Pushing the disability ministry to take disabled access seriously

A minor little campaign victory achieved at NDCS the other week: the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) accepted that deaf people should not be forced to use the phone to make a claim for the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit. Usually, I do a little jig and get the Bucks Fizz out when a campaign victory has been achieved. But this was a very small, unsettling one and which left an unpleasant taste in the mouth.

How come? Because the only real concession is that deaf people have been given a postal address that they can write to to ask for a paper form instead.

And why is it an unsettling one? Because it was such a small issue that should absolutely never have been an issue at all. And because it’s revealed some rather interesting things about how the Department for Work and Pensions, which has responsibility for disability issues across Whitehall, seem to approach issues around access for disabled people.

For example, who at DWP thought it was OK to propose that the only way that a disabled person could make a claim was via a telephone?

If an online system is being created, why not wait until this is developed before rolling out the new benefit so that more people can access?

And, the worse one of all for me, who on earth thought it was acceptable to suggest that if a deaf person couldn’t use the phone, it didn’t matter too much because they could ask a family member to call DWP for them?

Something has gone very horribly wrong when the Minister and officials responsible for disability have to be hectored at some length and for some time to take a tiny step to improve access.

Official were seemingly operating in ignorance of the Equality Act 2010 and its central tenets to remove discrimination and promote access for disabled people. Throughout the whole exchange with DWP, it was abundantly clear that the needs and the convenience of their ‘system’ was far more important than the physical access needs of disabled people.

And this is before we’ve got to the raft of spending and welfare cuts that are going to impact on disabled people (and which the Government refuses to assess the impact of – another legal requirement). This was a small issue. But it said big things about the Government’s wider attitude towards disabled people.

I despair. It makes me angry and depressed. But equally it makes me more determined to keep challenging the Government. And I hope others do too.

P.S. If you’re not sure what this new PIP benefit is all about, both the National Deaf Children’s Society and Action on Hearing Loss have recently produced some information resources on PIP for deaf young people, parents and deaf adults.

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Battle lost on welfare cuts for deaf people

The Department for Work and Pensions’ have succeeded in their plans to replace Disability Living Allowance with a new benefit called Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for disabled people over 16. The regulations were debated and voted through by Parliament around a month ago. And now many deaf people will lose out.

A response from the National Deaf Children’s Society is online and sets out their anger and disappointment.

I think what makes me most angry is the way the Government have gone about making this cut without being open about the consequences. Lots of members of the public and a few MPs and peers have raised concerns about the impact of these changes on deaf people. They have all been largely fobbed by the Department for Work and Pensions in several different insidious ways.

For example, the Department have been prone to engage in rhetoric about supporting those “most in need” when asked how deaf people will be affected.

Note the implication that that deafness isn’t that big a deal. If the Department think this, they should come out and say so. They’ve had ample opportunity.

And since when did it become OK for the Department for Work and Pensions to turn disability into some kind of big competition, pitting different groups of disabled people against each other to see who is ‘most’ disabled? I thought the just thing to do was to support everyone who needs help. It’s brazen and shameless divide and rule.

Another example of how the Department have batted away concerns is through refusing to identify how many deaf people will lose out. They say the Department can’t monitor the impact on deaf people. Everyone’s needs need to be looked at individually, they say. I find this curious because the Department can come up with a very specific figure of 608,000 people who will be affected by these changes. That’s 608,000 individuals who have already been judged to not be disabled enough. They can also breakdown figures in terms of who is on different rates of DLA. I rather suspect the Department can work out the differential impact but have made a conscious decision not to do so.

And finally, and probably what annoys me most, is some rather disingenuous use of definitions. For example, the dividing line between those deaf people who will and won’t get PIP is whether they have difficulties understanding basic or complex verbal information without communication support. So if you can’t understand basic information, you qualify. If you can understand basic but not complex you won’t.

When someone says ‘complex’ information, I assume they’re talking about the philosophy of Nietzsche or the budget for the European Commission. In fact, ‘complex’ anything that takes more than a sentence. This isn’t complex information at all – it’s everyday communication. And now deaf people who can understand yes or no but who struggle with everyday communication will lose out. So much for promoting personal independence.

The changes come into force from April. Reassessments for anyone who is currently claiming DLA will start from October – including deaf children who have just turned 16. You can expect a letter in the post. If you currently have a lifetime award, this isn’t going to make a difference, you will still undergo reassessment. In most cases, you will probably be called to a face to face assessment.

It now seems likely that the Department for Work and Pensions will turn their attention to DLA for children. Will the Department attempt to cut support to those children it deems to not disabled enough? If so, they’re going to have a hell of a fight on their hands.

Deaf access fail at the Department for Work and Pensions

Imagine someone telling a wheelchair user that the disabled toilets are just up the stairs. You’d think it bonkers. Well, the Department with overall responsibility on disability policy seem to be on well on their way to pulling a similar trick with deaf people.

There’s been lots of discussions about how the process for claiming the new Personal Independence Payments benefit will work in practice. In a nutshell, you have to make a pre-claim before you’re given a personalised form for your proper claim.

And how do you get a pre-claim form? Easy, you give the benefits team a call and they will do a short interview over the phone. And if you have problems using the phone? No worries, you’ll get a paper form to complete. And how do you get a paper form? You give the benefits team a call.

Frankly, it’s more than just a little disconcerting that the people looking after benefits for disabled people haven’t quite twigged that not every disabled person can use a telephone or have a textphone. So much for the new digital age and for the Government leading by example when it comes to access for disabled people… Am told that Department officials are working on trying to get an online form set up for the new PIP benefit… but it may not be ready in time when the new benefit launches in April next year.

They’d better get a move on. It’s not only just bonkers and ludicrous, but discriminatory.

Is the Government telling deaf people to PIP off on disability benefits?

It took me a while but I finally read through the Department for Work and Pension’s consultation on the eligibility criteria for the new benefits for disabled people, Personal Independence Payments. Otherwise known as PIP. To be fair, there were three, rather long documents, to read through to understand what was being proposed. And I’m still not sure I’ve got it.

For those that don’t know, PIP is the new DLA (Disability Living Allowance), a benefit for disabled people to fund the various additional costs associated with being disabled. Though the Government keep implying otherwise, it’s not linked to employment status. PIP will be introduced from next spring for disabled young people aged 16+. Disabled children have a stay of execution and will remain on DLA for now.

The Government have confirmed that when the move to PIP happens, 500,000 disabled people will lose their PIP. Yup, that’s half a million people who will be worse off. And looking at the guidance, it seems that many deaf people will be among the losers.

This is because in order to get the new “standard” rate of PIP, a deaf person would have to show that they couldn’t understand “basic” information when communicating out and about. Difficulties in understanding anything more than basic information will, on its own, not get you the points you need to qualify. Examples given in the document seem to suggest that only deaf people who communicate entirely and solely in sign language will be eligible for the new PIP. Everyone else, it would seem, nothing.

Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions recently said that deafness was a “moderate” disability. The policy intention is that funding needs to be taken away from deaf people and given to those with more severe disabled needs. This is obviously a rather narrow way to frame political choices. It’s also an approach that treats deaf people as being less “deserving” of support, regardless of any additional support that may be needed to understand more than just “hello” and “bye bye” and which ignores the additional costs and disadvantaged associated with being deaf in a hearing world.

The National Deaf Children’s Society have drafted a short guide on what the changes might mean for deaf young people. This also include some tips and suggestions on how to respond to the consultation. If you think the changes are unfair, I would encourage you to have your say and ask the Government to raise the threshold of support to make sure deaf people get the help they need.

Government turns their back on deaf children

Maria Miller MP, Disability Minister

One thing that has always made me feel angry is that the way that deaf people are forced to “cope”. Other disabled people are much worse off. But deafness still poses huge barriers. In a civilised society, deaf people shouldn’t have to go through life “coping”. Deaf people need support to help them become independent and thrive and to manage the additional costs that come with being a deaf person in a world that still isn’t set up for deaf people.

Tonight, MPs have voted to cut benefits for deaf children. Where families with deaf children receive tax credits, some were entitled to “disability additions”. These additions are going to be cut by half, at a cost of £1,400 a year, to some families. A briefing by Every Disabled Child Matters explains more.

Lords tried to overturn it last night. Baroness Wilkins made a powerful speech about the impact of this cut on deaf children. But MPs – including a large number who signed a National Deaf Children’s Society pledge to support deaf children – have voted to ignore the Lords, close any further discussion of it and proceed with a cut to help for deaf and other disabled children.

Yes, we are in difficult financial times. But I don’t remember reading anywhere that deaf children caused the global economic recession.

Yes, other disabled people need more support. But I think all disabled people would say that this shouldn’t be at cost of support for deaf children. Anyone who thinks that deafness is “disability-lite” needs to see the world through the eyes of a deaf child struggling and their parents.

Yes, deaf people can succeed in life and do well. But I don’t think the Government should accept that “coping” is a fair way for deaf people to live their lives.

This is going to have a devastating impact on many families with deaf children and push many into poverty. The Government is trying to balance the budget on the backs of deaf children. It’s just wrong.

Is the Prime Minister keeping his promises on help for disabled children?

One of my favourite campaigning organisations, Every Disabled Child Matters, have launched a new campaign action. They are asking people to write to the Prime Minister to give some good news to families with disabled children for Christmas.

In the days before David Cameron was busy pulling hissy fits in Europe, he promised that he would “never do anything that would hurt disabled children.”

This begs the question why the Government is pushing ahead with changes to disability benefits that effectively amount to a 50% cut in help for families with disabled children. As Every Disabled Child Matters explain, currently, low income and out of work families who claim DLA on behalf of their child are entitled to a ‘disability addition’ worth £53.62 per week. Families with a child in receipt of the high rate care component of DLA also receive a ‘top up addition’ worth an additional £21 per week. Proposals under the Universal Credit will see lower benefit ‘additions’ drop by over 50%. It might not seem much but to families already struggling without support, this may push them over the edge.

The worse thing? By the Government’s own admission, this change won’t have any impact on the overall benefit bill. That’s right, the cuts are completely unnecessary.

I’m fast becoming somewhat disillusioned about the widening gap between what the Government say and do on help for deaf and other disabled children. If there’s ever a time for cynicism to be dashed, it’s just before Christmas. So fingers crossed, the Government come up with a better gift for disabled children in the UK today.

Does the Government know what they’re doing on benefits and disabled children?

Time for a confession – I’m what the tabloid newspapers would call a benefits scrounger. Yes, I receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Been receiving it since I was a child.

So what do I use my DLA for? Well, obviously, I use it for to pay for wild reckless parties, luxury holidays, a 5 a day in the pub and a dirty dozen daily Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I sometimes wonder why I bother going to work – with that £14 a week I get being on the sick, I could be totally living the dream!

Not really. Instead, I use my DLA to pay for special equipment like flashing fire alarms in my home. A special digital recorder thing so I can watch and record TV with subtitles and be able to chat about modern stuff with my friends. A decent phone to help me communicate with people on the go. And various other things to help me handle the horrors of what I call the “hearing” world. *shudder*

I may even get a textphone one day if relay services improve and make use of technology that was developed after I was born 30 years ago.

Though I sometimes ask myself whether I really deserve it, I value the fact that I live in a society that recognises that disability comes with extra costs and that it is just that disabled people should receive financial support to cover the costs of this.

I may not be living in such a society for much longer. The Government is planning to abolish DLA and replace it for adults with something called PIPS -Personal Independent Payments. They also plan to cut the costs of the benefit by 20%. Though they can’t say what it is, there’s obviously a clear rationale for the 20% figure – the Government would never just pluck a number out of thin air when it comes to vital benefits for disabled people. Ahem.

Image courtesy of NDCS

If I lost my DLA or it was reduced, I’d manage and get by. I might even write an angry blog about it. I can defend myself. But what worries me is what will happen to deaf children, for many of whom the benefit is vital. Lots of parents of deaf children have been writing in to NDCS to explain how important the benefit is to their families and helping their deaf child lead an independent life.

So what is happening to DLA for disabled children?

Well… nobody really knows. Despite the fact that the Government has legislation going through Parliament now that will abolish DLA, they haven’t yet said what they’re replacing it with for children.

Just a small detail. I’m sure they’ll explain their intentions at some point. Maybe before they’ve abolished DLA. It’s not as if the Government is just making it up as they go along and treating deaf and other disabled children, some of the most vulnerable children in society, as an afterthought.

If you, like me, would prefer to see some answers sooner rather than later and make sure that welfare reform doesn’t disadvantage deaf children, NDCS has set up a campaign action whereby you can email your MP. The action is urgent as MPs are debating the Welfare Reform Bill this week on Wednesday.