Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A busy week for Personal Independence Payment

It’s been an eventful week in the disability sector with news surrounding Personal Independence Payment (PIP). PIP is the new benefit that is due to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

First of all we had the government response to a consultation on the moving around activity of Personal Independence Payment assessment. Earlier this year, the government changed a qualifying distance in one of the assessment areas for PIP to 20 metres from its original proposal of 50 metres at the last minute.  People who can walk up to 20 metres, but struggle after that point, are likely to score fewer points in their assessment. This potentially affects their entitlement and the support they receive to meet their needs.

This change was made without the government even indicating it would do so during the consultation process. In the context of such strong feeling on this matter and a legal challenge pending, the government consulted on the matter (you can read Aspire’s paper here).

The government’s response to the consultation has now been published. Aspire is disappointed that after receiving over 1,000 responses and only five being in favour, that 20 metres will remain as a qualifying distance in the assessment.

The second piece of big news on PIP was that there would be a delay in reassessing people on DLA for the new benefit. The process was due to start on 28th October but the government has now decided to take a more phased approach, starting with people living in Wales, West Midlands, East Midlands and parts of East Anglia.

On the slower roll out of reassessments, if the system is struggling to cope then a slower roll out is better than rushing full steam ahead. However, this is something that should have been thought of before. Changing the approach at the last minute and just creates more uncertainty and confusion.

The government expects all DLA claimants to have been invited on to Personal Independence Payments by September 2017. With 3.3 million people receiving DLA, this requires on average 825,000 assessments a year, or 16,000 assessments a week, or 3,200 assessments a day. This doesn’t even include new people entering the system!
With so many people affected, it’s no surprise that the government has had to rethink their approach.

As people are going through the process for the new benefit, we are already receiving feedback from people and having to make representations on their behalf to the Department for Work and Pensions and the assessment providers.
The government needs to improve its planning and give further assurances that it is in control of the roll out of the new Personal Independence Payment benefit. The last minute changes and impromptu consultations that we have experienced recently do not inspire confidence.

Friday, 11 October 2013

David Weir is just one of 300,000 disabled people without an accessible home

Paralympic athlete, David Weir hit the headlines earlier this week when it was revealed that he has to pull himself up the stairs in his own home several times a day because he doesn’t have a downstairs toilet. His local housing association does not have enough accessible properties to meet the needs of all the disabled people in the area. Presumably, the lack of downstairs toilet is not the only issue for Weir and this difficult route also has to be undertaken whenever he needs to check on his children after bedtime, change clothes or head for bed himself.

The story made the news because Weir is a household name. But the reality is that thousands of wheelchair users in the UK face similar difficulties in their own homes. We live in a country where so much of our housing stock is old and inaccessible; 300,000 wheelchair accessible properties would be needed just to meet the current shortfall, and the aging population is only going to make this problem worse in the future.

Making do in an inaccessible property can be extremely uncomfortable. Over the years we’ve heard from countless people who, like Weir, have done the best they can to get on with their lives in trying circumstances. There was Shelley who couldn’t shower or bath for two years because her bathroom was inaccessible, making do instead with a strip wash at the sink. And Mark who moved his bed into the family living room for 18 months as the upstairs was completely out of reach. John couldn’t even get into his own house, or back out again, without having two people to carry him up the steps to his own front door. Even so, in many ways, John, Mark and Shelley and all the others in similar circumstances were actually the lucky ones; 20% of every one who sustains a spinal cord injury will be discharged into a nursing home because there is simply nowhere else accessible, or even partly accessible, for them to go.

The effects of inadequate housing for wheelchair users are many and far reaching. The lack of independence can have a profound impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing, and it obviously puts a strain on family relationships too. Pulling yourself up stairs or over steps puts shoulder joints at risk of injury, a significant concern for wheelchair users. And there’s an inherent risk of infection when the lack of an accessible bathroom makes it difficult to maintain hygiene standards.

Yet despite this obvious need for many more accessible homes, we don’t actually do that much as a country to address the problem. Look at any new housing rhetoric and you are bound to see references to affordability and environmental sustainability; important issues, no doubt, but where’s the talk of making sure that disabled people can actual live in the finished properties?
London does have a policy in place that requires 10% of all new builds to be wheelchair accessible or easily adaptable. The latest figures suggest that we don’t quite manage that target, but at least it’s a start and we desperately need other regions to take note and bring in similar rules. And with those rules in place, the architects and builders need to think a bit more about what they are doing; we visited a wonderful accessible flat on the first floor of a new development recently, but found that the lift to reach it was too small for a powered wheelchair.

With accessible properties in place, Local Authorities and Housing Associations need to make sure that the right people have access to them. A Greater London Assembly policy paper revealed that in London, 70 per cent of wheelchair accessible homes in 2008/09 went to households with no wheelchair user. In addition, the Greater London Authority’s Housing Strategy paper revealed that in 2007/08, only 46 per cent of wheelchair users moving into a housing association home were allocated a wheelchair accessible property, while 68 per cent of lettings of wheelchair accessible homes were to households with no wheelchair user.

Aspire is currently working on a response to the Housing Standards Review consultation which focuses on issues such as space and access of housing. We will argue the case for stronger minimum requirements for space and access standards that meet the needs of wheelchair users.
Better planning, more housing and better organisation; it’s really not rocket science. But it will mean that wheelchair users – be they Paralympians or mere mortals – have properties where they’re not risking their own health just by living there.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Party Conferences: how they fared on Disability

Party Conferences have been all over the news in the last few weeks, with all UK political parties trying to gee up their activists and get their message across to the nation about why they believe people should support them.
The main highlight of party conferences is inevitably the leader’s speech. We looked beyond that and specifically analysed the content of speeches from the MP with lead responsibility for Work and Pensions in the main parties.
The difference between them all was huge this year. Firstly, we were disappointed that there was no main conference speech at all from the Liberal Democrat lead Steve Webb MP so it only leaves us with speeches from Iain Duncan Smith MP (Conservative Party) and Liam Byrne MP (Labour Party) to analyse.
A quick scan of the speech transcripts sees disability or disabled mentioned once in the Conservative speech and seven times in Liam Byrnes address.

If we were to pick a moment of inspiration from Iain Duncan Smith’s speech, we’d opt for the line, “Our reformed welfare system will once again catch you when you fall, but lift you, when you can rise”. An aspiration I think that all can share with the Secretary of State. We want a welfare system that is there for you when you need it and that helps you and gives you a lift as well so that people can and strive for the best.

Both the Labour and Conservative speeches had a great deal of political bashing. However on the whole, it was heartening to see disability being mainstreamed and given such high prominence in the Labour Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary’s speech. In fact, the Labour speech was much heavier on real policy and proposals, whereas the Conservative speech was much more focused on their record to date in government tackling debt by cutting welfare.   

It’s hard to compare two very different approaches, however there is one main policy difference that was clearly identifiable and comparable: the issue of under occopancy of social housing, and the policy which has been nicknamed the Bedroom Tax. Iain Duncan Smith saw the policy as an achievement and said, “we are ending the situation where taxpayers would have to pay out £1 billion over the next two years for some social housing tenants to have spare bedrooms.” Byrne on the other hand said, “we say the Bedroom Tax should be axed and axed now and if David Cameron won’t drop this hated tax, then we will repeal it” giving a clear commitment to scrap the under occupancy penalty.  So one Party sees it as a success and one clearly doesn’t and has promised to scrap the Bedroom Tax.

I’m sure that more policies will emerge as we draw nearer to the general elections in 2015 but the dividing lines are beginning to emerge, at least, between the two main political parties.

Aspire will continue to try and influence all political parties n issues that affect people with spinal cord injury and want to encourage you all to do so too by contacting your local MPs. If you want help in going about doing this, feel free to contact our campaigns team on 020 8420 6702.

Krupesh Hirani, Policy and Research Officer