But it is disappointing that the report doesn’t show equal concern for others of us who need highly skilled support workers too. Some might consider that such a policy is indirect discrimination that DWP cannot justify and that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission should be on their case.
•There is no clear information about how ATW decisions are made and how they can be challenged. In practice, from my experience, the Department is deliberately not telling people that they can take disputes to the Independent Case examiner and the Parliamentary and Health services Ombudsman. It isn’t just or fair to deny us our rights.
•ATW is not taking adequate account of the full circumstances of self-employed people’s businesses. Again, it also seems that they have little appreciation of the circumstances of those running single person companies. This flies in the face of Census data that shows that working disabled people are more likely to be self-employed than others.
•Poor administration. Enough said.
•ATW staff need better disability awareness and communications need to be more accessible. From my perspective, it is staggering that a system aimed at supporting disabled people is not compliant with the Equality Act 2010 and that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission hasn’t taken a stance on this.
•The Department has introduced major changes but not told the people who will be affected! One feels rather mushroom-like …
As you may have guessed, I provided evidence to the Select committee and wouldn’t it be great if the ATW team talked to us who have had years more experience of the system than those who run it? From an individual perspective, I see no sign of any resolution to disputes that have been going on for months already. It feels as if the last 15 years working to help other disabled people get back in to employment is treated with utter contempt when now my future work prospects are put at risk rather than being supported by this system.
Perhaps the current survey in to the accessibility for spectators at sports events is timely – it looks as if I may have lots more leisure time in the future!

Disability Floristry Art

Disability Floristry Art

Bouquet of the week.
To all those disabled people who have been recognised in the New Year’s Honours List – we may not be able to identify you all but huge congratulations for making contributions to our society and setting great examples of just what is possible.

Yours respectfully,

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Benefit claimants de-humanised

Did you know? Society’s attitudes and the benefits system are vilifying, de-humanising and not helping the most vulnerable people.

Getting permanently “signed off” work with a sick note can seem great at the time when you are struggling with the onset of a major health problem and all its consequences. But it can shorten your life expectancy by several years. Other long-term health conditions, especially mental illnesses, are more likely too.
At the start, the security of benefits can seem like a lifeline when ever earning an income again seems impossible. But the growing trend of public vilification of those on benefits can bring other awful consequences.

The “Who Benefits?” report contains worrying data about how the general public’s attitude to benefit recipients has been increasingly negative over recent decades. And those attitudes themselves can have devastating impact on already fragile lives. The report used responses from people claiming a range of working age benefits (including disabled people):
•The highest proportion (36%) of respondents said that the reason they had/were receiving benefits was directly due to disability and a further 9% due to caring for a disabled person.
•Respondents reported encountering verbal abuse (15%) and physical abuse (4%) simply because they were receiving benefits – and their children can also suffer abuse for the same reason.
•38% of respondents said their confidence and self-esteem was affected and 31% said that their mental health was affected by negative public attitudes towards benefit claimants. (Yet, these are the vital factors that can influence someone’s likelihood of ever getting back to work. So the public attitudes, driven at least partly by media and political influences, directly contribute to higher unemployment and benefits dependency.)
•Respondents also reported less favourable treatment from key players because they were on benefits: 18% by employers, 18% by banks/financial services, 16% by landlords. (So a disabled job applicant may face double prejudice: due to their health and their benefits history).
•Respondents also reported feeling excluded by their friends (18%), communities (17%) and families (11%). (Even if these percentages reflect claimants feeling excluded from multiple relationships, they still represent a substantial proportion who feel isolated and may lack the networks that can improve their life and work chances.)
Many people want to get off benefits but the negative attitudes that are being generated make this increasingly difficult.
And The Guardian report indicates that the key employment interventions of the Work Capability Assessments (WCA) and Work Programme may further reduce job prospects and increase suicidal tendencies, suffering and sanctions amongst disabled benefit claimants.

Disability Cookery

Disability Cookery

Bouquets of the week.
To all those who rang me last Saturday and received rather short shrift: I was dripping with apricot glaze and other stickiness in the midst of decorating over a baker’s dozen Christmas cakes. I’m really grateful for their patience and understanding!

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Employment Support allowance (ESA) fails disabled people

Did you know? Employment and Support Allowance is failing disabled people and their desire to work: DWP shoots self in foot.

There was quite a flurry in the media this week about the Work and Pensions Select Committee report on this benefit – and, over recent years, criticism of its integral Work Capability Assessment has become toxic. My reading (Employment and Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments) of the report is that the WCA just isn’t good enough to identify the adjustments and support that people with health conditions/disabilities will need in order to work. Even when there is some information, it isn’t reaching the people who are assisting them back in to employment.
The Select Committee is recommending that the whole benefit should be re-designed – let’s hope that DWP uses the knowledge and experience of disabled people and their organisations to do this. After all, we all have the same goal and want a system that helps rather than hampers.
Even more alarming elements within the report are the experiences of disabled people: described as de-humanising and distressing, stressful, confusing and more. One wonders how these policies, practices and procedures can be squared with the protection afforded by equality legislation and the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People?

Disability Floristry Art

Disability Floristry Art

Bouquet of the week.
This goes to Theresa, my office support worker for nearly seven years. She’s been an absolute brick in keeping me sane amongst inaccessible documents and websites, helped me keep the Work for Yourself programme (www.businessability.co.uk) on track and been wonderfully cheerful throughout. She has grown and developed great professional skills and is ready to move on to her new career in education: helping more of us with extra challenges and needs.

Yours supportedly,

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000