Saturday, 7 May 2011

Attitudes More Suited To 100 Years Ago - Is It Due To The 'Official Stance'?

 Cross posted with kind permission from CrimsonCrip

I’ve been a bit quiet online this week, partly because I’ve been ‘licking’my wounds’, as I faced the worst and most blatant disablism ever personally targeted at me.

I’ve been trying to buy a new flat, I thought it would be my dream home. Adapted apart from needing a ramp, I didn’t see too much difficulty. I needed the permission of the other residents, as a group they hold the freehold. I had contact with the chairman of the group, he claimed the attitude was that of the committee, something I can’t confirm. First they are reluctant to allow me any kind of ramp, and are generally difficult.

This week they had a meeting and I rang to see what the conclusion was. I was told I couldn’t have a fixed ramp, even though I agreed to have it removed if I sell the property, I was told I could have a temporary ramp, and would be expected to move it when not in use. I was then told they knew this wasn’t suitable for me. I was also told I would not be allowed to lower the pavement, and it was repeatedly said there was no support for what he called my predicament.

This person then took it upon himself to discuss what he saw as the unsuitability of my choices. He couldn’t understand why I had chosen something appropriate, when I said it was he disagreed, because with no ramp I couldn’t access it. He then said that they were like a family, and I wouldn’t fit in, so would be lonely. Next he suggested it might be better if I lived in the local sheltered housing, with what he called my own kind, When challenged as to whether his attitude was due to my disability, he didn’t deny it, but said I was putting words in his mouth. My assertion that it wasn’t his decision where I lived, he said as chairman who lived there was his business.

To directly challenge his opinion to save my flat would take too long, both for me, I need a home, and the seller who needs to sell. I have made her aware of his attitude, it has cost her a sale. What I will do in regard to him I haven’t decided, but have worked this week to make sure all options are open to me.
It did make me question though, is he just of a type that thinks disabled people have a place, but only out of the mainstream, or is it a sign that the Gov/media campaign is taking hold? Will it be that soon the only ‘right’ place for us with be the modern equivelant of the workhouse? I feel that this situation is proof positive our rights to ‘normality’ are slipping, and we must fight like never before to halt the slide.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Time To Speak Up

 Time To Speak Up, originally posted on ABC Ramp Up and cross posted here with kind permission, thank you.
It's important to remember that as disabled people we are fighting these battles across the world, our Australian cousins need us more than ever now that James Purnell is peddling his poverty pimp plans Down Under.

When I realised that there was going to be an NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) discussion at my university, Latrobe Bundoora, I was pumped-up and excited. 

The discussion was to be hosted by Professor Robert Manne as part of the Ideas and Society Program of debates and public lectures. Many big guns in the Australian disability sector were speaking. John Della Bosca (Every Australian Counts), Dr Rhonda Galbally (Chair of the National People with Disabilities and Carers Council), Jim Mansell (Emeritus Professor of Learning Disabilities) and Bruce Bonyhady (Chairman of Yooralla) were the orators at the event.

As I said, I was excited - there was a relevant discussion being held on my campus at an extremely convenient time for me! Unfortunately, I almost missed out on the event due to a surprising lack of promotion. The equality and diversity centre on campus had no flyers up, and it was only due to my procrastination leading me to find a notice on a nondescript pin board that I discovered the event. From the lack of promotion, anyone would think they didn't want anyone to attend at all.

When my class finished I leisurely drank a cafe latte in the sun until it was time for me to head over to the building where the talks were being held. When I entered I was stopped by staff and told that those in wheelchairs should wait to be seated in the designated positions. But I'm postgraduate, I do what I want - I'm cool in that way. I said thanks, but told them I would find my own seat. Making my way to the front I noticed a distinct lack of disabled people, was I early? They weren't waiting in the foyer either.

And yes I know many disabilities are not visibly obvious, but still, I was pretty surprised to be the only guy in a wheelchair. Surely my disabled compatriots wouldn't be too far off, after all, it was only a three-minute walk from the coffee shop.

In the crowd there were plenty of men and women in suits, though I wouldn't have thought they were the target market for this discussion. I waited patiently as more suits shuffled in along with a fellow wheelchair user. That's better I thought, but still, only two wheelers? The main attractions then arrived, taking their positions at the table. Rhonda luckily brought her portable ramp in order to reach the stage, saving much (deserved) embarrassment for those who organised the event. Regardless, things were about to get interesting.

A cavalcade of wheelchair users and people with Down Syndrome then entered the room all at once. Coincidentally, the cameras had begun rolling. I feared a standing ovation, but luckily that didn't come to pass. 'The disabled' went to the designated seats where I was supposed to be - near the back, like in the cinema.

I was shocked that I didn't recognise anyone at all from my university, let alone any fellow disabled students. I would have assumed at least one or two would attend, but I was wrong.

Bundoora is by far the largest campus of Latrobe University, and it would be a safe bet to say that there are at least 15,000 students. I could count maybe one or two people in attendance who I would hazard a guess as being students (no suits), in addition to me. And none of them 'looked' disabled.


Still, I was there for the speeches and discussion, not to analyse the crowd as was taught in my market research subject. And the speeches were great; the audience was told that the disability support system in Australia is "underfunded, unfair, fragmented, and inefficient, and gives people with a disability little choice and no certainty of access to appropriate supports." I nodded my head in acquiescence.
My cynical marketing brain went to work. I couldn't help sense a degree of detachment from the issues in Bruce, John and Jim. From an anthropological perspective they were all big masculine men in suits, 'providers' if you will. They definitely were not the ones needing government support for illness or disability.

Little jokes were made with regard to whether the NDIS bill would get through the Parliament. Rhonda Galbally wasn't smiling at these jokes, and neither was I. And it wasn't because we don't have a sense of humor. There were no smiles because Rhonda understands the severity of the situation, and though she herself is now an extremely successful philanthropist, advocate and businesswoman - she would have definitely benefited from increased disability support during more uncertain times.

Now those reading this may suggest that I'm trying to create divisions, and to portray it as an 'us vs them' situation. That is sincerely not my goal. I did, however, genuinely sense a degree of detachment in some of the speakers.

During her speech, Rhonda raised the issue of disability welfare related protests, or rather a distinct lack of them. If a situation of underfunding the magnitude of that which exists in the disability sector was apparent in the arts or education sectors, there would be mass riots in the streets. And this isn't to say that the arts or education areas are funded adequately' it just goes to show how comparatively bad the disability sector is in Australia compared to everything (and everywhere) else!

My above point raised another issue in my mind; who exactly were the people in the audience if they were not students or people with a disability? Why hadn't there been any protests? It soon dawned on me that the majority of the crowd were representatives from service providers. Advocacy organisation representatives, charities, personal care providers and Victorian government delegates were there in spades. But where were the people with disabilities? At the back in their designated corner, that's where.

The concept of advocacy is based on someone representing you, and/or acting on your behalf. Similar to the functions of charity organisations, service providers and the like; limited staff act on behalf of a multitude of clients, carrying out their requests. Can you see the problem here?

Again, I may just be cynical, but if one advocate in an organisation represents 20 people with a disability, and there are 10 advocates in the organisation fighting to rectify the dire situation the strained disability sector is facing, what happens as a result? The advocacy organisation sends one letter on behalf of 200 clients, or if you are lucky, there are 10 letters mailed out, one from each advocate.
Ten letters delivered, not 200. A hundred service provider representatives in the audience at the event I attended, not 2000 people with disability. A thousand advocates in the street capital protesting, not 20,000 outraged cripples.

I understand how crude and simplistic the above examples are, but the essence remains the same. In order for real change to occur, people with disabilities can no longer palm off responsibility to our carers and advocates. We can no longer accept our shameful situation as the status quo, and if we want change we must make our collective voices heard. Be your own self-advocate, tell the general public and the government what you really want. And yes, I know this is hard, I know you're tired of fighting, fighting just to stay afloat. But if there ever was a time to struggle, it is now.

Yes, increased individualised funding may lead to many disability charities dying out. But people with disabilities don't want charity. Subpar service providers may shrivel and die, but only because of increased competition and choice. Advocacy organisations may shrink, and be required to switch their focus to solely represent those who really can't advocate for themselves. But this is a cost worth enduring for a better standard of living. A standard of living we are owed.

Don't expect your advocate or carer to attend the next NDIS meeting on your behalf, go yourself. Chain your ventilator to Parliament house in protest, park your 200 kg wheelchair on Capital Hill with your brake firmly on and don't budge. Make a stand, even if you can't stand. Make a difference. Otherwise we're all screwed and we will continue to be pitied. I don't want pity, I want respect. How about you?

Carl Thompson recently finished his Business Bachelor and now plans to relax before he joins the 9 to 5 grind. He blogs here.

Latest News From Benefits And Work

Double tribunal triumph as Atos medical report “wholly discredited”

“I came out of the Tribunal with 15 points for the ESA and an award of DLA Higher Rate Mobility and Middle Rate Care and I have to admit an immense feeling of euphoria!”
“Thanks to the information and help guides available on this fantastic site . . . the ATOS medical report was . . . wholly discredited.”
Read more.

More feedback from the forums at the end of this email

Forced labour scheme begins

Dear Kali,

Before we get to the news, we have a favour to ask.

It will take literally five  seconds of your time.

We’ve started a Benefits and Work Facebook page, partly to try to reach those people for whom Facebook, Twitter and YouTube make up most of the internet.  And partly because having a reasonable number  of people  ‘like’ you on Facebook is more evidence that you are an organisation whom people trust.

So, could you please spare just a few moments  to visit our Facebook page and click on the ‘Like’ icon near the top of the page.  You can only do this if you have a Facebook account, but if you don’t, you can just click on the Like button and sign up for a free account.

 Alternatively, you can also click on the ‘Like’ icon that appears near the bottom left of almost every page on the Benefits and Work site.

Thank you for helping spread the word!

As what is beginning to look more and more like a war on claimants hots up, last month saw the introduction of a  ‘forced labour’ scheme.
(Members only). 

Many thousands of claimants will be obliged to work for up to 30 hours a week for a month for no wage whatsoever. There is no limit to the number of times claimants can be forced onto the scheme. Those who fail to comply will lose their benefits for 13 weeks for a first offence and 26 weeks for a second offence.

The scheme is aimed at JSA claimants, but with so many people likely to fail the new work capability assessment, that may well include thousands of  sick and disabled claimants who are deemed not to be trying hard enough to move into work.

The propaganda war is also becoming more vicious and ill-informed as the DWP feeds easy to misinterpret figures to the press and then looks the other way as hate-provoking misinformation fills the tabloids.

For the claimants on the front-line, there’s s also the shocking news of the lack of disabled access at many Atos medical centres, which most claimants are obliged to attend for their work capability assessment.   An astonishing one in five centres don’t have disabled access and Atos lists just one dedicated disabled parking space for the use of around a million claimants a year.

The government aren’t having it all their own way, however.  Below is a quick round-up of  anti-cuts actions over the coming month that you may want to support.

A national week of action against Atos is scheduled to begin on 9 May with a picnic and party in Triton Square*, home of their head office, at 2pm. 

On May 11 thousands of disabled people, their friends and families will be holding a march and lobbying parliament to protest at cuts to benefits and services.

The Justice for All campaign, which is fighting to save free legal advice, is holding a day of action on 3 June, which they are hoping members of the public will take part in. 

Radio 4’s You and Yours programme is working on a report about the work capability assessment which may at least present a more honest picture of what is really happening to sick and disabled claimants.  As part of the feature they are hoping to talk an Atos health professional – anonymity assured.  If you are one of the Atos staff who read this newsletter, why not contact You and Yours in confidence?

You and Yours are also hoping to hear from people who have received a reassessment letter and are awaiting a medical or who are appealing an ESA decision.  More details here.

Elsewhere, a freelance journalist writing a piece on the forced migration from incapacity benefit to ESA for One in Four, a mental health service users magazine, is keen to hear from anyone who went through the Aberdeen or Burnley pilots or who is going through the reassessment process now.  More details.

Welfare rights expert Mark Perlic – who has provided free resources for this site in the past - is publishing an updated ninth edition of the invaluable DLA and AA caselaw pack in June of this year and is currently taking advance orders.  More details from this flyer.

Mark is also running DLA and AA case law training days in Birmingham and London in September and October of this year.  More details from Mark’s website.

Finally, in spite of the all those bank holidays over the last  few weeks, we’ve still heard from a number of members with good news about their claims and appeals.

Atos medical report wholly discredited – both ESA and DLA tribunals won

Support group and highest care DLA on initial claim

IB and ESA appeals won

From WRAG to support group on appeal without attending hearing

Award increased to higher rate mobility and middle rate care on renewal.

From lower to higher rate care and lower rate mobility on appeal for 10 year old

Support group on initial claim

Successful DLA appeal

Successful IB appeal

WRAG on appeal

ESA from 6 to 21 points

You are welcome to reproduce this newsletter on your blog, website, forum or newsletter.

You can also read this newsletter online.

Good luck,

Steve Donnison

Benefits and Work Publishing Ltd
Company registration No.  5962666

If you’re not already a member, find out how to subscribe to Benefits and Work and give yourself the best possible chance of getting the right decision.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Still Time to Oppose Time-limiting ESA

This week saw an underlining of the challenges facing disabled and ill people. The Government included the regressive measure of time-limiting ESA in their Welfare Reform Bill. The Public Bill Committee on the Welfare Reform Bill voted on Tuesday to keep time-limiting as part of the Bill. The division on this question saw 9 Labour MPs opposing the one-year time-limit, but being voted down by the 12 Conservaative MPs and the 2 Lib Dems

Labour had tabled a number of amendments, the thrust of the argument being that time-limiting to 365 days was arbitrary and not based on the estimated turnover of ESA claimants. As such, the amendment proposed, time-limiting should be to a period of at least 730 days, with the precise interval to be decided separately from the Bill.

Whilst not the ideal amendment, it was certainly a huge improvement on the Government's proposal. Stephen Timms, the Shadow Minister for Employment made an impassioned, reasoned and persuasive case for the amendment. Possible weaknesses were that effect on working families, although alluded to by Kate green, was not given due attention, and that examples were restricted to the hypothetical cancer patient.

It did seem that a few Conservatives, notably George Hollingberry, Priti Patel and Guto Bebb, were interested if not entirely persuaded. It definitely seemed that Jenny Willott was in two minds. But then, when it came to a vote, the decision was made 14-9 in favour of the Government's proposal.

This is a disappointing development, but it is not the end of the road for this issue. The Bill must still pass through the Report stage of Parliamentary scrutiny before its Third Reading in the Commons, and will then have to pass through yet another five stages in the Lords. It does, however, intensify the urgency of our opposition. It is now vital that as much support as possible is gathered for EDM 1755 opposing time-limiting in order to pressure the Government.

Disability Livin Allowance reform is set to come before the Committee next Tuesday, making it equally important that MPs sign EDM 1756, opposing the abolition of DLA. Please e-mail this letter to your MP requesting that they sign EDM 1755 and 1756.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Education Department and My Hope of Going to College #TBofBTT

by @Becca_Boot

Someone is stopping me from going to college; someone is putting up barriers for me - barriers I cannot cross.

It’s not the college, they have been wonderful, and they’ve done everything they can to help. It’s not my classmates, they’ve been wonderful too. It’s not my parents, they want me to go. It’s the local authority’s education department. By not allowing me funding for transport or the transport itself they have completely stopped me from being able to go college.

I enrolled into college last September on a photography course I was using my mobility scooter on the buses to get to college. College arranged for the support I needed and I was doing well in my work. Until November came, in November my condition deteriorated. In November I came completely off my legs, my arms were no longer strong enough to use my scooter and I can’t self propel so with the wheelchair my ability to use public transport alone disappeared.

When I was healthy enough to return to my college course we looked into ways of getting me there and back - my parents couldn’t do it - they have jobs to go to. A taxi would cost £15 each way, being a 3 day a week course that would be £90, we can’t afford that. We tried the ring&ride but it was too unpredictable they have one bus that will cross local borders and if you ring up even 10 minutes after the lines open then there’s a very high chance you’ll have lost your slot.

So we spoke to the relevant authorities and found out that as I am under 18 this was the realm of the education department (run as it happens by serco) like any sensible set of people we wrote them a letter outlining my condition and why exactly I needed help with transport.

A while later we got a letter back - saying in plain English that I couldn’t have help with transport because 1. I do not have a statement of special needs (statement) 2. I’m over 16. We sent an appeal but to no avail. They said basically the same thing “I didn’t receive help with transport when I was in compulsory education” Apparently it didn’t matter that I lived round the corner from school and my school was negligent and if I were in compulsory education I would now be statemented.

Rounds of appeals and talking to the local MP and Councillors have got me nowhere. Now it’s looking like doing the course I so loved is something I am simply not going to be able to do. I was foolish for even thinking I could though right? Did I forget that to be disabled and get on in life you either have to be rich or a child (under the age of 16).
It seems that although they say they want more people to carry on into 16 - 18 education and especially want disabled students to do so, even dare I say it they even want us to excel in it they won’t help anyone over the age of 16… Now who sees the flaw in that plan?

It does look a lot like the education department has forgotten that people can become disabled quite suddenly, or that disabilities can worsen, or how ridiculously difficult it is to get a statement. Or perhaps it might just be that where they can help it they don’t want to help disabled students at all. After all, that does cost them money.