March 2020


PERSONAL INDEPENDENCE PAYMENT (PIP) STOPPED FOR BEING ABLE TO WALK “FOUR STEPS” FROM WHEELCHAIR TO SOFAEdited from the Independent February 2020

Michelle Wyatt, 45, was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (ME) 23 years ago, and after a benefit assessor visited her home in December 2019, the assessment report stated that Ms Wyatt was “able to rise unaided from the electric chair and transfer unaided to the sofa” and went on to conclude that it was “therefore reasonable to suggest she is able to rise and walk more than 200 metres unaided“.

Days after Ms Wyatt was informed that her PIP was stopping, she said she received notice that her Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and housing benefit had subsequently been suspended. They were reinstated 10 days later, but during that time she said “Believing I was going to lose my home. I got my friend to come and put all my stuff in boxes and take it to the charity shop. “I was feeling suicidal.

After being contacted by The Independent, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said they had reviewed Ms Wyatt's case and reinstated her PIP.

The latest government figures show nearly three in four (73 per cent) people who appeal refusals for PIP are successful, which campaigners warn does not include many rejected claimants who do not challenge the benefit decision because the process is too stressful. More than 9,320 complaints about the PIP assessment process had been received in the year to February 2019.

Varun Kanish, campaigns manager at Turn2us, said the PIP assessment model was “unfit for purpose.  [PIP assessments] are relentless, cruel and all too frequently inaccurate. We urge the DWP to oversee a radical overhaul of benefit tests, with a focus on compassion and medical understanding”," he said.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring that disabled people get all the support they are entitled to. We have reviewed this case and with further information from Ms Wyatt, have reinstated her entitlement to PIP, with a light-touch 10-year review.”  www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/disabled-woman-wheelchair-assessment-pip-chronic-fatigue-syndrome-dwp-a9311266.html

NEW MS SOCIETY REPORT – PERSONAL INDEPENDENCE PAYMENT (PIP) FAILS - From Disability Rights web site January 2020    
A new research report by the MS Society shows that more than half of people with MS surveyed didn’t feel their assessor understood their MS.

Too often, the research finds, PIP assessors make inaccurate decisions based on ‘informal observations’ (the way people look or act during their assessment).  67% of people with MS whose assessment included these said they didn’t reflect how MS affects them. In addition, 83% of people with MS who appeal their PIP decision after moving from DLA win their case at tribunal shows how inappropriate assessments continue to be for people with MS.

As a result, the report makes many detailed recommendations relating to the end to end process for claiming PIP, from the application form, to the face to face assessment, to the decision making and appeals.

The MS Society says: “PIP provides vital support to people with MS and helps pay for things such as adapted cars and help around the home, or for therapies that help manage the condition and symptoms. But too many people with MS are denied the right level of support, because of an application and assessment process that does not work for people with a fluctuating condition such as MS.

We need a PIP process we can trust. Decisions must be backed by evidence not assumptions. And assessments should be carried out by people with good knowledge of MS.

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YOU DON’T LOOK SICK: ‘PEOPLE THINK I AM BEING A HYPOCHONDRIAC BECAUSE I AM YOUNG’ Edited from metro.co.uk  
There are 13.9 million disabled people in the UK – and many of them have an invisible illness. Metro.co.uk publishes weekly stories about living with an invisible illness or hidden disability.

Carolyne Bennett, 44, from Southampton, has rheumatoid arthritis – an autoimmune condition where the body attacks the cells that line the joints, making them swollen, stiff and painful.

It differs from osteoarthritis, which is the most common type of arthritis, which means the cartilage around the joint is damaged, causing pain. When most people think of arthritis, they think it is a condition which affects older people and Carolyne says that people aren’t always very understanding.

Speaking to Metro.co.uk for our You Don’t Look Sick series, Carolyne says: ‘I don’t think people believe I have the condition because I look so well. ‘I almost think people think I am just being a hypochondriac but they have no idea what it is like behind the scenes.’

Carolyne first noticed a problem in 2013 when parts of her body suddenly started to swell up and she experienced very severe fatigue. She explains: ‘For about a year and a half, I went back and forth and was trying orthopaedic insoles and all sorts but it just wasn’t going away.’ Carolyne then got another lump on her knuckle and went back to her doctor but she was told it was a ganglion, which is a harmless lump. ‘It didn’t go away and it became more and more painful,’ Then other joints started swelling up and my wrists became so painful that I struggled to hold a cup of tea or coffee. ‘Just getting out of bed was a nightmare.

Her condition also caused anxiety and she struggled to leave the house. She says: ‘The anxiety was so bad. I was trying to run my business and care for my daughter. ‘I needed to take her to school but just getting into the car was like going into the lion’s den because my anxiety was so bad. Eventually, Carolyne paid for an appointment with a private GP as she was desperate for some answers. ‘I felt like I just couldn’t go on like this,’ she said.

‘He suspected that I might have rheumatoid arthritis because the swelling was all over my body. ‘I didn’t know anything about it and he told me he would do a blood test but I would have to wait two weeks for the results. ‘That was excruciating – just waiting to find out. ‘When they came back, he told me I did have it and he just looked at me and said: “I’m so sorry”. The way he said it made me think “Oh god, what does this mean”.’

In 2018, Carolyne was in her garden when her hip gave way and she was rushed to the hospital. She was taken for an emergency x-ray and they found that her bones were grinding against each other and she needed a total hip replacement. She says: ‘They told me that they don’t like to do it on someone my age because they last a maximum of 20 but they told me I had no choice.’

Since the operation, Carolyne says she has been walking a ‘tight rope’ with managing the condition. She says: ‘I live a healthy lifestyle but if I don’t, I go down fast. I get very sick. I have got used to managing my body and I know when it is coming so I do try to think about what I can do. It could be stress or it could be what I am eating.  
https://metro.co.uk/2020/01/26/you-dont-look-sick-people-think-i-am-being-a-hypochondriac-because-i-am-young-12122742/

THE DWP LOSES CHALLENGE OF HIGH COURT DECISIONS PROTECTING SEVERELY DISABLED BENEFIT CLAIMANT- Edited from Guardian January 2020

The government has suffered a humiliating court defeat after it was found to have unlawfully discriminated against thousands of severely disabled people who were left financially worse off after moving on to universal credit.

The court of appeal dismissed a challenge by the Department for Work and Pensions DWP) to two previous high court decisions that protected claimants in receipt of severe disability premium against a drop in income under the new benefit.

Severe disability premium and the enhanced disability premium are benefit supplements specifically aimed at meeting the additional care needs and costs of severely disabled people living alone with no carer. They were scrapped under universal credit.

The court ruled in June 2018 that the cut was unlawful because claimants who had moved to a different local authority area where universal credit was in operation had been treated differently to those who had moved within their home borough where the new benefit had not yet arrived. TP and AR were awarded compensation plus continuing £180-a-month payments to meet their benefit shortfall.

Responding to the Court of Appeal’s decision, AR said: “We hope that the court of appeal ruling will finally bring an end to our fight for severely disabled people not to be disadvantaged by universal credit. It is still so shocking to us that we have had to fight so long and so hard just to get the government to see that their policy is unfair.”

Tessa Gregory from the law firm Leigh Day, which represented AR and TP, said the ruling was a “wake-up call” for the DWP.  “We hope that the government will waste no more time or resources fighting this legal case and will instead get on with what it should have been doing in the first place: protecting this acutely vulnerable cohort of claimants and overhauling universal credit to make it fit for purpose.”  www.theguardian.com/society/2020/jan/29/dwp-loses-court-fight-over-treatment-of-severely-disabled

PEGASUS CARD SCHEME – Surrey Police In Partnership with Surrey Fire & Rescue and South East Coast Ambulance  
The Pegasus scheme is for people who find it hard to communicate with Surrey Police – we keep your pre-registered information safe on our computer and we can access it quickly if you call us. You don't need to repeat all your details.

Anyone who has a disability or illness that may make it hard to communicate with the police in an emergency or difficult situation. Registration is free.

How it works

  • You’ll be issued with a card and a personal identification number (PIN) and if you need to call us, say 'Pegasus', tell us your PIN and we’ll access your details right away, which will save you time.
  • You can also show your card to a police officer, member of police staff or other emergency services staff if you need assistance in person and they’ll know you may need extra help and support.
  • You can change or update your details at any time.
  • If you agree, we'll share your Pegasus information with other participating emergency services (fire, ambulance) and local authorities.

To apply contact 101 or Textphone: 18001 101. 

If you can access a computer an application can be made on line at  www.surrey.police.uk/contact/af/contact-us/us/contact-us/sspegasus-scheme/pegasus-card-scheme/ where a form can also be down loaded and posted to the address on the form or email ContactMgtAdministration@surrey.pnn.police.uk

Please note that applications may take up to four weeks to process.

DEPARTMENT OF WORKS AND PENSIONS (DWP) AXES COMMITMENT TO REVIEW 1.6 MILLION PIP CLAIMS -Disability Rights website February 2020  
In a written statement to the House of Commons, Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work Justin Tomlinson has announced that around £28 million has so far been paid out as a result of a DWP Personal Independence Payment (PIP) review exercise following Upper Tribunal decisions relating to 'psychological distress' and carrying out activities 'safely'.

However, instead of reviewing all 1.6 million PIP claimants as originally promised, the Minister announced that the DWP will only in future review those claimants it believes “are most likely to benefit”.

Disability Rights UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Officer Ken Butler said: “This is a retrograde step in ensuring disabled people receive their correct disability benefit entitlement.

When it committed itself to a review, the Government said that claimants would not need to write to the DWP in order to receive their correct award and that it would only review that aspect of a claim that related to the two legal judgments.

The number of PIP back payments made is already far less than originally projected. Many disabled people will be fearful of asking for a review on the grounds that it could lead them to instead being awarded less or no PIP benefit.”

You can read more about this story on Disability Rights website. https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/news/2020/february/dwp-axes-commitment-review-16-million-pip-claims-see-if-extra-benefit-legally 

­UNIVERSAL CREDIT WILL “STEAMROLL VULNERABLE PEOPLE INTO POVERTY-Disability Rights website February 2020  
New research by The Salvation Army has shown that millions of people risk being unable to access their benefits due to faults in the Universal Credit system.

Researchers interviewed Salvation Army service users and found 85% of people surveyed struggled to complete their claim.

Ken Butler, Disability Rights UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said: “DR UK has been one of many charities and other organisations warning that some disabled people are at risk of digital exclusion from Universal Credit.

Although it is possible to make a telephone claim for Universal Credit it is very difficult to do. It is impossible to break free of its digital system once a digital claim has been made.”

You can read more about this story on the Disability Rights website www.disabilityrightsuk.org/news/2020/february/universal-credit-will-%E2%80%9Csteamroll-vulnerable-people-poverty%E2%80%9D-concludes-new

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‘FINANCIAL TIMES’ ANALYSIS FINDS LARGE INCREASE IN DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION CASES - From Disability Rights website January 2020  
An analysis of cases being brought to employment tribunals published by the Financial Times has shown a "surge" in cases of disability discrimination.

Following the introduction of tribunal fees in July 2013, the number of disability discrimination cases dropped considerably. In the two years prior to the introduction of tribunal fees, an average 1,827 disability discriminations went to tribunal every three months. After fees were introduced, the average number of cases dropped to less than half, averaging 876 cases per three-month period.

Since the fees were declared unlawful by the Supreme Court in a case brought by Unison in July 2017, the volume of disability discrimination cases has started to return to pre-tribunal fee levels. Since July 2017 there have been an average of 1,673 disability discrimination cases going to tribunal each quarter, and in the most recently data covering July to September 2019 released by the Ministry of Justice, over 2,000 disability discrimination cases were brought.

Commenting on these findings, Evan Odell, a Researcher at Disability Rights UK has said: "The increase in disability discrimination cases being brought to tribunal after the removal of tribunal fees was entirely predictable. But many barriers to justice remain for disabled people.

Cuts to legal aid and the lack of support for law centres means many disabled people struggle to access free and impartial legal advice about their employment rights or face financial barriers to bringing a claim even without the fees. Many employers large and small also remain unaware of their legal duties towards disabled employees and the benefits of having disabled people on staff, as well as programmes like Access to Work that can pay for the cost of many reasonable adjustments."

RAIL REPLACEMENT SERVICES DELAYED FOR DISABLED PASSENGERS - From Disability Rights website February 2020  
The Minister of State for Transport, Chris Heaton-Harris, has written to the Rail Delivery Group extending the period of non-accessibility compliance for buses and coaches performing rail replacement duties.

Train companies must:

*Source and use compliant vehicles wherever possible in the first instance

*Only use non-complaint vehicles that have been granted a special authorisation when other options have been exhausted

*Provide alternative accessible transport for disabled passengers when no compliant vehicle is available.

The letter says that arrangements must be made in advance during planned engineering works to ensure alternative accessible transport is readily available.

A spokesperson from DR UK said: "It's disgraceful that yet again disabled people are made to wait to get access."

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BBC REVIEW CUTS TO RED BUTTON TEXT SERVICE   -  Edited from the Independent January 2020  
When Victor Jackson – 77, registered blind and hard of hearing – learned in September that the BBC was to scrap its Red Button text service, he was, he says, left feeling entirely helpless. “It’s my link to the outside world,” he tells The Independent. “And not just mine. Shutting this down could plunge millions of elderly and disabled people who aren’t online into social isolation overnight.”

A campaign the retired shoe-shop manager kick-started from his flat in shared accommodation in Leeds has pushed the BBC to pause its plans to end the service, which provides offline text news, sport and weather through the TV.  Bosses put the proposals on hold a day before they were due to come into action – after more than 170 organisations signed a petition launched by Mr Jackson with the National Federation of the Blind of the UK (NFBUK).

The document argues the cut is a form of discrimination against the 7 per cent of the population who have no internet access. For them, it says, the Red Button provides information on both global and local current affairs which they generally have no other way of obtaining.

“We’re delighted they’ve seen sense,” says Mr Jackson at home. “It was so clearly the wrong thing to do, and discriminated against vulnerable people and those with disabilities, they can’t be allowed to get away with this.”  Thousands of elderly and vulnerable people say they are reliant on the service because they find the internet – with its set-up costs, multiplicity of password requirements and potential for scams – intimidating or too expensive.  Others who are partially sighted say the text is clearer and easier to read than online or in print newspapers.

The BBC climbdown was announced on Twitter by the MP Damian Collins who had joined the fight to save the Red Button.

Speaking shortly after the U-turn was announced, Sarah Gayton, of the NFBUK, said: “They tried to sneak this out without anyone realising and they almost succeeded because it was a cut that would really have only affected the voiceless.  We’re elated that’s now been paused. The cost of keeping this service is so small in the context of the BBC budget but it provides a service – keeping isolated people informed and educated – that is absolutely central to its charter.

“They have said this is only a pause but we will now keep fighting to ensure it is a permanent one.”  The BBC has previously said the service costs £39m annually to run, although that also includes showing live sport on the button.

SHOPPERS INVITED TO HELP WITH SCAN’s BLUE BADGE PARKING BAY ABUSE SURVEY  
SCAN’s new project aims to assess the level of the abuse of Blue Badge parking spaces at local supermarkets that provide ‘off road’ parking for their customers.

We are aware of national concerns about the abuse of these spaces and we need to find out what the situation is at local stores so that we can take action. We don’t need you to make additional visits or visit other stores. The survey period will be a minimum of one week and you will only need to visit your usual store and answer a few questions for us.

Questions will include;

How many Blue Badge spaces have been provided?

How many vehicles in the Blue Badge spaces are NOT displaying a badge?

Is there signage indicating that enforcement of the spaces takes place?

Please contact us if you have time to help with this survey and let us know the name and location of the Supermarket that you are most likely visit. 

Visit the forum on our web site to see the full list of questions and to add your responses at www.spelthorneaccess.org/forum/scan-blue-badge-parking-bay-abuse-survey.  Email info@spelthorneaccess.org.uk or text 07853 038933.