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Tuesday, 22 April 2014
Let's tailor technology to make life easier for disabled people
Barclays' Talking ATMs are an example of technology being used to increase accessibility, but more needs to be done. It is increasingly impossible to live and participate in society without access to digital devices. As someone who is passionate about technology, I'm worried that not enough is being done to make them accessible to all.
The longer the digital inequality gap is allowed to grow, the more polarised people with accessibility requirements, like myself, will become. If it is widely accepted that technology has the power to transform lives, why not include those of us where it has even greater potential?
At accessibility charity AbilityNet, we regularly assess technology. Even surfing the web is still fraught with difficulties since 85% of websites and 80% of digital devices do not have accessibility features built in.
One of the big ways we are highlighting and motivating the 'technology for good' movement is through our Tech4Good Awards supported by BT. From corporates to grassroots initiatives, the awards highlight the inventive ways new technology can resolve problems.
Barclays won the Tech4Good Accessibility Award last year for giving 3,500 cash machines across the UK audio capability. This allows customers to respond to audio instruction using a pair of headphones plugged into a connection in the cash machine.
Until it took this action, less than 70 of the 64,000 cash machines in the UK were 'talking ATMs', so if I, or any other blind or visually impaired person, had needed to withdraw money we had to find a bank branch – a bit of a challenge if you can't see. Or I could ask a stranger for help which would involve giving them my pin number and trusting that they wouldn't either take out as much money as they wanted and run off with my cash, the card and the pin or take out more than I asked for, give me back what I needed and leave me none the wiser until I got my next statement. Quite the dilemma, and all just to withdraw some money!
Barclays is also issuing high-visibility cards to help customers use their card in ATMs and chip and pin devices. The powerful thing is that other banks are now following suit.
Our recent research has found that 44% of British people say they want a public commitment on accessibility from all organisations with a digital interface. Businesses should think about accessibility as more than a siloed, corporate social responsibility tickbox exercise.
The disabled 'purple pound' is growing and there is an economic benefit to ensuring that the development of technological products and services factor in general usability.
Thursday, 17 April 2014
Hunger crisis: Number of Scots relying on food banks soars five-fold with almost one third of parcels going to children
The number of food parcels handed out to people in Scotland has risen five-fold in just a year – and almost one third of them went to children.
Many of the estimated 65,000 turning to charity are in work but so poorly paid they cannot afford to feed their families.
The shocking figures were revealed by Christian charity the Trussell Trust, who provide most of Scotland’s food banks.
Yesterday, they demanded an end to brutal Tory sanctions against those judged not to be looking hard enough for work.
They called for an increase in the minimum wage to help low-income workers cope with the soaring cost of living.
Ewan Gurr, the charity’s Scotland -development officer, said: “Food banks are an incredible community response to crisis but the pressure people are -experiencing in Scotland is cause for concern.
“Benefit delays highlight a faulty -infrastructure that can instantaneously plunge people into food poverty. The close relationship between low income and benefit changes highlight that.
“Welfare provision is neither working for those in part-time work nor those seeking work.”
In Scotland, people relied 71,428 times on food handouts from the Trussell Trust in the last year, up from just over 14,000 the previous 12 months.
The Trust reckon 65,000 visited only once – proving that it is not just a tiny section of Scotland’s poorest people.
Last year, 482 tons of food relief was handed out and 22,387 of those receiving it were children.
The huge rise comes at a time when the Con-Dem Government claim the economy is recovering.
But that is no consolation for those on the breadline.
Behind the bleak numbers lie individual stories of destitution and despair as parents finally admit they cannot put food on the table for their children.
The main reasons people are referred to food banks are benefit delays, low incomes and benefit changes – mainly cuts because they have failed to find work.
The figures in Scotland have risen steadily throughout the economic -downturn from 1070 in 2006-07, to 5726 in 2011-12 and 14,318 in 2012-13.
The number of food banks run by the Trussell Trust in Scotland has soared 10-fold in two years, from four in 2012, to 40, with five more on the way.
With the exception of affluent -Aberdeen, cities and urban areas show the highest reliance on food handouts.
But a high proportion of people use food banks in Highland and island communities, where many people’s income varies seasonally.
In Glasgow, 9687 food packs were given out, 4145 to children.
The figure for Edinburgh was 6707, including 2416 children. In Dundee, it was 5990, 1527 of them to children – a huge figure for a city of less than 150,000 people. In Falkirk, children benefited from food banks 1532 times from a total of 5132.
The figures for Fife showed 4536 food parcels, 1437 of them for children.
In the Highlands, food banks were used 4504 times, 1169 by children.
Yesterday, the Big Lottery Fund announced it is providing £945,000 to the Trussell Trust in Scotland, while the -Scottish Government recently pledged £1million over two years.
Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “The fact that the number of people forced to rely on food banks in -Scotland has had a five-fold increase in the last year is deeply worrying. “Food banks and the thousands of people who support them are doing an incredible job in helping stop people from going hungry.
“But the truth is that in a country as rich as Scotland, food poverty should not still exist. We welcome the -announcement from the Scottish Government that £1million is being provided over two years to support the work of emergency food providers.
“However, we need a long-term -solution across the UK to provide adequate support to the poorest in our society and to address the root causes of food poverty.”
Across the UK, 913,138 food packs were handed out by the Trussell Trust in the last year.
The charity’s UK chairman Chris Mould said: “This figure is just the tip of the iceberg. Unless there is determined policy action to ensure the benefits of economic recovery reach people on low incomes, we won’t see life get better for the poorest any time soon.”
Peter Kelly, director of The Poverty Alliance, added: “It is concerning to see yet another dramatic rise in the number of people relying on food banks. Low wages and a punitive sanctions regime are forcing people into -destitution. It is important that governments tackle underlying causes of poverty.”
Wednesday, 16 April 2014
Disabled people 'pay penalty' on everyday costs
Disabled people pay 'a financial penalty' on everyday living costs, spending an average of £550 a month extra, according to a report by Scope.
They needed specialist equipment and had to pay out for things like taxis instead of public transport, it added.
Disabled people were, on average, £100,000 worse off when it came to pensions and savings, the charity said.
The report pulls together existing research including new analysis of a 2010 survey by think-tank Demos.
That research was funded by Scope.
The new Priced Out report also features data from the Department for Work and Pensions and organisations including the London School of Economics, Save the Children, and the National Housing Federation.
Scope said 17% of disabled people paid £800 a month more on everyday living costs than non disabled people.
And 10% paid more than £1,000 extra a month, it said.
Other examples of extra everyday living costs included keeping the home warmer to help certain conditions, using more energy to run more regular baths and replacing clothes worn out because of wheelchair use.
Scope chief executive Richard Hawkes said: 'Disabled people and their families already have to buy things, like specialist equipment, that most families don't have to budget for.
'Sometimes their condition means they have no choice to use more of something, like heating.
'But this situation is being made worse because disabled people and their families also pay more for the everyday.'
The charity had heard 'shocking stories' including disabled people being charged double the price for a taxi and £31 for a modified knife, fork and spoon set, he added.
Scope said many people were struggling to pay the bills and were three times more likely to take out doorstep loans.
The charity is calling on the government to protect the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) from an overall cap on benefits.
Tuesday, 15 April 2014
Extended Benefit Sanctions Push Up Numbers Seeking Advice On Paying Bills
There has been a 60% spike in the number of people seeking advice about paying bills as a result of increases in the length of benefit sanctions, according to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).
It came as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) published a new survey showing that women make up four in five people losing money from the £500-a-week benefit cap. Almost all have dependent children and 83% have three or more.
A year after the limits were introduced, Ipsos Mori research found a third of people affected have been forced to cut back on essential items. Around 25% have looked for a job after being hit by the cap, while 45% plan to do so in future. The survey looked at 1,000 people out of more than 38,600 households that have been caught by the new rules.
The government extended the period jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) is withheld from one week to four weeks last October. There have been repeated reports that JSA claimants feel they have suddenly lost benefit on the basis of arbitrary decisions for which they have been given no warning or little explanation.
An independent review of the sanctions regime commissioned by DWP is yet to be published, but the latest CAB figures suggest there is an urgency to the issue that ministers have yet to grasp. Polls suggest the DWP would feel under little pressure to soften any aspect of the welfare regime.
The CAB – which is a free advice service – said that since the sanctions regime was toughened, it has helped clients with over 15,000 JSA sanction problems. The increase in the numbers seeking help is disproportionate to the increase in the number of sanctions being applied by the DWP.
Under the previous one-week sanction claimants could cope, the CAB said, but a four-week withdrawal of access to benefit led people into desperate measures including approaching loan sharks.
Publishing its research, the CAB said: “People are struggling to pay their bills, rent and put food on the table. Many clients are forced to turn to food banks and even payday loan companies. With all this on their plate people are distracted from looking for a job, so they’re less likely to get into work.”
The CAB said: “From October to December last year one in four Citizens Advice clients with a JSA sanction problem had dependent children, one in four identified as being disabled or suffering from a long-term health condition, one in six also had a debt problem, and one in 10 had issues with rent arrears or threat or reality of homelessness.”
The chief executive of CAB, Gillian Guy, said: “The minimum four-week sanction is setting people up to fail and creating a barrier which can stop them from looking for work. Four weeks is a long time to go without money to get by and people are struggling to make ends meet.
“The success rate of sanction appeals reveals a culture of ‘sanction first and ask questions later’. This is not only ineffective and a huge waste of money but also has a devastating effect on thousands of people’s lives.
“People need a system that can take into account their situation, set suitable work search requirements and, where necessary, apply sanctions at a level that won’t limit their chances of employment.
“To date, work programme contractors have been responsible for twice as many sanctions on the people referred to them as they have successfully helped people find work. Combined with CAB’s latest figures this paints the strongest picture yet that the system is not working as it should.”
CAB pointed out that under universal credit – the new benefit integrating many existing benefits including JSA – Jobcentre staff are to be given greater flexibility in deciding the length of benefits. The CAB asked how it was possible to give staff flexibility for the incoming benefit system, but not for the current one.
Ian is a 43-year-old single father of two (aged nine and 12) living in Hastings. He has been on long-term sick leave for depression but, following a work capability assessment by Atos, was told he did not have enough points and was moved onto JSA.
Ian was put on to the work programme, though due to a staff mix-up by Pertemps he has not been receiving support to find work. He has been filling in his work-search forms and giving them to the Jobcentre. Then last Thursday Ian was told he had been given a four-week sanction for not giving enough work-search detail. He was told there were six cleaning jobs for which he could have applied, but he said that they were early morning jobs that did not fit with his responsibilities to his children.
He was given no notice or warning that he was doing anything inadequate about his work search. The money – £72 a week – just didn’t appear.
“I’ve been left high and dry. I filled in the work-search form as usual, but this time they’ve said it’s not enough. Thursday/Friday I was at rock bottom, I was in a total state. I was just thinking, where am I going to get money from?
“I had a water bill due on Friday, but the direct debit bounced as no money had gone in. I’m worried about my rent, as I don’t know if my housing benefit will come in now I’ve been sanctioned. Then at 5pm on Friday I got a hardship payment through so I can look after my kids. The crux of the issue is that they should give you some warning or notice that they are going to deduct some money. Otherwise the only two options at the end of the day are to borrow money or commit a crime.”
He adds that he took out a £100 emergency loan that will require repayment of £160. Ian is appealing his sanction, as he has a letter from Pertemps stating he has not been getting the support he should have due to an administrative mix-up.
Swindon mayor resigns over disability comment
Swindon's mayor has resigned after making derogatory remarks about disabled people in a training meeting.
Conservative Nick Martin, 63, was found guilty of breaching the members' code of conduct after Labour complained about comments he made last year.
Labour councillors said they heard him say: 'Are we still letting Mongols have sex with each other?'
The standards committee ruled he must apologise but Mr Martin said it was a word he 'was brought up with'.
In a letter to the council, Mr Martin said it was 'with regret' that he submitted his resignation as mayor 'with immediate effect'.
He added that, following the accusations against him, he had cooperated with the independent standards investigation.
'I have made new apologies and am abiding by the other recommendations from the Standards Assessment Panel,' he said.
'However, it is clear that this will not stop the attacks on the office and person of mayor.'
Mr Martin was reported to the standards committee by Labour councillors Ray Ballman and Junab Ali after the remarks were made during a training meeting for councillors last year.
Last Thursday, the committee ruled Mr Martin must make a public apology within seven days and attend further training within a fortnight.
Conservative leader of the council, David Renard, said the process had 'proved to be a robust system'.
'It was right and proper that due process took its course,' he said.
'The mayor accepted the recommendations and has agreed to resign. I think he has made the best decision that he could, in the interests of the office of the mayor and all involved.'
Richard Hawkes, of disability charity Scope said Mr Martin's 'outdated comments' showed a 'lack of acceptance that disabled people have sex lives'.
'The mayor insinuated that there is something wrong with disabled people having sex with each other,' he said.
'The outcry following the mayor's comments show that the general public don't condone this kind of deep-seated ignorance towards disabled people.'
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