The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has extended the contracts of three discredited outsourcing giants blamed for much of the discrimination and failings within the disability benefit assessment system.
DWP had been planning to start a contract procurement exercise for organisations to carry out personal independence payment (PIP) assessments and work capability assessments (WCAs) on behalf of the government.
But Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, told MPs: “The impact of COVID-19 means it is not possible to launch that procurement at this time.”
PIP assessments are carried out by Atos and Capita, with WCAs performed by Maximus.
All three have been heavily criticised for their performance over the last decade.
The current contracts had been due to end next July, but DWP is now planning to extend them for “up to” two years.
Ken Butler, welfare rights and policy adviser for Disability Rights UK, said: “Disabled people claiming these benefits will react to this announcement with fear and dismay.
“It is difficult to believe that any of these private companies continue to have a contract, let alone have it extended.”
Buckinghamshire Disability Service (BuDS) described the move as an “astonishing U-turn” and suggested that “DWP incompetence” was likely to be the real reason, rather than the pandemic.
It added: “BuDS feels that the contract extension is a real blow for disabled people who have endured the incompetence and brutality of the assessment regime run by these companies for far too long already.”
The government must do more to inform the public that many disabled people are exempt from new rules that will make it compulsory to use face coverings in shops and supermarkets in England, a disabled people’s organisation has told a minister.
The decision was announced this week by health and social care secretary Matt Hancock, and will come into effect on 24 July.
In a letter to the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, Disability Rights UK (DR UK) says disabled people are not being listened to on the issue.
Fazilet Hadi, DR UK’s head of policy, says in the letter: “Disability Rights UK is horrified at the media coverage on face coverings.
“The message is that face coverings are compulsory with no mention of exemptions for disabled people or children.
“The talk is of police fines and criminalisation for those that don’t comply.”
She adds: “We would ask that government urgently recognises the need for balanced messaging, including that some disabled people cannot wear face coverings and that this should be respected.
“If the messaging doesn’t change, millions of disabled people will not be able to safely leave their homes.
“For those of us that do, we will experience fear, anxiety, possible conflict with public and police and demands to prove our impairment/illness.”
The disability arts organisation Shape Arts is launching its annual exhibition of artwork created by marginalised artists in response to a disability-related theme.
This year’s exhibition, which launches on Monday (20 July) and will be hosted on the Shape website because of the COVID-19 pandemic, features more than 20 artists, nearly all of whom are disabled.
This year’s theme is The Future Is Loading.
A young disabled woman had been granted a judicial review of Norfolk County Council’s social care charging policy.
The woman, SH, who is 24, and her mother are part of a group of disabled people, carers and supporters who are campaigning against the local authority’s decision to cut the minimum income guarantee (MIG) for working-age disabled people who receive council care and support services.
The MIG is the amount they must be left with after paying care charges to ensure they can cover their living costs.
The council has also decided to take account of all the enhanced rate of the daily living component of personal independence payment that SH receives, when calculating the care charges she must pay.
Her mother fears these charges mean SH, who has learning difficulties, will never be able to afford to live independently.
The family’s solicitors, Leigh Day, say the charges discriminate against SH under the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act.
Disabled actor and writer Athena Stevens is one of six international writers and performers – all with experience of inequality – who have created short films looking at how the arts can be made more inclusive following the COVID-19 pandemic.
As well as a short adapted monologue, each of the artists offers “tips for creativity in isolation and beyond, sharing their views on how the arts can adapt, how to digitise but not disenfranchise, and why including all voices in the new normal shouldn’t just be a ‘check box’ exercise”.
The UNMUTE series of films, by Hack Theatre, is supported by Arts Council England’s Emergency Response Fund, with the films based around themes of equality, diversity and inclusion.
All the films are about 30 minutes long and will be captioned and free to view, with one released at 10am every day from 20 to 25 July, with a live question and answer session with the artist on the afternoon of their film’s launch day.
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…