The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been declared a gold-standard employer of disabled people under its own much-criticised scheme, despite being found guilty of “grave or systematic violations” of the UN disability convention.DWP documents obtained by Disability News Service (DNS) through a freedom of information request show how it was “validated” as a “Disability Confident Leader” on 4 November 2016, just days before the report by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities was published.Among the UN’s conclusions was that DWP ministers had “regularly portrayed” disabled people as “being dependent or making a living out of benefits, committing fraud as benefit claimants, being lazy and putting a burden on taxpayers”.DWP “strongly” disagreed with the UN report, and appeared to suggest this week that its findings were not relevant “because Disability Confident assessments look at an organisation’s employment practices and commitment to supporting both disabled employees and potential candidates”.The validation also came despite a Civil Service survey last year which showed how more than 1,400 disabled DWP civil servants claimed they had faced discrimination in the workplace, an increase of nearly a quarter on the previous year.The Disability Confident validation process, carried out by the Business Disability Forum (BDF), of which DWP is a member, makes no mention of those figures, or the UN report.According to the scheme, a Disability Confident Leader – the highest of the scheme’s three levels – must ensure “there are no barriers to the development and progression of disabled staff” and that managers “are aware of how they can support staff who are sick or absent from work”.BDF’s validation of DWP’s own self-assessment also fails to mention the DWP decision to impose a cap on annual payments made under the Access to Work scheme, which has particularly hit Deaf workers who use British Sign Language interpreters.Instead, BDF praised DWP for policies such as offering guaranteed interviews to disabled candidates who meet a role’s minimum criteria; for taking part in the Ambitious About Autism work experience scheme; and for having an established framework for making adjustments for disabled staff.Despite focusing on how organisations perform as employers of disabled people, Disability Confident also encourages them to provide an inclusive and accessible environment for “staff, clients and customers”.In its validation of DWP, BDF praised the department for making adjustments for disabled customers, “which includes offering two-way communication in a number of formats”, while DWP says in its self-assessment that staff “can also communicate by e-mail, an interpreter or through a claimant’s representative or intermediary”.Again, the validation and self-assessment are in stark contrast to the experience of disabled people who rely on DWP’s support and services.Earlier this year, DNS reported how a disabled benefit claimant, Mark Lucas, was taking DWP to court over its refusal to allow him to communicate with its civil servants via email.Despite DNS having heard a recording of a member of staff in DWP’s personal independence payment department telling Lucas: “We will not communicate via email,” DWP insisted again this week that claimants are “entitled to request to receive all communications from the department by email on the grounds of disability under the Equality Act 2010”.There is also no mention in DWP’s self-assessment, or the validation by BDF, of concerns raised about the accessibility of benefit assessment centres, which are managed by the property company Telereal Trillium.Instead, DWP claims its sites are “fully accessible for both staff and customers”, while it insists that “DWP as a service provider ensures that for disabled customers, relevant reasonable adjustments are implemented to ensure that there are no barriers which are the direct result of an individual’s disability”.David Gillon, a disabled campaigner and one of the most prominent critics of the Disability Confident scheme, said it was “barely a year since headlines about their soaring staff discrimination rate… how can they suddenly have no problem?“What we are seeing is the fundamental weakness of Disability Confident.“Statements of good intent are easy to make, and we know from Two Ticks [the previous DWP scheme for employers, which Disability Confident is replacing] just how easy they are to abuse.”He said that DWP’s sub-contracted assessment centres were “notorious for inaccessibility, often with no carparks and wheelchair-users regularly barred from lifts as alleged ‘fire risks’.“This inaccessibility is no secret, it has repeatedly been national news, yet DWP’s Disability Confident assessors took their statement at face value.”He added: “DWP has a notoriously adversarial relationship with its disabled customer population. Nowhere in the evidence or the audit report is this even raised.”Gillon said: “What we really see with this evidence is that even an organisation with notorious issues with both its own disabled staff and with its disabled customer population simply has to say, ‘We’ve got a procedure for that,’ to be handed Disability Confident Leader on a silver platter.”BDF declined to respond to concerns that its report had ignored the discrimination revealed by the Civil Service survey, the cap on Access to Work, and the UN report.Despite the scheme’s reference to “providing an environment that is inclusive and accessible for staff, clients and customers” – and DWP’s lengthy response to that in its self-assessment – a BDF spokesman insisted that Disability Confident was “about an organisation as an employer”.And he said BDF supported DWP’s strategic approach to supporting their disabled employees, and “recognised their commitment in accrediting them under the scheme”.He said: “Business Disability Forum sees Disability Confident as a way forward for employers in developing and improving their offer for their employees.“In accrediting an organisation under Disability Confident, Business Disability Forum supports it in moving in the right direction and helping it shape what it does around disability.”A DWP spokesman also insisted that the department deserved its validation as a Disability Confident Leader.He said: “We are committed to equality of opportunity for all and do not tolerate discrimination on any grounds”.He added: “Whilst we have greatly improved our efforts to be a more inclusive workforce, we know there is more work to do, [and] this will be reflected in our departmental diversity and inclusion strategic plan that we are currently developing with our employees.”He said: “The Disability Confident scheme supports employers to make the most of the talents disabled people can bring to the workplace.“Our Disability Confident Leader status relates to DWP as an employer and we actively encourage contractors to sign up to Disability Confident.”He said DNS had failed to provide any evidence to support claims that assessment centres were “notorious for inaccessibility”.He added: “As I’m sure you’re aware, access guidance is included in appointment letters for face to face assessments so that alternative arrangements can be made if needed, and anyone unable to travel as a result of their condition is offered a home visit.”He said that BDF was “a leading, impartial and evidence-based organisation advocating for disabled people’s rights”.He added: “We have demonstrated through the self-assessment that DWP acts as a champion within our local and business community, supply chain and networks.“And we have demonstrated that we are serious about leading the way and helping other organisations to become Disability Confident.“There is no evidence that the scheme is in disrepute.”Picture: David Cameron launching Disability Confident in 2013
Two disabled peers have called on the government to ensure that the rights of disabled people are protected when the country leaves the European Union (EU).Both Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson and Baroness [Jane] Campbell raised concerns of possible “regression” of the rights of disabled people in the UK as a result of the Brexit process.They were speaking this week in a House of Lord debate on human rights and Brexit, secured by the Labour peer Lord Cashman.The debate took place as MPs continued to discuss the European Union (withdrawal) bill, which will move to the House of Lords next year.Baroness Campbell said: “I worry for the future of the one in five UK citizens who are disabled.“Arguably, they have benefited from the best equality and human rights legislation in the world.“The UK has both influenced and been influenced by EU law on disability rights.“Under EU law, international treaties have a stronger impact than they do under UK law.“For instance, EU law must be interpreted consistently with the [UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities].“This has provided a significant baseline for progressing disability rights in the UK.”But she added: “The government must ensure that there is no regression, so that disabled people continue to benefit from the convention and see progress in the UK.”Baroness Campbell said one of her “major areas of concerns” was over disabled people’s right to independent living.She called on the government to carry out a “rigorous” assessment of the impact of Brexit on the right to independent living, including on the thousands of disabled people who each employ between two and six EU nationals as personal assistants (PAs).She said that this “vital” workforce “enables people like myself the freedom to enjoy a private family life, to work, to be here debating… to socialise and to actively participate as equal citizens”.She also asked how the government would replace the share of the billions of pounds of EU structural funds that have “stimulated a significant shift from institutional to independent living across Europe”.Baroness Grey-Thompson (pictured) said the impact of Brexit on disabled people had “barely been discussed in the public arena”, and she asked for government guarantees that their rights would be protected.She raised fears that the government could “inadvertently discard” disability equality rules and regulations “and just call them ‘red tape’ as a reason to get rid of them”.And she said there had to be “continued government commitment to the UK being ahead of the curve on disability rights”, including “fully committing to implementing standards equivalent to the new European Accessibility Act” when that becomes EU law.She also called on the UK government to commit to “at least matching current funding for disabled people’s organisations”.Lord Keen, the advocate general for Scotland, on behalf of the government, said that Brexit “does not change our commitment to human rights, nor is there any reason why it should”.And he said that those rights “will be retained and protected”.But he did not respond to Baroness Campbell’s request for an assessment of the impact of Brexit on disabled people’s right to independent living, or her question about the structural funds, or Baroness Grey-Thompson’s question about funding disabled people’s organisations.
Disability charities that sign up to help deliver the government’s new Work and Health Programme must promise to “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of work and pensions secretary Esther McVey, official documents suggest.The charities, and other organisations, must also promise never to do anything that harms the public’s confidence in McVey (pictured) or her Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).Disability charities like RNIB, the Royal Association for Deaf People and Turning Point have agreed to act as key providers of services under the Work and Health Programme – which focuses on supporting disabled people and other disadvantaged groups into work – and so appear to be caught by the clause in the contract.At least one of them – RNIB – has also signed contracts with one of the five main WHP contractors that contain a similar clause, which explicitly states that the charity must not “attract adverse publicity” to DWP and McVey.The £398 million, seven-year Work and Health Programme is replacing the Work Programme and the specialist Work Choice disability employment scheme across England and Wales, with contractors paid mostly by results.All the disability charities that have so far been contacted by Disability News Service (DNS) insist that the clause – which DWP says it has been using in such contracts since 2015 – will have no impact on their willingness to criticise DWP and work and pensions secretary Esther McVey or campaign on disability employment or benefits issues.But the existence of the clause, and the first details to emerge of some of the charities that have agreed to work for DWP – which has been repeatedly attacked by disabled activists and academics for harassing and persecuting disabled people, and relying on a discriminatory benefit sanctions regime to try to force them into work – will raise questions about their ability and willingness to do so.It will also raise questions about their independence when delivering future statements on these issues.The clause was revealed through a freedom of information request by DNS, with DWP finally producing contracts signed by the five main Work and Health Programme contractors, four months after the request was first submitted.The contracts signed by the five organisations – the disability charity Shaw Trust, the disability employment company Remploy (now mostly owned by the discredited US company Maximus), Pluss, Reed in Partnership and Ingeus UK – all include a clause on “publicity, media and official enquiries”.Part of that clause states that the contractor “shall pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of DWP and ensure it does nothing to bring it “into disrepute, damages the reputation of the Contracting Body or harms the confidence of the public in the Contracting Body”.The contract defines the “Contracting Body” as the work and pensions secretary, a position currently occupied by the much-criticised Esther McVey (see separate story).And it warns that these promises apply whether or not the damaging actions relate to the Work and Health Programme, and it says they also apply to any of the contractor’s “Affiliates”.This suggests that none of the organisations involved in providing services under the programme – and particularly those carrying out key elements of the contracts – will ever be allowed to criticise, or damage the reputation of, DWP or McVey during the course of the contract in connection with any area of the department’s work.There is still considerable confusion over exactly how many disability charities will be paid to work for the five main contractors.The contractual documents include the names of scores of organisations, including charities, local authorities, education providers and companies.But some of the disability charities named – including Mencap and the National Autistic Society – made it clear this week that they have not agreed to carry out services under the Work and Health Programme, despite being named as “stakeholders” in the documents.Other disability charities, though, have confirmed that they will be providing services under the WHP.Among those organisations that have signed letters agreeing to provide services as a subcontractor for the Ingeus contract with DWP is the disability charity RNIB, which is currently “working on an agreement with them”, while it is already a subcontractor with Shaw Trust.An RNIB spokeswoman said: “RNIB has a number of contracts for different services provided to the Shaw Trust as a sub-contractor.“Some of the contracts do include a clause stating that when providing the services, we shall not do anything that may damage the reputation of the Shaw Trust (the contractor of the DWP) or of the DWP which has commissioned the services to be carried out by the Shaw Trust.”That clause is almost identical to the one in the contracts signed by the five main contractors and says RNIB must not do anything to “attract adverse publicity” to DWP or “harm the confidence of the public” in DWP.RNIB claimed that the clause “only refers to how we carry out the contracted services and does not restrict our campaigning ability. It relates solely to how we carry out the specific services.”Another disability charity, the Royal Association for Deaf People (RADP), is described as a “core stakeholder” in the Pluss contract.RADP had refused to answer questions about the contract by noon today (Thursday).A third charity, Turning Point, is described as a “core stakeholder” in the Remploy contract, while it is also mentioned in the Ingeus and Shaw Trust contracts.Turning Point had refused to answer questions about the contract by noon today (Thursday).Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD) – despite being mentioned in the Shaw Trust contract – says it has only agreed to provide support services in two London boroughs as part of the Ingeus contract.An LCD spokesman said this work “in no way compromises our ability to campaign around issues related to payments or social care reform” or on the Work and Health Programme.Action on Hearing Loss – formerly known as RNID – refused to comment on its presence in the Remploy contract with DWP, other than to praise its own campaigning work.Business Disability Forum, which is mentioned in the Pluss contract, also refused to comment.Remploy said the clause in its contract with DWP was “standard contractual language and has not impacted on our ability to support service users or engage with delivery partners”.A Remploy spokesman said it was working “in collaboration with many organisations as we deliver the Work and Health Programme across Wales” and that the many stakeholders mentioned in the document were “public, private and third sector organisations across Wales that Remploy has identified and plans to engage with and signpost to as it delivers the Work and Health Programme”.But he declined to say whether Remploy believed the clause also applied to its stakeholders and subcontractors.Shaw Trust said the “publicity, media and official enquiries” clause had been present “in previous DWP contracts” and “does not and has not impinged on our independence as a charity”.A Shaw Trust spokeswoman said the “stakeholders” named in the contract were “organisations we will engage with over the life of the contract to encourage voluntary referrals to the Work and Health Programme, or will engage to potentially source additional support to participants with wider requirements”.She claimed that “no funds are proposed to be transferred in exchange for services” provided by these stakeholders, but she had not been able to clarify by noon today (Thursday) why these stakeholders would want to work for Shaw Trust for free.A DWP spokeswoman appeared to suggest that the clause was partly intended to prevent those organisations providing services under the WHP from speaking out publicly to criticise DWP.She said: “The department did not introduce this clause specifically for the Work and Health Programme contract.“It has been used in DWP employment category contracts since 2015.“The contract is the framework which governs the relationship with DWP and its contractors so that both parties understand how to interact with each other.“The clause is intended to protect the best interests of both the department and the stakeholders we work with, and it does not stop individuals working for any of our contractors from acting as whistle-blowers under the provisions of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, nor does it prevent contractors from raising any concerns directly with the department.”
SAINTS have named their 19-man squad for Sunday’s First Utility Super League Round 16 Magic Weekend fixture with Warrington Wolves.Lewis Charnock misses out with a hand injury but Jon Wilkin returns from suspension.Mark Percival is still unavailable with a leg injury whilst Olly Davies replaces Anthony Walker in the squad.Keiron Cunningham will select his 17 from:2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Jordan Turner, 4. Josh Jones, 5. Adam Swift, 6. Travis Burns, 8. Mose Masoe, 9. James Roby, 10. Kyle Amor, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14. Alex Walmsley, 15. Mark Flanagan, 18. Luke Thompson, 19. Greg Richards, 25. Andre Savelio, 28. Jack Ashworth, 29. Olly Davies, 30. Matty Fleming, 34. Shannon McDonnell.Tony Smith will choose his Warrington side from:3. Chris Bridge, 4. Ryan Atkins, 5. Joel Monaghan, 6. Stefan Ratchford, 7. Richie Myler, 8. Chris Hill, 9. Daryl Clark, 10. Ashton Sims, 12, Ben Westwood, 13. Ben Harrison, 15. Roy Asotasi, 17. Ben Currie, 18. James Laithwaite, 19. Anthony England, 20. Gareth O’Brien, 22. Gene Ormsby, 25. Brad Dwyer, 27. George King, 29. Declan Patton.The game kicks off at 3.15pm and the referee Richard SilverwoodTicket details for the game can be found here.
JON Wilkin was pleased to make his return last Friday and believes there is more to come as the season enters its business end.Saints’ Captain played his first game for over a month and was instrumental in the 32-18 win at Leeds.“I was a little scratchy and rusty but it was good to be back,” he said. “Having watched the team over recent weeks I did some of the things I felt could influence what happens on the field. I was a little rusty at some of the basics though.“It was a great win for us; a confidence changing win really. We have been in the doldrums a little recently so to win in the manner we did against Leeds was great.“There is a big emotional story behind Leeds with Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Peacock moving on and a lot of things being written about them and it being their year.“That can’t be our concern. Leeds are a great side and we have a load of respect for them but that are not unbeatable. We certainly aren’t a bad side either, we have just been playing poorly. You have to be cautious when you hear polarised opinions of teams.“We had a load of respect for them and we still do, but we knew we were a better side than what we have been showing and I felt that came through on Friday.“We can play better for sure and I don’t think we have played as well as we did in the first six weeks of the season. We have had good performances but the last few months have been a fluctuating period for us.“As captain I want us to be more consistent. Against Leeds we set some standards certainly in terms of intent and effort that we need to continue.”He continued: “Positions in the top four are still up for grabs. I am disappointed that our form has restricted our opportunities to finish top of the pile. We want to finish as high as we can. This game is important as we played well against Leeds and gained confidence from that.“But the only way to build on that is to play well and win again.”Tickets for Thursday’s game remain on sale from the Ticket Office at Langtree Park, by calling 01744 455 052 or online here.