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Friday, 21 November 2014
Disabled peer warns DWP that tighter benefit rules could cause more deaths
A disabled peer has warned her own government that tightening social security rules even further could lead to more deaths of benefit claimants, days after Disability News Service (DNS) revealed there had been 60 secret reviews into such tragedies.
Last week’s DNS story – that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had carried out 60 internal reviews “following the death of a customer” in less than three years – has been widely shared across social media.
And on Wednesday (19 November), it was raised by the disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas in a debate in the House of Lords.
She told fellow peers – during a discussion of controversial government plans to increase the time that someone has to wait before applying for out-of-work benefits from three to seven days – that she was “particularly concerned” about the impact on claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA).
Estimates suggest that, in 2015-16, about 35,000 ESA claimants and 245,000 claimants of jobseeker’s allowance would be most at risk from the proposed changes.
Baroness Thomas said: “Here I want to mention another reason the department ought to be very careful before implementing this particular policy as it applies to ESA claimants [with mental health conditions].
“It was on the news at lunchtime that there is evidence that the DWP has carried out 60 reviews into suicides linked to benefit cuts in the past three years.
“This very serious matter has been uncovered by John Pring of the Disability News Service and I think we ought to hear more about this in the coming weeks.”
The DNS story was also reported by BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme, although no mainstream newspaper appears to have covered it yet.
DNS editor John Pring told You and Yours: “I think what should be a system of support has turned into for some people persecution and has caused some people to take their own lives and has caused others to die through lack of food or heating.
“One of the things we need to know now is what were the conclusions and recommendations of these 60 reviews.”
DWP has so far refused to release the reviews because they include the personal details of deceased benefit claimants.
You and Yours also spoke to the sister of Tim Slater, from Staffordshire, who killed himself in September 2013 after he was found “fit for work” following an assessment by Atos Healthcare.
She said the Atos assessment had failed to take any account of his mental health condition, and only examined the impact of his sight impairment. His case is now being reviewed by DWP.
Slater, who had survived a previous suicide attempt, was one of the hundreds of thousands of claimants of old-style incapacity benefit who have been reassessed through the much-criticised work capability assessment process since early 2011.
A coroner concluded that a major factor in his death had been that his benefits had been “greatly reduced, leaving him almost destitute and with a threatened repossession of his home”.
Meanwhile, the disabled Canadian academic and campaigner Samuel Miller, who tweets at @Hephaestus7, has passed the DNS story to the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is believed to be conducting a high-level inquiry into “grave or systemic violations” of the rights of disabled people by the UK government.
Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council, tweeting at @achairukdpc, said the DNS story showed there had been a “shameful cost in human life”, but DWP was “constantly in denial and never seem to [be] held to account” for the failures of its social security policy.
Another leading disabled activist, Ian Jones, @edwinmandella, one of the founders of the WOWcampaign, tweeted: “Drip, drip, drip. ConDem policies are killing disabled people and slowly the proof is emerging.”
The social affairs journalist Frances Ryan, @frances_ryan, described the DNS story as “huge”, while @hawkins_carole tweeted: “Only 60, how many hundreds are they not investigating!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
And campaigner Sue Marsh, a key member of the Spartacus online network, said on her blog: “If this story isn’t picked up by the mainstream media, they are as complicit in the outrageous cover up of this crisis as [work and pensions secretary] Iain Duncan Smith himself.”
Meanwhile, a public meeting in David Cameron’s Witney constituency in Oxfordshire will this week hear from the sisters of two disabled men who died through lack of food after having their benefits removed.
David Clapson had been “sanctioned” because he missed two DWP appointments, while Mark Wood, who was a Green party member and a constituent of the prime minister, lost his ESA and housing benefit because he had been found fit for work by Atos.
Wood’s sister Cathie and Clapson’s sister Gill Thompson will share a platform at the meeting, organised by the Green party, at 7.30pm on Thursday 27 November at Langdale Hall, Market Square, Witney.
Thursday, 20 November 2014
Scotlandís digital revolution is beginning
A national movement must be built that will lead a digital inclusion revolution, a major third sector meeting has been told.
An estimated 1.3 million people in Scotland are not engaging with new information technology and face finding themselves excluded from education and opportunities.
Attendees at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations' (SCVO) Third Sector Summit heard that a major drive is underway to challenge digital exclusion.
SCVO is pioneering multi-pronged approach to tackling the problem.
The organisation's digital team is building a directory of everywhere in Scotland which provides face-to-face help in accessing the internet for people who are just starting out on their digital journey.
On top of this, funding has been found for 100 internships – for six weeks duration and each paid the living wage – to work with charities on their online and social media strategies.
SCVO is also running a series of events throughout the country – including at next year's Gathering – to better connect people involved in digital inclusion and it is urging charities and other organisations to sign up to a charter which is aimed at encouraging online engagement.
Chris Yiu, SCVO's director of digital participation, told attendees that attempting to engage as many of the missing 1.3 million as possible will help them engage with their communities. We can't sit back and do nothing, he said, highlighting that society wouldn't have the same attitude to reading and writing if there was a comparable lag.
The meeting also heard that many small charities are also falling behind and are missing out by, for example, not having donation functions on their websites.
Wednesday, 19 November 2014
Disabled children 'are insulted in classrooms'
Nearly 70 per cent of teachers have heard youngsters using derogatory terms for disabled children or children with special educational needs, a new survey has found.
The research, by the Anti-Bullying Alliance for the National Children's Bureau, has been released to mark Anti-Bullying Week.
Teachers have heard children saying 'spaz', 'spastic', 'retard' or 'mong'.
More than a third were heard using it in casual conversation, and the same proportion were heard using the words as an insult.
More than half (55 per cent) of teachers heard children using the words at a disabled child or a child with special educational needs.
The Anti-Bullying Alliance is calling on schools to 'recognise the bullying of disabled children and those with special educational needs and take action to stop the bullying of all children.'
Tuesday, 18 November 2014
Panic room woman challenges bedroom tax
A woman whose council home has been fitted with a secure panic room to protect her from a violent ex-partner is going to court on Wednesday to challenge the government’s so-called bedroom tax.
The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, has refused to withdraw the demand despite losing an earlier attempt to have the test case dismissed.
The woman, who lives in a three-bedroom property with her 11-year-old son, has been the victim of rape, assault, harassment, stalking and threats to kill at the hands of her former partner. She is not being identified.
The local council has told her she will lose £11.65 a week from her benefits on the grounds that she has a spare room, which is the panic room.
Ministers argue that the bedroom tax, which the DWP calls the spare room subsidy, will encourage people to move to smaller properties, saving around £480m a year from the government’s housing benefit bill.
The woman, referred in the case as A, is one of a small number of victims of domestic violence who will be affected by the policy. According to figures obtained through freedom of information inquiries from 79 local authorities, almost one in 20 households benefiting from similar sanctuary schemes for people at risk of severe domestic violence have been affected by the under-occupancy penalty. Across the country, 281 such households are facing bedroom tax demands.
The high court in London will hear her lawyers argue in a judicial review challenge that the tax is discriminatory and will have a devastating impact on A and her son. They will claim that it has a disproportionate effect on victims of domestic violence, most of whom are women.
A women’s refuge charity has spent thousands of pounds at A’s property reinforcing window frames and the front door and making the back garden more secure. A panic space has been installed, with alarms linked to the police station.
The woman’s housing benefit has been reduced by 14% because of the bedroom tax policy.
Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor acting for A, said: “These changes to housing benefit are having a catastrophic impact upon vulnerable people across the country. Our client’s life is at risk and she is terrified. She lives in a property which has been specially adapted by the police, at great expense, to protect her and her child. It is ridiculous that she is now being told she must move to another property (where she will not have any of these protections) or else take in a lodger.
“She is a vulnerable single parent who has been a victim of rape and assault. The secretary of state cannot seriously suggest that it is appropriate for her to take a stranger into her home.”
A’s claim is supported by evidence from the charity Women’s Aid on the prevalence of domestic violence and the important function of sanctuary schemes in providing protection and preventing homelessness for those at risk.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “Sanctuary schemes are created to keep extremely vulnerable women and children safe, at a time when they are trying to rebuild their lives after surviving domestic violence. An investment has been made in keeping these women safe and to move these families out of their homes is a false economy as it will cost further money to provide security as the new property, and this may provide a reduced level of safety, putting them at risk.
“It is important to remember that on average two women every week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales. Protecting abused women and their children is a matter of life and death, and we should always remember this.”
A DWP spokesman said: “This is exactly why we have made £345m available to councils to help vulnerable people. We understand the council have awarded a payment to make up a shortfall in rent.”
One in three Scottish school pupils has been bullied in the past year
Nearly one in three pupils at Scottish schools have been bullied in the last year according to a groundbreaking new survey.
Anti-bullying service Respect Me conducted the biggest ever poll of pupils across all 32 local authorities and discovered only half had told their parents of their troubles.
The survey found 30% of children were bullied in the last school year – with one in five only being subjected to online bullying and the majority of 60% only being bullied offline.
For just over 20% there was no escape though as they were bullied both on and offline.
Respect Me released the results of its survey of almost 8000 eight-19 year olds to coincide with Anti-Bullying Week, which runs until Friday.
Brian Donnelly, director of Respect Me, said: “The number of responses to this survey exceeded our expectations and has given us a very clear picture of what children and young people are experiencing.
“I think the finding that the majority of bullying did not take place online should help schools, parents and the wider community make sure they maintain a focus on all types of bullying, both bullying that happens in person and online.
“We will now continue to work with the Scottish Government to further analyse the survey findings that will influence policy, training and resources to help adults make a real difference to the lives of children and young people.”
The survey also found that nine out 10 children knew who their bully was, challenging the belief that online bullying thrived on exploiting anonymity.
Mobile phones have also overtaken personal computers as the way for most young people to access the internet which could have implications for the way that parents, carers and teachers safeguard online behaviour, but also for the government and its partners offering support for those concerned about online safety.
Alasdair Allan, minister for learning, science and Scotland’s languages, said: “This is the first time that we have an indication of the scale and impact of bullying on Scotland’s young people.
“Though it does not offer a direct comparison, a previous report for the UK government showed that just under half of those questioned said they have experienced bullying so this would indicate a step in the right direction, but it is still too high a number of young people being targeted.
“The response to the survey has been incredible and the government will continue to support Respect Me to break down this information further and ensure that lessons are learned and we make even greater progress to help those suffering and bring about a culture change that recognises bullying in all its forms and clearly says we will not tolerate this.”
Allan added the results of the survey will be used to further develop anti-bullying policies.
A working group will be set up in the new year to refresh and develop a revised national approach.
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