Tag Archives: Government

The Bill of Rights Commission’s final report misses the point

It’s been a long wait, but the much anticipated report by the Bill of Rights Commission has finally seen the light of the day.

The strength of feeling of support for preserving existing levels of human rights protection is something that the Commission will have heard loud and clear, at least if one is to judge by the responses to its consultation exercises. There has been an unequivocal call from disabled people as well as many other groups not to erode the crucial safety net provided by the Human Rights Act (HRA).

It can only be welcomed then that the Commission’s report – though otherwise largely mired in differences of positions between the various members on the Commission – stresses that there should be “no less protection” than is currently contained in the HRA. However, the prospects of a different language being used in a future Bill of Rights does raise at least some doubts of how this will be achieved in practice.

UK Bill of Rights

More important is, however, what the report identifies as being the need for change. This would appear to mostly come from the need for a rebranding exercise insomuch as a UK Bill of Rights is seen to provide a way to bring about a greater sense of ownership among the public. The majority of the Commission appears to believe that given the polarised nature of the debate, it is unlikely that “public perceptions are likely to change in any substantial way” through public education.

If we were to go down this route, repackaging the Human Rights Act as a UK Bill of Rights would not only be potentially dangerous as it would risk diluting current protection, but also amount to a missed opportunity. Disabled people have been clear that consideration of a Bill of Rights need a discussion about how best to progress protection further and how to afford greater recognition to the rights contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

On that count, the Commission’s report fails to deliver. Both the Government’s disability strategy and disabled people agree that the UN Convention needs to be at the heart of reforms moving forwards. In considering the future of our human rights laws, the Government should recognise that rather than an exercise about mere cosmetic re-branding, the prospects of developing a Bill of Rights should be driven by a need to look where additional protections could be brought in, and set a path towards incorporation of internationally recognised standards into domestic law.

Thank you for playing a crucial role in our Legal Aid campaign

Last December, Scope called on supporters to join our campaign to Save Legal Aid for disabled people.

The absence of this advice would have an adverse impact on thousands of disabled people who use legal aid to challenge decisions when they are let down by the system. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which has been making its way through Parliament, plans to remove legal aid support for those appealing welfare benefits decisions.

Thousands of campaigners, keen to protect the provision of legal aid for disabled people when appealing welfare benefits decisions, took their seat in Scope’s virtual House of Lords. By March, over 2,000 campaigners had taken part in our campaign, telling the Government the adverse consequences this would have for disabled people and helping to pile the pressure on Ministers to revise their plans.

This led to a real breakthrough when Lords from across all parties expressed their discontent with the Bill and defeated the Government’s plans by 237 votes to 198. This was a great success and was the culmination of the efforts shown by all campaigners. Together, we made sure the Lords understood the significance of this issue and forced the Government to think again about its plans.

On 17 April, when the Bill returned to the House of Commons, MPs once again debated the impact of removing legal aid for welfare benefits cases. This time, the Government listened to concerns that legal aid advice is needed for appealing incorrect benefits decisions although they would restrict the help available to just a small number of very complex benefits appeals. Although we welcome the Government moving on this issue, Scope had concerns about how this promise would practically work and how many disabled people it would reach, so we asked the House of Lords to push the Government to go further.

Disappointingly, on 25 April, the House of Lords voted against our amendment which would have kept legal aid advice for disabled people appealing incorrect welfare benefits decisions.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill has now moved on to the next stage and is soon to become law, without the crucial change that we were campaigning for.

Although we are disappointed with this outcome, Scope will be doing all that we can to press the Government to make sure that the concessions that they have made are workable in practice and help as many disabled people as possible.

The support of our campaigners was invaluable in forcing the Government to open up legal aid to a number of welfare benefits appeals, as well as putting them under considerable pressure to make more money available for the advice organisations who provide disabled people with much needed general advice.

The fight is not yet over, and everyone at Scope would like to thank you once again for playing a crucial role in this campaign.

Join our campaigns network

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill 2010-12

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

The Impact of Legal Aid cuts on Disability Equality North West

Guest post by by Melanie Close, Chief Executive of Disability Equality North West

Disability Equality North West is a Disabled People’s Organisation that started in 1996. We are run and controlled by disabled people and offer a wide range of advice and information services to support disabled people.

We are proud of the work that we do and the positive impact that the advice we are able to provide can have for disabled people. The advice that we are able to provide is largely thanks to the exceptional work by a dedicated team of staff and volunteers, all disabled people.

We know that this advice and information is invaluable, without it many disabled people would not get the information, support and benefits that they are legally entitled to. However, there are some things that we do not have the expertise to give advice on. For discrimination, human rights or complex welfare benefits cases, legal aid can be crucial in ensuring that disabled people get the correct advice in order to receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

However, the Government is proposing to remove social welfare cases from the scope of legal aid. The removal of legal aid for these cases will mean that the specialist advice provided by charities like the Citizens Advice Bureau, Law Centres and other independent advice agencies will not be available.

Furthermore, the proposals will mean that 78,000 disabled people will be denied specialist legal advice for complex welfare benefits problems – that is 58% of the total number of people affected.

As well as the devastating impact on disabled people, we have real concerns that such proposals will place real pressure on advice services such as Disability Equality.

We are anticipating a huge surge in demand for specialist advice that our staff and volunteer base does not have the specialist legal advice to deliver. Furthermore, when disabled people approach us for advice on a complex welfare benefits issue, there will be no-one to send them to so that they can receive the right advice.

The Bill is due back in the House of Commons on 17 April, where MPs will vote on whether to preserve this legal advice for disabled people. At Disability Equality North West, we have written to our local MP to make our concerns clear, and I would urge you to do the same to preserve legal aid for disabled people.

Under-representation of disabled people in public and political life

While disabled people have a vital contribution to make to public and political life, they are significantly under-represented throughout our political system. The reality is that Parliament is nowhere near reflecting the proportion of disabled people in the UK, and local government reveals a similar story in terms of the level of under-representation.

The consequence of this is that the quality of our government suffers from the existing lack of representation. As the Government presses ahead with a wealth of reforms that will have a real effect on disabled people’s lives, it is essential that their voices are being heard – now more than ever.

Tackling under-representation of disabled people

The different barriers that prevent disabled people from standing for elected positions have been widely examined by the Speaker’s Conference on parliamentary representation a few years ago. The Government has already acted upon some of the recommendations, for instance by committing to establish a dedicated fund to address the extra costs faced by disabled people in standing for election.

We know the additional financial disadvantage – arising, for example, from the cost of employing an interpreter or from the extra cost of taking a taxi rather than a bus due to the inaccessibility of transport – is a real concern to many disabled people who want to put themselves forward and stand for election. Over the last months, Scope has been working with the Government to help develop the fund.

With the fund set to become operational by later this year, this will no doubt represent a crucial moment in terms of improving disabled people’s participation in public life. In the meantime, we are seeing welcome progress on a number of other proposals.

Following the consultation last year, the Government is now publishing guidance for political parties to ensure that parties are clear about their legal obligations. Many disabled people fear that their reasonable adjustment requirements would not be met if they were to stand for election.

In light of this, the guidance is welcome indeed. All political parties have important roles to play in making sure that disabled people feel confident about seeking support and are provided with the reasonable adjustments they need, thus enabling them to perform to the best of their ability.

In addition, the Government is also currently working with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations to develop a training package for disabled people wishing to access elected office – which is due to be launched in the months to come.

We still have a long way to go before there is any prospect of achieving an equal representation of disabled people in public life. More needs doing, but as Lynne Featherstone, the Minister for Equalities, writes, “These policies are just the start of what we are doing to make Parliament and councils more representative of the people they serve.”

What is absolutely clear – and as the Minister acknowledges – is the positive effect this would bring in terms of decision-making: “As the Minister for Equalities, it seems obvious to me our democratic institutions make the best decisions when they have a mix of people with different skills, backgrounds and experiences, from right across the country.”