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Thursday, 21 August 2014
‘Fit For Work’ tests ‘far from satisfactory’, says think tank
The highly controversial ‘fit for work’ test is “far from satisfactory” for people with mental health problems, a damning new report has found.
The report – ‘In Safe Hands Now‘ – from the centre-left think tank IPPR found that reforms to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) are ‘urgently needed’ in order to ‘ensure more decisions are correct first time around'.
The IPPR draw attention to a review of the WCA by Dr Litchfield where he compares the UK system to that used in the Netherlands. Sick and disabled people in the Netherlands are not assessed as being ‘unfit for work’ or ‘fit for work’. Instead, ‘specialist medical practitioners and vocational rehabilitation experts’ are used to determine a sick and/or disabled persons ability to work in ‘hypothetical jobs’. This is used to work out a persons ‘earning capacity’ and the level of support they will require to maintain or increase it. The system is designed to identify what sort of work a person can do, rather than simply deciding whether they are capable of working or not.
The WCA has been heavily criticised for its poor level of accuracy and for how those going through the stressful and demeaning process are ‘insensitively’ treated. Earlier this year the Work and Pensions Select Committee said that the WCA is so flawed it should be scrapped and completely replaced.
‘Fit for work’ tests are ‘not leading to effective and appropriate support to help people back to work’, the IPPR report finds. Despite the ‘ESA regime’ being designed to ‘curb the number of claims and suppress costs’, the costs of implementing the system ‘are soon to breach the welfare cap’, the report says.
Sick and disabled people who are not yet well enough to return to work, but may be at some point in the future, could at some point find themselves on the government’s ‘Work Programme’, or other ‘back to work’ schemes. The IPPR say that for people with mental health problems who are, or used to, in receipt of ESA or its predecessor (Incapacity Benefit), the Work Programme is a ‘poor place to end up’.
Official DWP figures show that people with mental health problems are far less likely to achieve a job outcome through the Work Programme than other participants. Of the 137,130 mentally ill people who have been through the back to work scheme, only 7,060 left the programme having secured sustained employment. Furthermore, 70.6% of participants with mental health problems said they had received ‘little’ support in managing and treating their condition. The IPPR say that it’s difficult to see how this wouldn’t affect a person’s ability to move off sickness benefits and into work.
IPPR say that following reforms would help to improve the WCA so that decisions are right first time:
Additional evidence about people with MHPs should be collected by the assessor or the decision-maker if it seems likely that the application form and/or face-to-face assessment have not been able to provide a full and accurate picture of how the person’s condition impacts on them.
Before being able to evaluate work capability, assessors and decision-makers should be trained to develop the sufficient expertise and experience in dealing with people with MHPs to make a valid judgment on their ability to work.
There should be continuous monitoring of how the work capability assessment is conducted and communicated throughout, specifically focused on its impact on the wellbeing and confidence of participants with MHPs.
The think tank also say that existing back-to-work support is handing people with mental health problems from ‘one failing programme to another’, and at ‘no point are they receiving useful, personalised employment support’. The DWP should be:
Assessing support needed to work, not policing a gateway to benefits: in the Netherlands and Denmark, for example, assessment is used to determine entitlement to support, not just to benefits (including wage subsidy). In the UK, despite the rhetoric, the WCA is still a test of what people can’t do, focused on benefits rather than employment.
Pursuing ‘supported employment’ strategies, not just supported job search: the current regime is too focused on labour market attachment, but other approaches are available, like programmes in Norway and Sweden modelled on the ‘place, train and retain’ approach.
Are councils flouting new care laws?
People in Scotland are still being forced to use care services they don’t want despite new laws designed to allow them to choose their own support.
The Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland (CCPS) said it is concerned that people are not able to choose who provides their care despite the introduction of the Self Directed Support Act, which is meant to give people the freedom to manage their own care.
A family in South Ayrshire has complained after being told they can no longer access homecare from South Ayrshire Dementia Support Association (SADSA) for their mother who has dementia because it failed to win a council contract.
However, Annie Gunner Logan, director of CCPS, says the move is against the spirit of the new law.
“We’ve seen this coming for some time,” Gunner Logan told TFN. “Councils run procurement exercises which means they chose the care providers, which is contrary to self-directed support.”
Self-directed support legislation was introduced to give people more choice and control over their own care packages. It means people can choose to take a direct payment, employ their own staff and manage the whole process themselves.
However, many people, including many with dementia, do not want to take on this responsibility. The new law, which came into effect in April, was designed to ensure they could still choose their care service but leave the council to manage it.>
People now have the right, for example, to spend their care budget on a range of activities, such as socialising or exercise, as well as traditional homecare. Local councils are supposed to facilitate this at their request.
However, many councils are continuing to choose social care providers through procurement exercises.
CCPS says that some are then forcing people either to use these services or to take on full management of their own budgets through direct payments.
Eileen Alexander from Ayr said her family was not given the choice to continue with SADSA, despite being happy with the service it has provided for the last three years.
“This is supposed to be person-centred, but we have a perfect service at the moment. Nobody asked if we were happy. There is a lack of understanding about what dementia sufferers and their families really need,” said Alexander.
Gunner Logan said that people should not be told they can’t use a particular service because it is not on a list of council-approved providers.
“It’s about meeting the needs of the individual. If a service doesn’t meet their assessed need then the social work professional can refuse it, so someone can’t spend their entire budget going to the pub for example,” explained Gunner Logan.
“What you should not do is say that a person can’t have a certain service because the provider is not on an approved list.”
A spokeswoman for South Ayrshire Council confirmed that SADSA had bid to be part of a framework for homecare but was unsuccessful.
She confirmed that families who wished to continue to use SADSA services would have to do so through a direct payment.
CCPS is currently researching how self directed support is being implemented across Scotland, specifically looking at how well people who don’t wish to manage their own budgets are being given choice and control over their care.
Friday, 15 August 2014
UK 'is first country to face UN inquiry into disability rights violations'
The UK government appears to have become the first country to face a high-level inquiry by a United Nations committee, as a result of 'grave or systemic violations' of the rights of disabled people.
The committee has the power to launch an inquiry if it receives 'reliable information' that such violations have been committed by a country signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and its optional protocol.
These investigations are conducted 'confidentially', so the UN's Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) - which is carrying out the inquiry - has refused to confirm or deny that the UK is being investigated.
But a recording has emerged [watch from one hour and four minutes] of a former CRPD member revealing that the inquiry has been launched.
Professor Gabor Gombos, co-founder of Voice of Soul, Hungary’s first organisation for ex-users and survivors of mental health institutions, and co-chair of the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, tells the audience on the recording that CRPD has 'started its first inquiry procedure against the United Kingdom'.
He tells the Sixth International Disability Law Summer School at the National University of Ireland in Galway in June that inquiries are only used where there are suspicions of 'grave' violations of human rights in a country.
He says: 'Where the issue has been raised and the government did not really make effective actions to fix the situation... it is a very high threshold thing; the violations should really be grave and very systemic.'
Only last month, a new report, Dignity and Opportunity for All: Securing the Rights of Disabled People in the Austerity Era, laid bare the coalition's failure to meet its international human rights obligations under both UNCRPD and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
That report - published by the Just Fair coalition, which includes Disabled People Against Cuts and Inclusion London - suggested that the UK had gone from being an international leader in disability rights to risking becoming a 'systematic violator of these same rights'.
Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported that CRPD appeared to have postponed its public examination of how the UK has been implementing the disability convention until after next year's general election.
Some activists were unhappy that the committee's decision to postpone the examination would allow the UK government to avoid having to justify a clear regression in disability rights since the 2010 election.
But it now appears that the committee may have taken this decision because it had launched the much more serious - and so far unprecedented - inquiry into the UK's violation of disabled people's rights.
A DPAC spokeswoman said: 'DPAC is not in a position to comment on the UN inquiry on the UK's breaches of the UNCRPD, but we would share the view that there have been grave and systematic violations of disabled people's rights especially, but not exclusively, articles 19 [on living independently and being included in the community] and 28 [on providing an adequate standard of living and social protection].'
Jorge Araya, CRPD's secretary, told DNS in a statement: 'Inquiry proceedings regulated in article six and seven [which relate to the inquiry procedure] of the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, are confidential.
'So, for this very reason, stated in this treaty, I apologise but I cannot respond to your queries.'
So far, the Conservative minister for disabled people, Mark Harper, has failed to comment on the CRPD inquiry.
Thursday, 14 August 2014
Labour challenged over welfare vow
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has challenged Labour to match her pledge to halt the roll out of welfare reforms she claimed will leave more than 100,000 disabled people in Scotland worse off.
She spoke as the Scottish Government published a new report which estimated around 105,000 working-age disabled people will lose some or all their disability benefits by 2018, with a likely loss of at least £1,120 per year.
Ms Sturgeon said this group would be left with less cash as a result of the change from the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to the new Personal Independence Payment.
Labour welfare spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said the Scottish Government could do more to help these people now, branding inaction from ministers 'criminal'.
But in a sometimes heated debate at Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon insisted independence was needed to allow Scotland to adopt a different approach.
The Deputy First Minister said: ' With the UK parties now battling to out do each other on how tough they can be on welfare it is becoming very clear if we truly want a system that treats people with dignity and respect, independence is the only option, the only way for us to achieve that.'
She added that the case for Scotland to make its own decisions on welfare was 'absolutely overwhelming', stating: ' It will take time, it will take effort, it will take determination, but we will have the powers and the access to our vast resources - we are after all one of the richest countries in the world - to make it possible.
'That has got to be so much better than standing by powerless while Westminster does its damage to the most vulnerable.'
At the moment 190,000 people in Scotland receive support from the DLA, but the Scottish Government report on the impact of welfare reforms said the introduction of the PIP would lead to more than 100,000 Scots losing some or all of their disability benefits.
It forecast that around 47% (49,000) of reassessed DLA claimants would get no PIP while the remaining 53% (56,000) would get less cash.
These people could lose at least £1,120 a year, according to the report, but almost 50,000 people receiving the enhanced weekly mobility allowance could lose between £1,820 and £2,964 a year.
Ms Sturgeon challenged Labour, demanding: ' What new powers is this Parliament guaranteed to get, short of a Yes vote, that will allow us to stop the assault on the incomes of the disabled, of women and of children?
'Even if there is a Labour Government, what is it that Labour government will do differently on welfare? What precisely is Ed Miliband going to do that is different from what David Cameron is already doing?'
She continued: ' Will Labour halt the roll out of Personal Independence Payments? Will Labour protect the disabled from the cuts they stand to face if Personal Independence Payments go ahead? Or is the reality that the disabled will face exactly the same cuts under Labour as they do under the Tories?'
Ms Baillie hit back: ' From a party which can't even tell us what currency benefits will be paid in, I will absolutely take no lessons from Nicola Sturgeon.'
She said the Scottish Government's 'o bsession with the constitution' had prevented them from acting now, as she argued: ' We can provide people with much-needed help now. We have the power to do so. It is criminal not to use it.
'We can of course vote the Tories out and return a Labour government in 2015, which is the quickest route to making a difference to people's lives.'
She went on to state the SNP promises on welfare in an independent Scotland were ' vague' and 'uncosted', adding: 'It relies more on a 'cross your fingers and hope for the best' approach. It is dishonest. The people of Scotland deserve better than that.'
Meanwhile Conservative welfare spokesman Alex Johnstone said the change could leave 90,000 of the most vulnerable disabled people better off.
The Tory MSP said: 'If 100,000 are likely to lose out it is reasonable to expect bringing in Personal Independence Payments would actually benefit 90,000 Scots - the 90,000 Scots who are the most severely disabled.
'That is the key to the change that moving from DLA to PIP is designed to satisfy, it is a desire to ensure those in greatest need benefit from the resources that are available.'
He also stressed the role welfare reforms had played in the UK's economic recovery.
Mr Johnstone said: 'Welfare does have a role in economic recovery and it's no coincidence that we in this country and the UK as a whole have the proportion of workless households at its lowest ever recorded.'
Disabled people living in deprived areas of Scotland disproportionally high
A significantly high number of people with learning disabilities live in the most deprived areas of Scotland, statistics from the 2013 Learning Disability Statistics Scotland (LDSS) dataset have revealed this week.
The least deprived areas of Scotland have proportionally far fewer people with a learning disability living in these areas than the national average.
Information on employment, further education, what people do during the day, housing arrangements and who people with learning disabilities live with have all been detailed in the release.
The statistics, released on behalf of the Scottish government, are the first time the deprivation profiles of adults with learning disabilities known to local authorities have been publically released.
Claire Stuart, the Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability’s (SCLD) learning disabilities statistics project manager, said: “For the first time the 2013 data collection allows us to undertake deprivation provision mapping of the areas where adults with learning disabilities known to local authorities live in Scotland.”
“When considered alongside the other information collected, the inclusion of deprivation data allows for breadth and depth of analysis which has not previously been available.”
Adults with learning disabilities from the least deprived have been found to be more likely to live with family carers compared to those living in more deprived parts of Scotland.
The figures have been created to inform Scottish national policy and influence the service provided for adults with learning disabilities throughout Scotland.
Scottish Government’s ‘the keys to life’ strategy replaced its own 2000 policy ‘the same as you?’ in 2013, causing the data collection measuring its success to be renamed from ‘electronic Same As You’ (eSAY) to the ‘Learning Disability Statistics Scotland’ (LDSS).
The keys to life strategy sets out the Scottish Government’s 52 new recommendations to be followed by local authorities and NHS Scotland to improve the lives of adults with learning disabilities in Scotland.
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