The Labour party has been heavily criticised for again failing to defend disabled people from attacks on their rights, after its peers refused to vote against “discriminatory” cuts to the government’s new disability benefit.The House of Lords voted on Monday on a motion to “annul” new government regulations that will make it far harder for people with experience of severe mental distress to secure mobility support through personal independence payment (PIP).The motion was proposed by the Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Bakewell, and was supported by three crossbench disabled peers, Baroness [Jane] Campbell, Lord [Colin] Low and Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson.But because Labour peers abstained, the government won the vote by 164 to 75.Instead, Baroness Sherlock, Labour’s shadow work and pensions spokeswoman, proposed a weaker “motion of regret”, which was passed by 162 to 154 votes but left the regulations unaffected, although it did call on the government to review the impact of the changes within two years.Despite Labour politicians celebrating the vote as a victory, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) told Disability News Service (DNS) yesterday (Wednesday) that it would ignore the Lords motion and would not carry out such a review.Two days after the Lords debate, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams attacked the government for refusing to allow a meaningful vote in the Commons on the new regulations, even though Labour’s peers had abstained on just such a vote only 48 hours earlier.The government has scheduled a debate for 19 April, Abrahams said, but by then it will be too late to revoke the regulations, even if MPs vote against them.Marie Rimmer, the newly-appointed shadow minister for disabled people, attended yesterday’s emergency Commons debate, which had been secured by Abrahams, but did not speak, although it is not yet clear why.Rimmer had told DNS earlier that “responsibility for these Tory cuts lies exclusively with Theresa May’s government and her commitment to cut social security whilst cutting taxes for the richest.“Baroness Sherlock clearly explained that the un-elected House of Lords does not possess the power to overturn secondary legislation which has been accepted by the House of Commons.”Baroness Sherlock had actually told fellow peers on Monday that the Lords had overturned secondary legislation five times since 1945 and that such action should only be taken by peers in “exceptional circumstances”.But Baroness Campbell said on Monday (pictured) that the motion was an “exceptional circumstance”, and added: “I do not care that they have been debated and voted on only five times within a hundred years or whatever.“I will gladly support it now.”Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said today that it “deplores” Labour’s actions in the Lords, as Baroness Bakewell’s motion “might have succeeded” and was “certainly the last chance to prevent this measure coming into force”.DPAC said that by submitting the less powerful “regret motion”, Labour “effectively did the Tories’ work for them” by “spiking” Baroness Bakewell’s motion and replacing it with one that only asked for a review of the cut after two years.The DPAC statement said: “It would have been better if Labour had done nothing. To later discover that Labour presented this shabby climbdown as a victory just added insult to injury for disabled people who will lose out through this PIP cut.“And predictably the DWP have refused to hold a review, bringing a fitting end to this whole shameful saga.“Labour in the Lords seemingly have no interest and no intention of fighting for disabled people’s rights.”Labour has been repeatedly criticised for failing to stand up for disabled people’s rights over the last year.In December, Baroness Campbell attacked Labour’s “lazy indifference” to disability equality, after it abstained on a vote in the Lords that would have forced bars, shops and restaurants to ensure their premises obeyed laws on accessibility when renewing their alcohol licences.In November, Abrahams’ office invited a disabled people’s organisation to speak at the launch of her disability equality roadshow, and then withdrew the invitation after discovering that it wanted to talk about independent living.And questions have been raised over whether shadow chancellor John McDonnell ever wrote a letter he publicly promised to send to Labour-run councils to ask them to ring-fence government money they receive to compensate for the closure of the Independent Living Fund.The new PIP cuts came into force earlier this month and were brought in to reverse two upper tribunal rulings.The government’s decision to reverse the rulings means an estimated 164,000 claimants will not now be eligible for the mobility component of the benefit or will receive a lower level than they would have received.And an estimated 1,500 PIP claimants who need support to take medication and monitor a health condition will now either not be eligible for the PIP daily living payment or will receive a lower level.Baroness Campbell told fellow peers on Monday that the “impact of panic attacks and anxiety, not to mention schizophrenia, dementia and autism, on being able to ‘plan and follow a journey’ are equally fraught, if not more so, with profound obstacles than the effects of visual or physical impairments”.She described how a young woman who lived near her had experienced a severe anxiety attack on a train, which had led to the train stopping and the emergency services being called.She told peers: “This expensive scenario could have been avoided if her PIP had not been reduced from the high to standard rate award a couple of months ago, allowing her to continue paying for a travel companion or use taxis.“Her life has now been severely restricted.”She added: “It is a fundamental tenet of the Equality Act that there shall be no hierarchy of disability: we define a disabled person as someone with a ‘mental or physical impairment’.“We in this House have welcomed the prime minister’s commitment to parity of esteem between mental and physical health.“The amended regulations, sadly, completely depart from these vital principles.“They state, in effect, that disabled people may be equal but, just like in Orwell’s Animal Farm, some disabled people have become more equal than others.”Baroness Campbell said the cumulative effect of cuts to social care support, independent living entitlements and welfare benefits had “taken its toll on disabled people” and that it was becoming “increasingly tougher for them to participate in society as active citizens”.She said: “These changed regulations represent another departure and fly in the face of the prime minister’s ambition to create ‘a society that works for everyone’.”Lord Low said the new regulations were “a clear breach of faith with the disability community”.He said mental health and other disability charities had supported the introduction of PIP in 2012 after the government assured them that people with mental health problems would not be able to score points only “under the criterion which used the words ‘psychological distress’”.He said: “The regulations are in clear breach, if not of a manifesto commitment on this occasion, then certainly of pledges given to those with mental health problems in 2012.”He added: “I believe these regulations are trying to move the goalposts by excluding people who experience psychological distress from eligibility for the higher number of points necessary for the higher rate of mobility component.“In doing so, they effectively discriminate against people with mental health problems.”The Liberal Democrat disabled peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas, who speaks for her party on work and pensions issues in the Lords, said: “The disorders likely to be affected, according to the DWP, range from schizophrenia and autism to bipolar affective disorder and cognitive disorder.“So much for parity of esteem between physical and mental health.”She said: “Is it not yet another tightening of the screw around the whole independent living project, which is assailed on every side?“These regulations should be set aside to await proper consultation.”But one disabled peer, the Conservative Lord Shinkwin, said he supported the government’s position.He said: “I believe the taxpayer does not have a problem with someone needing assistance as a result of difficulties in navigating – for example, if they are blind.“Taxpayers surely understand that conditions such as visual impairments and learning disabilities, where these are severe and enduring, are much less likely to fluctuate than, for example, psychological distress.“Indeed, it makes sense that people who cannot navigate due to a visual or cognitive impairment are likely to have a higher level of need and therefore face higher costs.”He then appeared to suggest that he could not support providing the extra mobility benefits for people with severe mental distress until his local council stopped handing him parking tickets.He complained that Lambeth council had been fining him for parking on yellow lines because he could not find anywhere to park after returning home late from working in the Lords, and that it had refused to provide him and other disabled people with their own parking bays.He said: “This is just one example of why we urgently need to join the dots on disability if more disabled people are, as we all want, to live independently and work.“Until we join those dots, I cannot in all honesty justify expecting taxpayers to be even more generous in helping to meet the extra costs of living with a disability, when the state itself imposes such indefensible extra costs on disabled people.”Lord [Chris] Holmes, who in January ended his terms as disability commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and another disabled Tory peer, also voted with the government against both motions, but did not speak in the debate.The junior work and pensions minister Lord Henley insisted that the regulations were “not a policy change” and were just “bringing clarity” to the legislation.He said: “It is inaccurate to describe this as a cut: it is merely the reassertion of the original policy intention.“In PIP, we have ensured parity of treatment between mental and physical conditions.“It achieves that by looking at the overall needs of an individual, not just what conditions they have.“The whole point – if I can put it this way – of the PIP assessment is to distinguish between those differing levels of need. There is no discrimination in that.”He repeated the government’s claim that there were more people with mental health conditions receiving the higher rates of both PIP components than the DLA equivalents, with 28 per cent of PIP recipients with a mental health condition receiving the enhanced rate mobility component, compared with 10 per cent of DLA recipients with a mental health condition who had received the higher rate DLA mobility component.
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… Disabled people’s organisations have reacted with suspicion and some hostility to the outgoing prime minister’s attempt to shore up her “legacy” with a series of disability-related announcements.Although some of the measures announced by Theresa May (pictured) were welcomed, many user-led organisations questioned why she had left it until the last days of her time in office to launch what she said was a “new drive to tackle barriers faced by disabled people”.In last October’s speech of more than 7,000 words to her party’s annual conference, May failed to make a single mention of disability or disabled people.But this week, as she prepared to be replaced as prime minister by Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt later this summer, she announced a “new approach to disability”.She failed to point out that the government has issued no updates or progress reports on its discredited Fulfilling Potential disability strategy since November 2015, eight months before she became prime minister.Her “new approach” includes a pledge to publish new figures on “outcomes” for disabled people, but she failed to mention that the government has not published any updates to previous outcome figures since a Fulfilling Potential progress report in 2015.That report revealed that the proportion of disabled people who said they frequently had choice and control over their lives plunged from 77 per cent in 2010 to just 66 per cent in 2013.There was tentative approval this week from disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) to the announcement that the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) would move in November from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to the Cabinet Office, as part of a new “equalities hub at the heart of government”.But there were still concerns that this could see the government’s focus on disability equality further weakened.May also announced that there would be another work and pensions green paper, focusing on disability benefits, as well as new rights for disabled employees to request workplace adjustments, and reform of statutory sick pay.And there was a pledge from Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, that the government was now “committed to strengthening the evidence base on disability and to improve engagement with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations”.In February, in a meeting with his predecessor, Sarah Newton, DPOs repeated their concerns at the government’s continuing failure to understand the principles around engagement with disabled people and DPOs, as laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).Tomlinson also said the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy would “improve consumer outcomes for disabled people” by developing a measure of how well different companies “deliver for disabled customers in essential markets”.One widely welcomed announcement this week was that the government could finally tighten mandatory accessibility standards on new housing, although this will still be subject to a consultation.This is likely to mean changes to building regulations so that the optional M4(2) accessibility standard – a series of design criteria intended to make homes more easily adaptable for lifetime use – becomes instead a mandatory minimum standard for all new housing.Only last October, housing secretary James Brokenshire ignored the crisis in accessible housing in his speech to the Tory party’s annual conference in Birmingham.May also ignored the issue in her own conference speech, making no mention of the need to build homes to inclusive design standards, despite devoting a significant chunk of her speech to housing.Brokenshire’s department had been criticised two months earlier by disabled campaigners and the equality watchdog after his new social housing green paper failed to include a single mention of the accessible housing crisis.The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) warned last year that more than 350,000 disabled people in England had unmet housing needs.Number 10 had failed by noon today (Thursday) to say whether there will still be a separate disability unit as part of the hub.It also failed to explain why the prime minister waited until shortly before leaving office to try to address the barriers facing disabled people.The response from DPOs this week to May’s announcements was mixed, with some frustrated and even hostile over her attempts to secure a legacy with a series of last-minute pledges on disability that she herself will not be able to follow through on.Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said many of the announcements were “the re-starting of work the government should be doing but made a political decision to stop doing years ago, like the collection of data on disabled people’s outcomes”.She welcomed the decision to move ODI away from DWP, but she said May failed to mention the need to develop a new disability equality strategy.She said: “At a time when the UN found this government to be systematically violating disabled people’s human rights, when hundreds of thousands of us lost our independence and became prisoners in our homes because of devastating cuts to social care, when our community are amongst the most affected by the punitive welfare reform and when we continue to face discrimination on a daily basis and are unable to challenge it, we need much more than this.”Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said May was trying to invent a legacy when she had been a “massive failure” as prime minister.He said: “It’s good to see now that at her leaving, when she has no power, she has suddenly discovered a raft of policies that could benefit disabled people and reduce the exclusions and discrimination we face, which her government helped make worse.“Now we positively know you just did nothing, despite knowing better. “As it’s down to her successor to shape policy, we can imagine that her left-overs will carry little weight.” Paula Peters, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said May’s announcement “smacks of total hypocrisy”.She said: “May talks about the injustices disabled people face. The Tory government have caused the hostile environment disabled people are subjected to on a daily basis.“This government are guilty of violating our human rights under UNCRPD and causing a human catastrophe in disabled people’s lives. “This announcement is a huge insult to disabled people who are living in poverty due to this government and have become further marginalised in society.”Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said there was “much to be welcomed” in May’s statement, particularly the new “cross governmental approach to disability”.But he said this “has to lead to real change in disabled people’s day to day experience.“Too often we see fanfare announcements with very limited effect; they seem to wither into inconsequentiality when they are scrutinised for impact.”He welcomed the housing, work and engagement announcements, but added: “Warm words around supporting disabled people to be part of our society cannot, do not and will not replace benefits and social care packages which have been slashed because of a paucity of resources.”Brian Hilton, digital campaigns officer for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), said: “Whilst GMCDP welcomes any measures that improve opportunities for disabled people, we are yet to be convinced that these announcements will amount to any real positive changes.“The more cynical amongst us might argue that this is a desperate attempt by a government in its final throes trying to paper over more than a decade of harsh and vindictive cuts rained down upon disabled people.”He added: “GMCDP would be overjoyed if there was any real evidence of a commitment from central government to improving housing for disabled people, but sadly there is not.“The government says it will consult on new measures, but the evidence is already available as to what is needed and that is action, not kicking the problem into the long grass of consultation and industry prevarication and extended implementation periods. “What we need are ambitious targets that redress the current imbalance and significant fines for developers that fail to deliver.”Hilton said GMCDP would engage with the government’s new equalities hub but, he said, “if they want to draw upon our skills, knowledge and experience we will insist on being reimbursed for our time”.Disability Labour said the announcement was “a cynical ploy pretending to improve disabled people’s lives without looking at the root causes for our exclusion and increased death rate”.Fran Springfield, Disability Labour’s co-chair, said: “What is needed is a reform of the benefits systems and the scrapping of universal credit so disabled people are not sanctioned or denied the right to benefits whilst they challenge the target driven refusal of their claim.“The new ‘equalities hub’ sounds good on paper, but will it have enforcement powers?“Will DPOs and disabled people really be involved and have their expertise respected and included in all decision making?“There needs to be disability impact assessments, with implementation criteria in every government department for every government policy or initiative.”She added: “Will any of these policies actually be followed through by her successor or will they be quietly forgotten?“Neither of the Tory candidates to be prime minister has a record of disability equality and inclusion.”The Spinal Injuries Association welcomed the “new drive to tackle barriers faced by disabled people”, particularly through the plans for higher access standards for new housing, but a spokesperson said the proposals must be “backed up with appropriate resources”.Among the areas not addressed by the prime minister, he said, were the problems caused by benefit cuts, “shortfalls in health and social care funding” and restrictions on Access to Work funding.
PLAYERS from St Helens have bared all in a naked photo shoot to support Sport Relief.Team captain Paul Wellens and forward Jon Wilkin braved the elements on Sunday to pose in the cold, wearing nothing but a smile and specially made rugby Sport Relief socks.They are inspiring the people of St Helens to enter the Manchester Sainsbury’s Sport Relief Mile, or one of dozens of Miles happening across the North West, on Sunday March 25 and support the Rugby Football League’s partnership with Sport Relief.The boys got their kit off to encourage local supporters to enter the Sport Relief Mile later this month where thousands of people are expected to do one, three or six miles to raise money for disadvantaged people in the North West, across the UK and the world’s poorest countries. The players had to man up and strip off before posing in the buff, with only a strategically placed rugby ball to cover their modesty.Teams taking part in the Stobart Super League, the top-level professional Rugby League competition in Europe, have also agreed to do their bit for Sport Relief. Round Eight of this year’s competition is dedicated to Sport Relief, which means every game will be played with an official Sport Relief branded ball and players from the 14 participating clubs will be wearing Sport Relief socks.The Saints was one of 11 clubs from the Super League who have gone the extra mile to get people from all over the country to participate in the hundreds of Mile events happening across the length and breadth of the country on Sunday March 25.Jon Wilkin said: “I’m not in the habit of taking my clothes off but I’m making an exception for Sport Relief. I’ve played some really fierce rugby and have been involved in some really tough tackles, but nothing compares with the terror of bearing all in the buff! Still, Paul and I have really enjoyed today and hope that we can encourage everyone from St Helens to take part in a Sport Relief Mile on Sunday March 25 and the Super League themed round later in the month.”This year, more than one million people are expected to pull up their Sport Relief socks and take part in the Sainsbury’s Sport Relief Mile across the country. The money raised will support people living unimaginably tough lives, both on our doorsteps in the UK and across the world’s poorest countries. Enter the flagship Manchester Mile, or one of dozens of Mile events happening across the North West, right now at www.sportrelief.com.Or go the extra mile in a pair of Sport Relief socks available from Sainsbury’s in store and online at Sainsburys.co.uk and in Fitness First clubs.St Helens are also arranging their one fundraising activity for Sport Relief by visiting primary schools across St Helens on Friday March 23 to do mile runs at each school ahead of the School’s Sport Relief day on the Friday.On Sunday March 25, the club is encouraging fans to park in the town centre car park and walk the mile to the ground for the match against Leeds Rhinos where there will be bucket collections along the way.You can donate to Saints’ Sport Relief site by clicking here.
SCDF is delighted to announce that they have teamed up with the Guide Dog Association to supply people in St.Helens who require a guide dog, with a companion.The latest data from the Guide Dog Association reveals that there are four people in our Community waiting for a guide dog and Stuart has already set the ball rolling with the purchase of our very own guide dog generously paid for by Friends of the Foundation fundraising programme. The dog has been appropriately named, ‘Boots’ – pictured.The guide dogs however are costly at £5,000 each (including training) and we need the help from members of our fantastic community to raise the remaining £15,000.Steve Leonard SCDF Director said: “This is a fantastic support venture that would surpass anything we have ever done if we can achieve it. Just think of the difference we will be making to seven people who are from our own community.“Allowing them to do the things that you and I take for granted. I know the people of St Helens and the way we look after our own, so please do what you can to raise that all important £15,000.“The foundation has started the ball rolling and will be parading ‘Boots’ the guide dog at an upcoming Saints home game. Look out for all the ways you can assist and together we can achieve this and send a message to the rest of the sporting world.“Thanks in advance of your kind generosity. If you need any reason to donate, then please take time to read Stuarts story below. This was just another day in Stuart’s life.”This is Stuart’s story…. “It seemed just an ordinary day but in the evening I was freezing, shivering and the pain in my arm was getting worse. My wife wanted me to go to the Walk in Centre to be checked over, but I refused initially saying I would be OK. As the evening progressed my daughters also started nagging me to go to see a medic, so I agreed for Janine to take me.“However, when we got into the car Janine made the decision that I was too ill for the Walk In Centre and we drove straight to our local A&E. The A&E team sent me for a CT scan, but as I was in so much pain I couldn’t sit still enough to go through the scanner. I then took a turn for the worse, the MET team were called and they rushed me into theatre.“I was operated on and when they opened up my arm, they saw I had necrotising fasciitis with sepsis that had developed into septic shock. They debrided the infection from my arm, and I was then sent to the Intensive Therapy Unit.“A day later there was still no improvement and I was taken back to theatre; there my arm was amputated to try and save my life. My kidneys failed and I was put on dialysis, my whole body swelled to double the size and it was touch and go for about 10 days.“When I came round, I told the nurses and Janine that I couldn’t see. Initially, we thought it was due to the medication I had been on and that it was temporary however as time went on and as we saw more specialists we realised it was permanent – not only had I lost my dominant arm but I was completely blind too.“It has been so hard over the last four years, but I am just starting to get out a bit more and I help at a blind school to help other people who are losing their sight. I have also trained with guide dogs which I believe will be a massive help for those who do not have sight. Guide dogs can Help those without sight leave their homes with assistance, guide dogs can be used for individuals who are physically active, or not.”If you would like to donate to this fantastic cause, and help Saints Community Development Foundation make a positive difference within our communities please CLICK HERE or email [email protected] to donate or make a cheque payable to SCDF Ltd that will go straight into the appeal.Follow the great work of Saints Community Development Foundation on social media:Twitter – @communitysaintsInstagram – @communitysaintsFacebook – Saints Community Development Foundation