Sunday, 4 August 2013

DWP Consultation on PIP assessment - Moving Around activity

This is my response to the DWP's consultation on the Moving Around activity - specifically with regard to their plan to not automatically award Enhanced Rate to people who can only walk from 21 - 50m, with or without mobility aids.

It's not amazing, but I want it to be in public so the DWP can't try and claim no one was clearly against the distance reduction. 

Someone who can only walk 21-50 metres with a mobility aid does not have enough mobility to not need considerable support to live a full and independent life. The very use of a mobility aid often makes doing some things harder. I walk with crutches – automatically this means I can’t carry more than a very small amount of shopping, for example. Whilst they mean I can walk further than I could unaided, they also create an access barrier. On balance I find them worth that inconvenience, but that barrier is still very real, with real consequences.

Given access to schemes such as Motability are based on receiving higher rate DLA, and then Enhanced Rate PIP, people who have a small amount of mobility will be severely impeded by losing access to those schemes.

The DWP itself has estimated some 90,000 people will lose their Motability eligibility – which includes the hire of powerchairs, so that really is causing people to lose their means of mobility.

Many people can’t drive precisely because of their impairment. If public transport is inaccessible to people because of distance to stops / stations, or not being able to get on trains or tubes, or buses causing pain or nausea or sensory overload, the only alternative is to take taxis. Taxis are expensive, so without access to adequate benefit payment – which Enhanced PIP would provide – taxi journeys would be out of of reach for people on Standard Rate.

If people need to use taxis to get around £20 won’t pay for more than 2 or 3 cab journeys, if you’re lucky. Which will see people who need to travel having to decide between which to travel to - GP, hospital appointments, adult education, the Jobcentre, voluntary work, - heaven forefend disabled people should want a social life and to see friends or family!

21-50 metres is not far enough to get to many bus stops, or from one’s front door to a local corner shop, or between benches on a high street.

To get to work many people – including disabled people – need to get from public transport to their place of work. For how many people is this less than 50m? I suspect not many. For me, it’s a 180m walk. Taxis can’t get to all workplaces so Access to Work isn’t necessarily going to be able to meet people’s transport assistance needs.

Supermarkets are bigger than a 21-50m walk to get around. Bus stops near supermarkets tend to be more than 20m away from the front door. The assumption that everyone has access to a car to get them to a supermarket is deeply flawed.

Many disabled people need to have shopping delivered. The cumulative delivery costs of shopping online for the bulk of one’s needs shouldn’t be a burden on disabled people. The point of benefits like DLA / PIP is to mitigate these extra costs. If it is only a small sum, there’s no way it’ll stretch to meet all of these extra costs. Someone with mobility as restricted as only being able to walk up to 50m is likely to also have trouble standing for extended periods – problems queuing are difficult to mitigate. Problems carrying shopping means often having to rely on other people to carry things for you – which if someone lacks support of people who can do this, means needing to pay people to do this.

Being unable to walk less than 50m even with an aid, should qualify someone automatically for Enhanced Rate PIP.

I will go further. Being unable to manage 100m should continue to be the distance at which it is considered someone’s mobility is considerably impaired. That is far enough to hobble to a corner shop & back, over to a post box & back, or from a bus stop to a shopping centre’s wheelchair hire office. Being effectively tied to one’s house by a piece of string 50m long (because you have to get there AND BACK) is incredibly restrictive. If that piece of string is cut down to 10m, that’s only to the garden gate. That is cruel, and is going to further restrict disabled people who are already living lives restricted by pain, fatigue and immobility.

There is a choice now with PIP. Choose to enable people living with impairments, or to further disable those people. A government that actively creates policies that worsen the lives of disabled people is inhumane and cruel.

I also want to add when I responded to the PIP criteria before, 20 metres distance was nowhere to be seen – this late addition consultation should never have been needed. Again, this adds a burden to disabled people, requiring us to repeatedly consult.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

New Bus for London - an emblem of Boris Johnson's contempt for disabled people?

The New Bus for London / New Routemaster has been chugging around selected London routes, boiling its top-deck passengers and irritating me every time I see one.

I loved the old Routemasters, but I also appreciated that they'd done their job and needed to be retired. They weren't comfortable to travel on, and if you had luggage / shopping / a buggy / were a wheelchair users / had impaired mobility / long legs... etc etc they were either less than ideal or totally inaccessible.

As a bus designed from scratch, the New Bus for London could have been designed with all of London's passengers in mind. Instead it seems to be a step backwards in accessibility terms. Design choices have been made that are active barriers for some disabled people.

The wheelchair user's space has been designed with, seemingly, only smaller manual wheelchair users in mind. Handrails have been put in awkward spaces, and it's just not big enough for larger powerchair users.

The destination blinds are in white-on-black, which goes against TfL's own standards for legibility.  When I asked about this choice, I got the following response:

"Black and white blinds were chosen when designing the New Bus for London as these are in keeping with the traditions of the original iconic Routemaster bus, which partly inspired the design of the bus and its front and rear profile. They provide information in a format that is clear and legible for passengers, particularly at night when it is back lit.

As it meets legibility standards for contrast and visibility, no consultation was required" (my highlighting)

Most guidance I can find on legibility says yellow text on black provides best contrast for visually impaired readers, and the response from TfL contradicts the earlier information on TfL's legibility standards.

To me, this seems like a backsliding of access provision - a choice of style over readability for a wider group of people, and as such is a discriminatory choice.

This, combined with the decisions around the space for wheelchair users being less than ideal (and again, worse than existing spaces on other buses) makes me feel like the design team for this bus and Boris Johnson as the figurehead of this project, don't care about disabled people being able to travel around London, and are happy to actively place barriers in people's way.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

How do Tories actually "help the most vulnerable in society"

The Independent Living Fund was a scheme whereby people with high levels of care needs were enabled to live independently, in their own homes rather than in residential care, through personal care being funded from central government.

Local councils have a responsibility to provide care for residents who have care needs, but in reality many councils are rationing this care and only providing it to those in the most desperate need - and then, only providing the minimum required. So someone who isn't incontinent, for example, may be put in nappies overnight rather than fund a personal assistant to assist that person with toileting.

Some councils are also looking at putting people into residential care if it would be cheaper to care for them there rather than in the community. ( The ILF has previously been used to top up people's care funding meaning disabled people could continue to live in the community.

Yes, it is councils' responsibility to provide social care, but the Coalition knows councils have shrinking budgets - they're the government providing those bloody shrinking budgets to the councils! All they're doing is going "Not my problem" about everything, and shoving it all onto other people's budgets.

I think the Tories hide behind "localism", and know people will suffer as tasks fall to different regions to legislate, when dealing with some things nationally is realistically the only way to ensure fair access to those things.

There are many people supported by the ILF - one woman is someone I know through work, Sophie Partridge, who has put a video together voicing her concerns.

Further discussions with people affected by closure of ILF:

The Independent Living Fund really did support some of those the Tories refer to as "the most vulnerable in society", people with incredibly complex care needs, who need 24 hour support. The Tories have closed it, and councils will be expected to pick up the tab, but the money is just not there.

How is this "supporting the most vulnerable"? As far as I can see it's just making those "most vulnerable" not their problem, passing the buck, handing over responsibility, and ultimately not giving a toss as long as their bottom line isn't affected.

Here is a letter from the DWP about the closure of the ILF:

"Thank you for your recent correspondence, raising issues arising from Government policies which are the responsibility of this Department. Government Ministers receive a large volume of correspondence and they are unable to reply personally on every occasion. I have been asked to respond to some of your points.

There are just over 19, 000 ILF users. There are approximately 13,000 users in England, 3,000 in Scotland, 2,000 in Wales and 750 in Northern Ireland. The average weekly ILF payment is £347. The most common use of ILF funding is to pay for personal assistants.

There are approximately 3,000 Group 1 users (joined pre-1993). While many Group 1 users receive some support from their local authority, this input is not part of their ILF eligibility criteria. There are approximately 16,000 Group 2 users (joined in or after 1993). Group 2 users have care packages which include a minimum contribution of £200 per week from their local authority.

94% of ILF users receive support from both the ILF and the local authority. Around 41% of these users receive direct payments from both the ILF and their local authority but under different eligibility and charging functions. Around 1, 200 ILF users do not have a known local authority contribution to their care package.

Having carefully considered all the responses to the consultation, the Government believes that closing the ILF in 2015, with funding devolved to local government in England and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales, is the best way forward. The significant changes in the wider system of care and support for disabled people mean that the care and support needs of current ILF users can, and should, be met within a single cohesive system. It is not justifiable to continue to support those disabled people who were ILF users when the fund closed to new applications, in a different way from other disabled people with similar needs. I can reassure ILF users that the Government remains fully committed to maintaining current ILF user’s care packages up to April 2015.

We believe that individual local authorities are best placed to provide locally tailored funding and services integrated around individuals’ needs through direct payments and personal budgets. Local Authorities already have a statutory responsibility to assess and fund the care needs of all disabled people – those who have been ILF users and those who have not. Over 18,000 existing ILF users already receive expert assessment and a contribution to their care funding through their Local Authority and discretionary ILF payments and have never taken precedence over this. However, operating the ILF in addition to the mainstream care and support system has duplicated functions and created unnecessary bureaucracy for both users and local authorities."

I don't find that letter satisfactory. It offers absolutely no assurance that people will continue to get the support they need to continue to live their own lives as we all have the right to.