Three disabled peers have led fresh efforts to halt government plans to cut £1, 500 a year from hundreds of thousands of claimants of out-of-work disability benefits.The House of Lords overwhelmingly passed an amendment – later rejected by MPs* – by the disabled crossbench peer Lord [Colin] Low that would have delayed the measure until the government had researched its impact on people’s health, income and ability to return to work.The government proposal would mean a loss of about £30 a week for new employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) from April 2017.Peers heard this week that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) had written to a Labour MP raising concerns about the impact assessments carried out by the government for the welfare reform and work bill.EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said in the letter that the government’s analysis relating to the WRAG cut was “very limited”, while the assessments as a whole “contain very little in the way of evidence”.Lord Freud said the amendment would “substantially delay implementation” of the WRAG cut, possibly until 2020, and accused Lord Low of “a delaying tactic that undermines conventional parliamentary process”.But Lord Low (pictured during the debate) replied: “The minister said it would be an expensive and time-consuming matter to provide the information my amendment calls for, but I would say that if the government do not already have this kind of information they should not seek to implement such a drastic cut to ESA in the first place.”His fellow disabled crossbench peer, Baroness [Jane] Campbell, said that for the government to suggest the cut would incentivise disabled people to work was “deeply flawed and, frankly, quite offensive”.She said that disabled people in the WRAG faced “multiple costly barriers in finding work and in just living from day to day”, including managing their conditions and getting to work and staying in work, such as inaccessible transport, offices and information systems, and employers’ attitudes.She said the government should not be asking peers to vote for such a measure until it had published its planned white paper on employment support for disabled people later this year.She said: “It is nonsense to make such drastic changes to the financial support received by disabled people in the WRAG before the House knows what a reformed employment and support system will look like in the future.“The government are asking us today to take a massive leap of faith in their future policy intentions. This is a huge gamble with people’s lives and survival, and I am not prepared to take it.”A third disabled crossbench peer, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, also attacked the government’s proposals.She said: “It almost feels as if we are putting the blame on disabled people, trying to fix them and not understanding the barriers that they face getting into work.“Reducing the gap between those who are economically inactive through sickness and those who are unemployed throws away all recognition of those who are facing hardship through sickness and through no fault of their own.”Lord Low’s amendment was passed by 289 votes to 219.The Lords had previously thrown out the WRAG measure – again through a Lord Low amendment to the bill – but Tory MPs reinstated it into the bill last week.Welfare reform minister Lord Freud had attempted to win over peers by offering concessions that would see an extra £15 million for support for WRAG claimants from jobcentres, and removing the 52-week limit on how long WRAG claimants can carry out up to 16 hours of “permitted work” a week while still claiming ESA.But Lord Low said the concessions were “just not enough”, while Baroness Campbell said they would “do little to address these barriers that have nothing to do with sorting out the individual but have everything to do with sorting out society”.Last week, Disability News Service reported that the government was likely to face legal action if it pushed ahead with the WRAG cut.Disabled People Against Cuts has taken advice from a barrister, and has been told that a legal challenge – arguing that the group of disabled people affected would be discriminated against under the Equality Act – has a good chance of success, but could only be taken once the cut had been implemented.*Last night, MPs threw out Lord Low’s amendment, by 309 to 274 votes. It will return to the Lords but it is likely that peers will now be forced to admit defeat and allow the WRAG cut to go ahead
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… Ministers are refusing to say if they acted on the recommendations of a secret review that linked the death of a benefit claimant with the “threatening” conditions they were forced to accept when signing up to universal credit.The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has breached freedom of information laws by failing to say whether it followed the recommendation by one of its own internal process reviews to make universal credit’s so-called “claimant commitment” less threatening following the death.DWP’s failure came as the chancellor, Philip Hammond, attempted in this week’s budget to calm concerns about the rollout of the troubled new system by announcing extra funding of £1 billion over five-and-a-half years that he said would help the migration of claimants of other benefits onto universal credit from next year.He also announced £1.7 billion a year to increase universal credit work allowances.But critics have said the extra money will do little to address growing concerns that flaws at the heart of the universal credit system are exposing disabled people and other claimants to strict conditions and sanctions, resulting in severe mental distress and extreme poverty.Only last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how an autistic woman said she had been left without vital financial support for nearly two years because she could not cope with the face-to-face interview she had to undergo to complete her universal credit claim.Now DWP is facing questions over why it is refusing to say if it followed the recommendations of its own internal review to make the claimant commitment less threatening, following the death of a universal credit claimant.Only the barest details of the death are available, describing only the recommendations made by the review.But those details show that a panel of reviewers who examined the circumstances around the death concluded that it seemed “excessive” for DWP to include eight references to benefit sanctions and how much money a claimant would lose if they breached their claimant commitment.The claimant commitment sets out the “responsibilities” that a claimant has to accept in return for receiving universal credit, and “the consequences of not meeting them”.An examination of guidance on the claimant commitment on DWP’s website suggests – although it does not prove – that the department has ignored the panel’s recommendation, as it has not been updated since April 2016. The claimant commitment review was carried out at some point between April 2016 and June 2018.Following a freedom of information request submitted by DNS, DWP had 20 working days to say whether it had followed the panel’s recommendation to “reconsider the wording of the Claimant Commitment”, along with recommendations made in 11 other internal process reviews, all of which were carried out between April 2016 and June 2018, and all but three of which examined circumstances that led to the death of a benefit claimant.But DWP’s freedom of information department failed to respond to the request submitted by DNS on 28 September, breaching its Freedom of Information Act duties.DWP’s press office refused to comment on the failure to respond to the request, other than to say that its freedom of information team would “be in touch”.A DWP spokeswoman refused to say why the team had failed to respond to the request.Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that universal credit – which combines six income-related benefits into one – is “rotten to the core” with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced.In June, a report by the National Audit Office said DWP was failing to support “vulnerable” claimants and was unable to monitor how they were being treated under universal credit.And in July, employment minister Alok Sharma was asked by MPs on the Commons work and pensions committee why the benefits of hundreds of sick and disabled universal credit claimants were apparently being sanctioned, even though they should not have had to meet any of the strict conditions imposed by the system.In the same month, further concerns were raised by the committee about disabled people with high support needs who have to claim universal credit and face the possibility of strict conditions – such as being forced to carry out hours of job searches every week – as they wait for a work capability assessment.
A disabled campaigner has told London’s walking and cycling commissioner that all shared space street developments should be halted because they are too dangerous for disabled and older people.Dr Tom Pey (pictured, second from left), chief executive of the Royal Society for Blind Children and a leading opponent of shared space developments, said such schemes were based on “flawed” principles and caused a minority of drivers to become “more angry and reckless”.He said:“Why would we want… reckless drivers driving around in places where there areno footpaths?”Shared spaceschemes often remove kerbs and controlled crossings from a street, encouragingvehicles, pedestrians and cyclists to share the same space, posing greaterrisks for partially-sighted and blind people, as well as other disabled people,including many of those who are neuro-diverse, or have mobility impairments,learning difficulties or are deaf.Pey was speaking at the Access AllAreas event onaccessible transport, organised by Transport for London (TfL), and was sharing a stage with themayor of London’s walking and cycling commissioner, Dr Will Norman. Norman (pictured, third from left) stressed that the priorities of the mayor’s transport strategy for the capital’s roads were the needs and safety of pedestrians, cyclists, users of mobility aids and public transport, and a key target was to reduce unnecessary car journeys.But he repeatedlydeclined to comment on the mayor’s policy on shared spaces.Pey said Normanshould not try to “conflate” the issue of encouraging pedestrians and cyclistswith shared spaces. He said itwas a “research fact” that shared spaces created a less safe environment.He said: “Sharedspace started in Holland, in continental Europe, where they are [now] beingabandoned because they do not work for disabled people. “Researchshows that where there is a shared space, disabled people just don’t go thereanymore because it isn’t safe.”Norman saidcities like London “always need new solutions” and new types of infrastructure.He said: “Dowe always get them right all the time? No. Will we sit down and work withpeople? Yes, and we’ve got a track record of doing that.”But Norman thengave an example of how TfL had installed zebra crossings across bus stop bypassschemes – where the bus stop is placed on an island, with pedestrians forced tocross a cycle lane to reach it – a solution heavily criticised last month by NationalFederation of the Blind of the UK.In January, NFB UK filmed a succession ofcyclists riding through a zebra crossing introduced as part of a bus stopbypass scheme in Manchester, even though a blind man with a white cane waswaiting with his cane on the crossing.Pey toldNorman: “I don’t want to sound hyper-critical of TfL but I think what would bereally helpful would be if we took this shared space, a bit like a No DealBrexit, if we took it off the table and then everybody can sit down and signup… to a city that is safer. “It’s notjust disabled people who find it difficult to navigate in London, it’s olderpeople, it’s visitors, it’s lots of people, and we have got to find anintegrated solution for this. “We all haveto learn how to do things differently, including the regulators of this city.”TfL had notresponded by noon today (Thursday) to a request from Disability News Servicefor clarification on its policy on shared space developments.But it says95 per cent of its bus stops are now accessible, while there are more than 200step-free stations across its network, including 78 London Underground (LU) stations,58 overground stations, six TfL-run rail stations and all Docklands LightRailway stations and tram stops. Eight more undergroundstations are set to be step-free by March 2020, with work underway at a furtherseven.The AccessAll Areas event also included workshops and an exhibition of accessibilityinnovations, including an electric bus and taxi, a driverless car, and a newStation Real Time Information App.The app allows LU station staff to report station incidents that may affect passenger journeys, such as a lift going out of service, and also allows LU staff to record disabled passengers who wish to use TfL’s Turn Up and Go service, which provides assistance to disabled passengers who have not booked help in advance.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…
Poor execution and a soft attitude cost them the chance of securing two points – and it is something they need to fix up ahead of the local clash according to the interim coach.“It doesn’t get any better watching it back,” Long said. “The only good thing we can do is learn from it. We didn’t take our opportunities when we should have done.“We also probably started a little soft, didn’t turn up with the right attitude and didn’t give Widnes enough respect as a group. On the flipside, I thought Widnes were outstanding. It was the best they had played for a long time.“But we have to learn from it and tidy up where we can get better.“We have had a tough Easter period. We played against Wigan with 12 men, took on league leading Castleford and then played a local derby. It takes it out of the boys. We had a few players out but I do believe the side we had out on Friday was more than capable of putting in a good performance and getting the win.“I know as a player it is hard to keep backing up and being 100 per cent all the time but there may have been a few out there who thought it may have been easier than they thought – and you can’t do that in Super League.”Long expects Ryan Morgan, Luke Douglas and Tommy Makinson to return this Friday with Adam Walker also having a good chance too after a stellar performance in the Reserves.He came off the bench to help Saints ease to a 34-26 victory over Warrington.James Roby and Jonny Lomax won’t face the Centurions but could come back the following week.Long continued: “No disrespect to Leigh but the focus this week is on ourselves. We have played them once, we know what they are all about and they have already beaten us once. This week the focus is purely on ourselves and getting our attack right.“The defence has been looking good all year but we need to tidy up stuff with our attack.“We have tried to implement stuff in video sessions which is hard as we have not been on the field over the Easter period. It will be good for us to get out on the field to put it into practice.“They have got a massive pack and good strike so we know we are going to get challenged. Hopefully we will throw the ball about a little bit more and turn up with a better attitude. Hopefully we can focus on us and get a victory in front of our own fans.“They were brilliant against Cas and to do it in front of them would be brilliant.“We can’t turn off. We have to stick with what we do and show the rest of the teams in this league we are mentally strong and can challenge for those big games.”Tickets for the game, which kicks off at 8pm, are on sale from the Ticket Office at the Totally Wicked Stadium, by calling 01744 455 052 or online here.