Category Archives: News and politics

London 2012 Paralympics fervour

I’ve just got back from the Olympic / Paralympic stadium. What a day….again! And I was there to see David Weir collect his gold medal!

Paralympics fervour has truly taken over nation GB! More competitors, more countries, more TV coverage, more spectators than ever before.

The Paralympics opening ceremony watched by 11.2 million viewers, has given broadcaster Channel 4 its largest audience in a decade. There are more competitors (around 4,200) from more countries (165, up 19 from Beijing four years ago) and the Paralympics are being broadcast to more countries than ever before (over 100). At the time of writing Team GB are 2nd in the medals tablewith 56 medals (17 Gold). The target is 103 medals (one medal every hour of competition) and in Beijing we won 102 (42 Gold). After three days of athletics there have already been 31 world records! It really is fantastic. Who would have believed that the euphoria from the Olympics could have been picked up again?

Amid all of these amazing statistics there are bound to be a few that are just too good to be true. Last week I came across some stats on twitter about pre-sales, quickly tweeted it on without confirming the numbers and they have since been questioned. Next time I’ll double check but the point is that ticket sales really have been amazing, with Paralympic record ticket sales of 2.4 million advanced sales, ensuring more Brits will get a chance to experience live Paralympic sports and raising the profile and appetite for Paralympic spectator sports. I can’t wait to be at the athletics this week.

Without doubt this is all creating a once in a generation opportunity to show Britain as a nation that celebrate Paralympians as sporting equals. The sport has been incredible – David Weir’s finish in the 5,000m was simply breathtaking. But above all more people than ever seem to be talking about disability and asking questions about disability and disabled people. This really is a once in a lifetime opportunity to raise awareness and improve attitudes….and there’s still a week to go!

Enjoy the Paralympics and do tweet me or Scope with your thoughts.

Scope CEO Blog: Watching the Dispatches undercover footage

Undercover filming

Coming out of a meeting on Tuesday morning, one of Scope’s press officers was waiting in my office, telling me that we needed to leave immediately to go and do some filming for Channel 4’s documentary series Dispatches.

Dispatches had filmed undercover footage of what happens when doctors are trained to deliver the Government’s Work Capability Assessment. They wanted me to watch the footage and give a reaction to it.

The Work Capability Assessment is something Scope has been campaigning on for a while now. This test was introduced to determine which disabled people would be eligible for out of work benefits, who would be eligible for specialist support to help them find a job and also identify those disabled people who would be expected to get a job straight away.

It’s a test Scope has had deep reservations about. We’ve been deeply worried about the implications of using a medical tick box assessment that ignores all the other barriers disabled people face in finding work, being used to identify who can go out and get a job.

Work Capability Assessment tests

Within 15 minutes of coming out of my meeting, I was sitting on a sofa in a studio watching something absolutely outrageous.

Disabled people would have been shocked and appalled as I was to see the reality of the way doctors were effectively being trained to leave behind all their years of medical training and deliver a test that even the trainer claimed was “almost unachievable”.

The Government has said time and time again that this test is fair, appropriate and not driven by targets. Yet quite clearly the doctors are being told to achieve targets of how many people they find fit for work or who need support and that they will be held to account if those targets aren’t met. This is a flawed test and it is being implemented in a damming way. How can decisions that can have a profound and devastating effect on disabled people’s lives be made in this way in Britain in 2012?

These are real people being assessed, up to 10,000 every week. We know that disabled people want to work but many need the right support to do so. And by being subjected to this flawed test they may be denied the very support they need to get a job.

Dispatches reveals a “toxic” system

The trainer in the film even said she felt the test was “toxic”, that it was “frustrating” that someone cannot have the benefits and are expected to find a job when she knew they didn’t stand a chance. For me, the footage didn’t just show that the test that was toxic. It showed that the whole system is toxic.

Yes this programme has to raise serious questions about how the test is being delivered, but ultimately the Department for Work and Pensions is responsible for ensuring that disabled people get a fair deal.

Many disabled people, Disabled People’s Organisations and disability charities have been trying to work with the Government to improve the test. There can be no more finger pointing or blame between the DWP and ATOS. They both have a responsibility and duty of care towards disabled people.

They should both be ashamed for allowing this to happen. And they need to take serious action immediately.

Take action now by emailing your MP

Over-looked Communities, Over-due Change

Guest post from Robert Trotter

It’s one of Scope’s ambitions to be completely inclusive. This means that we work hard to make sure that disabled people from all backgrounds have the same opportunities as everyone else.

But in the past it’s been difficult to support disabled people from ethnic minority communities, as there’s been very little research done to find out what kinds of support are needed, and how it can best be provided.

That’s why we’ve worked with another organisation – the Equalities National Council – to talk to disabled people from ethnic minority backgrounds to find out what their experiences of services were, and how these could be improved.

Our report – Over-looked Communities, Over-due Change – has some clear findings that should help us better understand this growing group of people.

Those we spoke to told us that life can be very difficult. Like many disabled people, money can be really tight. Life can often be very lonely. Sometimes it can be a struggle for people simply to know where to go for help, especially if their English isn’t the best.

Yet they also told us lots of simple ways that services could be improved. So in our report we explain how the Government, as well as those providing care for ethnic minority disabled people, can provide better support by involving communities better in the way that services are designed.

We hope that by reporting what ethnic minority disabled people told us, and offering ideas and solutions for improving their life opportunities, we can kick-start a journey of change – because as our report shows, it’s absolutely vital that we find ways to better support this often-overlooked community.

You can read a full copy of the report or an executive summary.

If you’d like more information, please contact Robert Trotter (Research Officer) atrobert.trotter@scope.org.uk

Scope Chair Alice Maynard responds to the Commission on Assisted Dying

The Commission on Assisted Dying reported back its findings and recommended that under certain circumstances people with terminal illnesses should be allowed assistance to end their own lives.

The Commission was chaired by Lord Falconer, a barrister and former justice secretary, and comprised of doctors, specialists in palliative care, an ex-police commissioner and a former president of the General Medical Council. It’s worth noting that Lord Falconer, as a policeman might say, ‘has previous’. In a past life he introduced an amendment to an act of parliament in order to change the law on assisted suicide. Indeed, it was striking how many of those on the Commission had pre-established views on the issue.

It’s also worth revisiting how and why the Commission itself came into being. It was funded by pro-euthanasia author Sir Terry Pratchett, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, and Dignity in Dying, and they both campaign for the law to be changed.

When I met the Commission – as chair of Scope – I did so in order to state our position on the issue of assisted suicide and to ask the Commission some questions about its role, remit and composition. We took this approach because the Commission has not been sanctioned by Government.

To boil their conclusions down, if you have less than a year to live, are over 18, have the mental capacity to make a decision, and have come to the conclusion entirely by yourself and voluntarily then, with the certification of two doctors, you should be allowed assistance to take your own life.

This debate touches on hugely complex and emotional issues. There are passionate voices on both sides. While the Commission acknowledged this in its research – and some of the discussions in the report are useful and interesting – most of the concerns raised by disabled people seem to have fallen by the wayside in its recommendations.

There is a lot about these recommendations that is unsettling and arbitrary.

The report acknowledges the concern that a change in the law might lead to people being pressured into taking their own lives – whether pressure from relatives, from professionals or as a result of more indirect prejudices about disabled people such as that a disabled person’s life isn’t worth living. While the report underlines the need for checks to ensure that people aren’t put under pressure to end their lives, there is scant detail on how this can be done. A fear of losing these safeguards one of the major concerns for disabled people. But the recommendations are paper-thin on this crucial point.

The report makes the distinction between those who are terminally ill, and those who are disabled. The Commission excludes from legalised assisted dying those with long-term impairments that are not terminal. So the point at which a disabled person becomes someone with a terminal illness is going to be an important consideration.

Many impairments affect people’s life expectancy to varying degrees. The line between a disabled person whose life-expectancy is shortened and someone with a terminal illness can often be blurred – and indeed determined by the person’s own approach to disability – making this distinction unworkable in practice. Prognoses change, people’s circumstances change, and it is notoriously difficult to predict how long someone has to live. To make matters worse, drawing the line at a year can increase the uncertainty of any such prediction.

The Commission rightly notes the importance that health and social care systems have in the lives of many disabled people. And sadly, when it comes to supporting disabled people and giving them the opportunity to live the life they want to lead, these systems often fall short. Many disabled people – including those with terminal illnesses – are not able to live their lives to their full potential, and in an era of swingeing welfare cuts that is likely to get worse.

These issues are important considerations and, though their consideration in the report is welcome, they do not come through strongly enough in the recommendations.

Much of my concern is wrapped up in how society views disabled people. Many believe our lives are not worth living or of no worth to society.  And in these economically constrained times, we can be seen as a burden on society and on our families and communities.  Sadly, professionals who are there to support us sometimes share those misconceptions about our value.  A recent report by the charity Mencap revealed that there have been 74 deaths in NHS care and there is on-going discrimination within the NHS of people with learning difficulties. This highlights an issue with the report’s ‘safeguards’, which rely heavily on the objectivity of doctors and social workers.

I believe that disabled people’s lives have intrinsic value and that, as disabled people, we should be able to get the support we need to live our lives to the full.  That requires protection in law, which is the ultimate safeguard from pressure to end our lives prematurely.

Coping with the Cuts

Scope and leading independent think tank Demos have teamed up to produce their Coping with the Cuts report that looks at the impact local cuts are having on the lives of disabled people and their families living in England and Wales.

I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in what’s happening to their local services to have a look at our interactive map, and browse through the report to see how their council is coping http://disability-cuts-map.demos.co.uk/

We know that the cuts are likely to affect people in different ways, but if you are at all concerned, it’s really important that you get in touch with your local council to tell them.

Tell your local councillor to stand up for disabled people locally and protect the services in your community. Telling your story is a great way of making your council understand the true impact of funding decisions on the lives of people they represent.

Don’t miss your chance to have your say. Use our template email to share your views. It takes seconds to do but could make a big difference to disabled people living near you. Make sure the people you care about know what’s happening in their area too by sharing Demos’ report with friends and family or by joining the conversation live on Twitter (#localcuts).