Campaigners have questioned a series of claims by the minister for disabled people that there have been substantial improvements to major government disability programmes.Justin Tomlinson, who was appointed to the post in May, spoke this afternoon (Thursday) to two separate audiences of disabled people and campaigners.He claimed there had been substantial improvements to the Access to Work (AtW) scheme, and in the programme to introduce personal independence payment (PIP).He also attempted to justify government plans to cut £29 a week from the benefits of new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) from April 2017.Tomlinson first addressed a joint meeting of the all-party parliamentary disability group (APPDG) and the all-party parliamentary group on learning disability in Westminster, before heading across London to speak at the annual meeting of Disability Rights UK.He told the APPDG there had been “clear improvements” to AtW, with his department “speeding up the process” and increasing awareness of the scheme among small and medium-sized businesses.He also said there had been a “dramatic turnaround” in the PIP claim system, with four times more assessors, 200 more assessment centres, centres opening for longer hours and “improved communications with claimants”.He later told the DR UK event that PIP had had a “terrible start”, with a “terrible claimant journey”, but that “we have transformed it”.But he said he was “not complacent” and would ensure that the reassessment process of 1.3 million people on long-term disability living allowance, now underway, would proceed in “a controlled and measured way”, with weekly checks on how the system was coping so that this final stage of the PIP roll-out does not “compromise quality”.He attempted to justify the WRAG cut – which will see £640 million a year cut from disabled people’s benefits – by highlighting that only one per cent of those in the WRAG find sustainable work every month.He said there was “no way of describing that as anything other than unacceptable”, and said later that the WRAG top-up “was not meant to be an income boost”.He said: “That was not the intention when it was brought in. It was to provide direct support to get you into work.”Tomlinson told the APPDG that eventually an extra £100 million a year of those WRAG savings would be spent on employment support for disabled people.But Tomlinson’s claims were repeatedly disputed by disabled people and disability organisations who attended the two events.Tom Hendrie, from Cheshire Centre for Independent Living, told Tomlinson at the DR UK event: “A number of members are concerned about the way changes to local authority funding, the end of the Independent Living Fund, changes to benefits, have all come together in a perfect storm.”He asked if Tomlinson would encourage ministerial colleagues to attempt an assessment of the cumulative impact of all of the government’s reforms and cuts.Andrew Lee (pictured), director of policy and campaigns at People First Self-Advocacy, said at the APPDG: “I hear a lot about the government wanting more people to be in work, but as a person with learning difficulties myself, my experience is actually that there are more and more barriers to employment for disabled people.“The way the changes to Access to Work are hitting people with learning difficulties is one thing I know.”He said cuts to social care had forced him to cut his work hours so he could support his disabled wife.Lee said: “We do not get any support with things like form-filling, so we are running around everywhere trying to find someone to help us fill in our benefits assessment forms.”Mike Smith, chief executive of the London disabled people’s organisation Real, and former disability commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, asked Tomlinson at the DR UK event why the need for a national AtW scheme did not also apply to the Independent Living Fund, which the government closed in order to pass its funding to local authorities.Tomlinson did not appear to answer that question.Rebecca, a young disabled woman who spoke at the APPDG meeting, described her own experiences of claiming ESA and the difficulty of finding work, and said that cutting WRAG payments “could make life even more difficult for disabled people”.She said: “I need the money. Without it, I struggle.”She added: “I applied for so many jobs but I keep getting letters back saying they cannot accept me. I think it’s because I have a disability.“I find it really hard to have to explain that I could actually do the work.”Victoria Holloway, co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium, told Tomlinson at the APPDG that there was “no evidence whatsoever” that cutting WRAG payments would incentivise disabled people to find work.She said the move would instead move them further from the workplace, could mean people were unable to meet their essential living costs, and might even put some people’s recovery from ill-health at risk.A Mencap representative later asked Tomlinson for the evidence that cutting WRAG payments would “incentivise” disabled people to find work.He failed to make any reference to such evidence in his reply, but appeared to claim that the “incentive” was the extra money that would be available for employment support for disabled people.Gordon McFadden, chair of United Amputees, raised concerns about the quality of PIP assessments, and said that one contractor had been advertising for paramedics to carry out the tests, in addition to physiotherapists, nurses and doctors.McFadden told Disability News Service after the APPDG meeting that he had supported two people, both of whom had had both their legs amputated and were still turned down for the enhanced mobility rate of PIP, and told their Motability vehicles would be removed. Both decisions were only over-turned after McFadden became involved in their cases.Asked at the DR UK event whether he would look again at the decision to slash the qualifying distance for the enhanced rate of PIP mobility support from 50 metres to just 20 metres, Tomlinson said the department had “incredibly bright medical advisors who advise on the way of doing things”.He added: “We feel, based on the advice we have been given, it is the right thing to do but I recognise that most of you in the room do not [share that view].”Natalie McGarry, the SNP’s disability spokeswoman, told Tomlinson at the APPDG that disabled people placed in the WRAG had “already been found not fit for work”, and she told him that the government had apparently “not learned anything” from its failure to carry out preparatory work before the introduction of the bedroom tax.She said: “You are making their lives significantly more difficult but you are not changing their conditions, the barriers to work, or the work for people to get into.” And Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Debbie Abrahams, told the DR UK event, after Tomlinson’s departure: “As much as the minister provided a relatively rosy picture, I do not quite see things as he did.”She said she believed the cumulative impact of the new welfare reform and work bill on disabled people would be “very severe”.
Disabled people’s rights have regressed in at least nine areas since the coalition government assumed power in 2010, according to a new report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).The report concludes that disabled people are still being treated as “second-class citizens” and that rights have regressed in many areas of society, while in others progress has stalled.The report says: “It is a badge of shame on our society that thousands of disabled people in Britain are still not being treated as equal citizens and continue to be denied the everyday rights non-disabled people take for granted, such as being able to access transport, appropriate health services and housing, or benefit from education and employment.”The report, Being Disabled In Britain: A Journey Less Equal, aims to provide comprehensive evidence on disability inequality in Britain, and calls on disability groups to use its findings to “strengthen their case for change”, and on the UK and devolved governments to use it to improve laws and policies.The report examines progress on education; work; standard of living; health and care; justice and detention; and participation and identity, and says that disabled people are experiencing “disadvantages” in all of them.But the commission has also told Disability News Service (DNS) that it believes there has been a regression in rights in at least nine areas since 2010.One of these areas is the right to independent living, including the disproportionate effect of the government’s welfare reforms on disabled people.The report says that social security reforms have had a “particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact” on disabled people’s right to independent living and an adequate standard of living.It repeats its previous calls for the UK government to carry out an assessment of the cumulative impact of its cuts and reforms on disabled people, a demand that disabled activists have been making since at least 2011.Across the UK, according to the report, 18.4 per cent of working-age disabled people were considered to be in food poverty compared with 7.5 per cent of non-disabled people.Disabled people over the age of 65 were twice as likely as non-disabled people in the same age group to be in food poverty.The report also says there is a “growing body of anecdotal evidence” that the government’s welfare reforms, including the work capability assessment (WCA), are causing “significant harm and distress, particularly to people with mental health conditions, and that in some cases being found ineligible for Employment Support Allowance has resulted in suicide”.It points to an investigation by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland, research by academics from the universities of Liverpool and Oxford, and two prevention of future deaths letters, written by coroners and discovered originally by DNS, all of which have linked the WCA to the deaths of benefit claimants with mental health conditions.Other areas where there has been regression in disabled people’s rights include social isolation, with fewer opportunities for some disabled people to participate in the community; housing, with some disabled people being forced to move from adapted properties into unsuitable accommodation as a result of the government’s “bedroom tax”; and in healthcare, including the inappropriate use of “do not attempt resuscitation” orders.Other areas of regression include the inability to challenge detentions under mental health and mental capacity laws; discriminatory school exclusions, and – in Wales – the failure to protect disabled pupils from bullying; and the impact of government reforms on protection from employment discrimination.The report warns that detentions in health and social care settings under the Mental Health Act are continuing to increase in England and Wales, with the number of detentions in hospitals rising from 46,600 in 2009-10 to 63,622 last year.The report also points to regression as a result of government reforms to legal aid in England and Wales, which it says have harmed disabled people’s access to justice in family law, housing, employment, debt and benefits cases.The report says there was a 54 per cent drop in employment tribunal claims on the grounds of disability discrimination between 2012-13 and 2015-16, following the introduction of tribunal fees of up to £1,200 across Britain in July 2013.In new analysis carried out for the report on the Office for Disability Issues’ Life Opportunities Survey, the commission found that the proportion of disabled people who found it difficult to access public services (health, benefits, tax, sport and leisure) rose from 37.9 per cent in 2009-11 to 45.3 per cent in 2012-14, compared to a rise from 26.2 per cent to 31.7 per cent of non-disabled people.The report also calls again on the government to reopen its Access to Elected Office fund, which offered grants to disabled people to pay for their additional impairment-related costs in standing for election as a councillor or MP, and has been lying dormant since the 2015 general election.This week’s report draws mostly on previously-published research and analysis – including seven DNS stories – but also includes new analysis of published data.David Isaac, the commission’s chair, says in the report: “The Equality Act 2010 has still not been implemented in full, the [UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities] has not been incorporated into domestic law and policy, life chances for disabled people remain very poor, and public attitudes to disabled people have changed very little.”Commenting on the report, he added: “This evidence can no longer be ignored. Now is the time for a new national focus on the rights of the 13 million disabled people who live in Britain.“They must have the same rights, opportunities and respect as other citizens.“We must put the rights of disabled people at the heart of our society. We cannot, and must not, allow the next 20 years to be a repeat of the past.”When asked how the minister for disabled people responded to the watchdog’s conclusion that disabled people were still being treated as second-class citizens, that their rights had regressed in some areas, and social security reforms had had a “particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact” on disabled people’s rights to independent living and an adequate standard of living, a DWP spokesman said: “We are committed to ensuring that a disability or health condition should not dictate the path a person is able to take in life.“The UK is a world leader in this area and we are proud of the work we do to support people with disabilities and health conditions, to increase opportunities and tackle inaccessibility.“Not only do we spend over £50 billion a year to support disabled people and those with health conditions – more of our GDP than Japan, Canada and France – we also offer a wide range of tailored and effective support.“Our focus is on helping disabled people find and stay in work, whilst providing support for those who can’t.”But Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “This new report makes sombre and disappointing reading, and highlights the unfairness disabled people continue to face, day in and day out.“As a society, we say we want progress towards disabled people taking a full part in society; but instead we appear to be going backwards. “We need concrete plans from government, with outcomes measured regularly, to ensure we get back on track.“We welcome the EHRC report and are keen to work with them and others to tackle discrimination.”
ALEX Walmsley cannot wait to get started at the Saints.The 22-year-old joined from Batley on a three-year contract and has already linked up with his new teammates.“It is going to be a massive jump, it was big enough going from Dewsbury Celtic up to Batley,” he said. “To go up another notch is an even bigger challenge, but that is what I am looking forward to most.“I am hoping the benefits of full time training will help me. I have never done a full pre-season before because I have always played in the winter going back to the amateur days.“I will be going into this one completely fresh and I am sure that will do wonders for me. The pre-season regime will be a shock to the system but I am sure it will do me some good long term.”Alex is six foot 5 and played for GB Students and Dewsbury Celtic before attracting the attention of the Bulldogs.He continued: “My target this year is to try and break into the 17. I know it is going to be tough because there are a lot of really good players who are already settled.”You can read more of this article in the special Saints monthly supplement in the St Helens Star this Thursday.
1998:Super League debut v Halifax Blue Sox on August 30.1999: Sub appearance in the 1999 Super League Grand Final victory over Bradford Bulls.2000:Played in his first World Club Challenge v Melbourne Storm.Grand Final win over Wigan WarriorsPart of the England World Cup Squad2001: World Club Challenge win over v Brisbane BroncosChallenge Cup win over Bradford Bulls2002: Grand Final win over Bradford Bulls2004:Selected in the Great Britain team to compete in the end of season 2004 Rugby League Tri-Nations tournament.Challenge Cup win over Wigan Warriors2006:Man of Steel WinnerRugby League Writers’ Association Player of the YearSuper League Players’ Player of the YearChallenge Cup Final win over Huddersfield Giants.Grand Final win over Hull FCHarry Sunderland Trophy winner2007:World Club Challenge win over Brisbane Broncos.Super League Dream Team for the third season running.Challenge Cup win over Catalans DragonsLance Todd Winner2008:Challenge Cup win over Hull FCLance Todd WinnerEngland representative in the Rugby League World Cup tournament in Australia.2009:Granted a Testimonial2011:Made Captain2014:Surpasses 1000 pointsGrand Final win over Wigan WarriorsWello’s England Unique Number is 618; his Saints’ Super League Number is 44.
The young half back also looks ahead to Friday’s home game with Huddersfield Giants.Tickets for the clash remain on sale from the Ticket Office at the Totally Wicked Stadium, by calling 01744 455 052 or online here.