The government’s reputation on disability equality has suffered a further damaging blow, after it admitted that none of the bodies it set up to engage with disabled people and their organisations as part of its disability strategy has met in nearly a year.The Fulfilling Potential Forum, set up “to discuss how disabled people can fulfil their potential”, has not met since November 2016.The Disability Action Alliance (DAA), launched by the government in 2012 to offer advice on the implementation of its disability policies, also appears to have been discarded, and its steering group has not met since last May.A third body, the Fulfilling Potential Advisory Service, which was set up alongside the forum in 2014 to provide expert advice on disability-related issues, was scrapped soon after it was launched.The government’s original intention was that the three bodies would replace Equality 2025, its high-level committee of disabled advisors, which it ditched in 2013.A series of admissions by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) raise further serious question-marks over the government’s commitment to the co-production of its policies with disabled people and their user-led organisations, and to the cause of disability equality and rights.Last month, Disability News Service (DNS) reported that ministers appeared to have ditched their cross-departmental disability strategy, Fulfilling Potential, and abandoned any idea of replacing it, after refusing to say what had happened to a review of the strategy announced by a minister nearly two years ago.Fulfilling Potential was supposed to be aimed at “improving the lives of disabled people” and making the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) “a living reality for disabled people in Britain”.Although it has not met since November 2016, DWP insisted this week that the Fulfilling Potential Forum had not been scrapped and no decision about its future had been made.But nearly 18 months on, it has still not uploaded the minutes of the November 2016 meeting onto its website, with the forum’s web page only showing minutes of meetings up to March 2016.DWP has told Disability News Service (DNS) that it will upload the minutes from the November 2016 meeting to the website “over the next few weeks”.It claims the forum has now “evolved into a wider stakeholder group” that met three times during 2017.This refers to widely-publicised meetings hosted by its Office for Disability Issues (ODI) in the lead-up to last autumn’s examination by the UN of the UK government’s progress in implementing the UN disability convention.DWP insists that ODI is “currently considering how to develop a flexible, inclusive and timely mechanism for engaging with disability stakeholders on cross-government issues, and in particular with regard to the [UNCRPD]”.The forum was launched four years ago, and its membership of about 40 included representatives from leading disabled people’s organisations, as well as many of the UK’s large non-user-led disability charities.The aim was to allow its members to discuss and provide input into the government’s “strategic priorities and direction” around Fulfilling Potential.But Tara Flood (pictured), director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education, said the forum had been a “sham” and “a clever distraction by the government from all of the important things that needed talking about” and was “an absolute waste of my time and effort”.She said the “final nail in the coffin” had been a meeting when she and other disabled people had wanted to discuss the upcoming examination of the government’s progress in implementing the UN convention “and yet the Office for Disability Issues wanted to talk about the new pound coin”.She subsequently refused to attend any further meetings.She said: “They don’t want to hear from disabled people who are going to challenge their thinking on anything.”Even though there have been no meetings of the forum since November 2016, Flood said the government had still used it as an example of how it was consulting with disabled people when questioned in Geneva last August about its progress in implementing UNCRPD.Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK (DR UK), was less critical of the forum than Flood but just as dismissive of the government’s attitude to engaging with disabled people.She said she had found the forum meetings “useful and constructive” as they had been attended by representatives of different government departments, and she said she could not see “any logical reason why they should be abandoned”.But she said DWP’s explanation that the forum had “evolved into a wider stakeholder group” was “absolute nonsense” and “scraping the barrel”.She attended one of these three stakeholder meetings in 2017 and she said it was simply linked to the UN examination and unrelated in any way to the Fulfilling Potential Forum.Bott said DR UK had become concerned about the government’s failure to engage with disabled people and their user-led organisations.She said: “We are very concerned and we have discussed it internally.“It appears to us that there is very little engagement with disabled people and our organisations taking place at all.“The message that we are getting from government is that ‘we do not need to engage with you in a joined-up way because all of the departments have their own mechanisms for engaging with disabled people and their organisations’.“We do not think that such mechanisms exist in reality but to prove the point we are requesting information from ODI as to what those mechanisms are for each department.”She added: “They said in their evidence to the UN committee back in August that they were considering improving methods of engagement, and absolutely nothing has happened since.”Bott said she had “no idea” whether the government still had a disability strategy, and added: “If they have one, I cannot see any point in being secretive about it.“I think the reality is that the government is just not focused on disability issues and disabled people at all at the moment.”None of six members of the Disability Action Alliance contacted by DNS had heard anything about the body since last autumn.Even DR UK, which previously ran the secretariat but now has no role within the alliance, said it had no idea what had happened to the network.DR UK received government funding to run the secretariat and develop a long-term strategy – after ODI announced that it would no longer provide four part-time members of staff to run it – but that money ran out early last year, and its steering group has not met since May 2017 when the last update was added to the DAA website’s news page.Tara Flood said DAA had also been “a sham” and that it would be “insulting” to call either DAA or the forum “anything close to co-production”.She said: “It is closer to coercion than it is to co-production. We are a long way from anything close to engagement, let alone co-production. It is not even window-dressing.”If the forum and DAA have been ditched, she said, it would at least prevent the government from “hiding behind them as examples of consulting with disabled people”.She added: “They want to speak to non-disabled people about disabled people. Clearly by their actions they have rejected any commitment whatsoever to ‘nothing about us without us’.”DNS has been unable to find any of DAA’s former members who know what has happened to the network, although Stephen Brookes, a former member of its steering group, suggested that the membership held some of the blame for its failure to thrive, as did DWP.When asked why the decision was taken to stop funding DAA and what was replacing it, a DWP spokeswoman said that ODI – which is part of DWP – “remains the cross-government focal point for disability issues, facilitating work with disabled people, disabled people’s organisations and other voluntary sector organisations to influence government policy and promote disabled people’s full participation in society”.And she said the minister for disabled people had also appointed 11 “disability sector champions” – including Brookes, who leads on rail issues – to “tackle the issues disabled people face”, and they were “using their influential status as leaders in their sectors to drive improvements to the accessibility and quality of services and facilities in their sector”.A DWP spokeswoman said: “ODI’s role is still to support the development of policies to remove inequality between disabled and non-disabled people.“We understand the importance of working in co-production with disabled people and continue to advocate this approach to other government departments to do the same.”The ODI website was updated with just three documents during 2017: one press release, one news story and one UN-related policy paper.The last time the ODI site was updated with any disability-related statistics was September 2015.
New figures obtained by Disability News Service (DNS) have demolished ministerial claims that the UK is one of the most generous countries in the world in its support for disabled people.Rather than being one of the most generous, the UK’s spending on disability is actually below average for the 28 member states in the European Union (EU).The figures also show that the proportion of the UK’s economic activity (GDP) spent by the UK government on disabled people fell from 2.6 per cent in 2015 to 2.5 per cent in 2016 and 2017.The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its ministers have repeatedly defended themselves against criticisms of government cuts to disabled people’s support over the last decade by attempting to argue that the UK’s spending levels compare favourably with other countries.When the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities told the UK government in 2017 that its cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe” – and recommended more than 80 improvements to how its laws and policies affected disability rights – it responded by stressing how much it spent supporting disabled people and how well that compared with other major economies.But the new figures show the UK is only the 12th most generous country in the EU, when its disability spending is taken as a proportion of GDP.Last month, DNS reported figures for 2015 which showed the UK’s spending was only 23rd highest of the 36 major world economies in the OECD* as a proportion of GDP.But DNS has now obtained figures for 2016 and 2017 from Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office, which bases its statistics on data provided by the UK and other EU governments, and which is the organisation that OECD uses to produce its figures for EU countries.The Eurostat figures show the UK was only the 12th most generous spender in the EU in 2015, 2016 and 2017, behind Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Germany, France, Luxembourg and even Lithuania, Slovakia and Hungary, if disability spending is taken as a proportion of a country’s GDP.The figures show spending on sickness and disability, which for the UK includes benefits like personal independence payment and employment and support allowance, as well as spending on social care and other social protection for disabled people.The claim that the UK is one of the world’s most generous countries when it comes to disability has been used repeatedly by work and pensions ministers such as Iain Duncan Smith (pictured), who claimed in 2014 that “[we] probably spend more than almost any other country in the developed world” and “nearly double what Germany spends”.Esther McVey made similar claims when she was minister for disabled people, and again last month when she was running – unsuccessfully – to be the next prime minister.Ministers have also repeatedly claimed that the UK spends more on disability than France, one of the seven major economies that make up the G7, and DWP repeated that claim yesterday (Wednesday).The Eurostat figures also demolish those claims, as they show that Frances spends about 2.9 per cent of its GDP on sickness and disability, compared to 2.5 per cent in the UK.A DWP spokesperson refused to say if the minister for disabled people now accepted that the UK spends below the average for the 28 EU countries on disability and is not even one of the most generous countries in the EU, let alone the world.Instead she said in a statement: “We’re spending £55 billion this year on benefits to support disabled people and those with health conditions, more than ever before.“And as a share of GDP, the UK’s public spending on disability and incapacity is higher than all other G7 countries bar Germany.”***OECD is an organisation of 36 countries, all of which are major world economies**The Eurostat figures show the UK also spends less than France A note from the editor:Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations. Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009. Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS… read more
Theresa May has passed her latest government motion on Brexit with the help of Labour MPs, who voted overwhelmingly to authorise her request for Article 50 extension to 30th June.The hope among Labour MPs is that asking the EU for a Brexit delay – as the Prime Minister has been compelled to do by the Cooper bill – will avoid ‘no deal’ on the current exit date of Friday 12th April.A huge majority of 420 MPs voted in favour of the motion, while 110 voted against – including 97 Conservatives. Those opposed were mostly hard Brexiteers such as Steve Baker, who favour no deal.Among those Tories who abstained were cabinet ministers Geoffrey Cox, Liam Fox, Chris Grayling and Andrea Leadsom. They also included soft Brexiteer Paul Masterton, who believes that the Cooper bill increases the risk of an accidental no deal.Just three Labour MPs voted against the motion – Ronnie Campbell, Stephen Hepburn and Kate Hoey – as well as now-Independent MP Frank Field.On Wednesday, Theresa May will attend a summit where EU leaders will consider extension proposals. European Council president Donald Tusk has advocated a ‘flexible’ extension of up to a year.Talks between both main parties continued today and will resume after the summit. Commenting on the meetings, a Labour Party spokesperson said: “We had further detailed and wide-ranging talks with cabinet ministers and officials today.“We have yet to see the clear shift in the government’s position that is needed to secure a compromise agreement. We have agreed to hold further talks on Thursday in an effort to break the Brexit deadlock, and find a compromise that can win support in parliament and bring the country together.”Tags:Brexit /Brexit delay /Article 50 extension /Cooper Bill / read more
SAINTS head to Catalans this Saturday looking to convert the positives from recent games into a strong performance.A much-improved showing at Hull FC almost brought home the points but Keiron Cunningham was left ruing “anxiety” in attack despite a display full of spirit and fight.“It was a lot closer to where we want to be and the effort was brilliant,” he said. “You make your own luck and if we had brought the same mentality to our previous games we could have sneaked them.“The boys are stinging a little bit but we were very close.“There was some anxiety in our attack and that is something we need to fix up. We looked anxious down their end of the field and tried to make things happen instead of letting them develop.“But what was pleasing was the spirit and our fight. If you fight hard then generally you get good things off the back of it.“I spoke to Lee Radford after the game and he said it was the most physical game they’d had this season. That is how we wanted to play and the lads but their body on the line. They fought hard for the victory but couldn’t get over the line.“There were lots of good things in the game. Mark Percival was brilliant and having Zeb Taia on that edge, although he put some balls down, will be good for him. That edge will turn out to be pretty lethal with the combinations we can build over there. Percy has a lot around him now, as does Zeb, and when the tracks dry up it will be very interesting.“Zeb will adapt; he is international standard and is learning the way we play. We also have to get used to playing with him too. But he understands rugby and will adapt quickly.”Saints head to Catalans this weekend with both sides looking to get back on the horse after defeats.KC continued: “We will travel to Catalans and be in and out in a day. In the past we have gone a couple of days before but that isn’t how players prepare for games – it can have that holiday feel. I didn’t like that when I was a player and this suits us better.“Losing Greg Bird is a bit of a bonus for us but they have good players throughout. They had a real good shot against Leeds in the first half – in the second Leeds were white hot. Catalans pose a different threat from last year – they are well organised and put you in bad spots.“We will go there and have a real good shot at it. I can tell with the way the players trained last week and how they played against Hull that they are ready to kick on. We have to play tough.“Of course it would be good to get a win. If you don’t win games then you are under pressure.“But if we continue to work hard, bring the little things we have been doing recently and get players back then we can only improve.”Cunningham has said he is likely to opt for the same 19 that was named last week but that is dependent on how a couple of players pull through.Alex Walmsley will be available after submitting an Early Guilty Plea following the charge laid against him after the Hull FC game.Both Matty Smith and Jonny Lomax “aren’t far off” according to the head coach.If you’re making the trip to Catalans you can buy your tickets from the Ticket Office at the Totally Wicked Stadium, by calling 01744 455 052 or online here.Saints receive 25 per cent of every away ticket sold, so buying direct benefits your club. read more
SAINTS will look to record their second win on the spin when they head to Widnes this Friday.A good performance whilst down to 12 men against Wigan and two points against the league leading Castleford Tigers has bolstered confidence in the side, but they’ll need to build on it at the Select Security Stadium.The Vikings have beaten Leigh on their travels and recorded a draw in Catalan so a tough clash is expected between two local rivals.Widnes are shorn of a number of players through injury but Derek Traynor, Sean Long and Jamahl Lolesi will not allow their charges to become complacent as they aim to climb the Super League table.Tickets for the game, which kicks off at 8pm, are on sale from the Ticket Office at the Totally Wicked Stadium, by calling 01744 455 052 or online here.There are advanced ticket prices for Members – and Saints get 25 per cent of the ticket price if you buy direct from us. read more