Disability charities are facing questions over why they helped the government disguise the reason it had to change “discriminatory” guidance that was preventing thousands of disabled people with invisible impairments from securing blue parking badges.The Department for Transport (DfT) announced this week that it was proposing alterations to guidance that would “herald the most significant changes since the blue badge was introduced in 1970” and would “remove barriers to travel for people with conditions such as dementia and autism” in England.Junior transport minister Jesse Norman claimed this “accords with the government’s manifesto commitment to give parity of esteem to mental and physical health conditions”.The changes were welcomed enthusiastically by non-user-led disability charities such as Scope and the National Autistic Society (NAS), with NAS even quoted in DfT’s own press release, and they were widely supported by the mainstream media, including the Guardian, the Mirror and the BBC.But what they and Norman failed to mention was that the changes had been forced on the government by a legal action taken on behalf of an autistic man with learning difficulties.David* had had a blue badge for 30 years but was told by his local council that he no longer qualified because of new DfT rules**.His family took legal action against DfT and his local council because of new guidance issued by DfT in October 2014, following the introduction of the government’s new personal independence payment (PIP) the previous year.DfT was forced to settle the judicial review claim 15 months ago, by agreeing to review the new blue badge guidance.It was that review that led to the government’s announcement this week that it was consulting on changes to the blue badge scheme.Louise Whitfield, a solicitor with civil rights and judicial review experts Deighton Pierce Glynn, said she was “extremely surprised at the way in which the government is presenting the consultation”.She said: “The main reason that people with those conditions have been excluded from blue badge eligibility is because of the changes that the government deliberately made to the blue badge criteria when they introduced PIP to replace disability living allowance (DLA).“This meant that people who automatically had a blue badge before because of the DLA they received (higher rate mobility component), were no longer automatically eligible because they did not get enough points under the ‘moving around’ PIP criteria.“This problem was compounded by the inadequate DfT guidance, leading many local authorities to decide that people with non-physical disabilities were not entitled to a blue badge, and would never be entitled, because they did not have the right kind of disability to meet the criteria.“We have successfully challenged a number of these decisions, but there must be thousands of people who should have had blue badges but didn’t because of the change in the criteria coupled with the unclear guidance.”She highlighted the government’s failure to carry out an equality impact assessment of the blue badge eligibility changes and the new guidance before they were introduced in 2014.Such an assessment would have shown that thousands of people with invisible impairments were set to lose their right to a blue badge, with London Councils estimating that 3,500 people fell into this category in the capital.Whitfield said: “It is also somewhat disingenuous of the government to present the consultation on the new proposals as if this had been all of their own making, when in fact many organisations, individuals and legal representatives on their behalf have been trying to get the government to undertake a review since the change in the blue badge criteria several years ago.”She added: “We have repeatedly chased the government and their solicitors for updates on the review and have been told very little over the last 15 months.“Nor have they had the courtesy to inform me or my client that the consultation is now underway. The last time we chased them they didn’t even respond. “Sadly, my client who brought the judicial review has now passed away, but I will be encouraging all my other clients to respond to the consultation making clear how devastating it has been for them to lose their existing badge and then have to battle for months, if not years, to get it reinstated just so that they can leave their home.”The Department for Transport (DfT) accepted that it had faced a legal challenge over the regulations when they were changed, but failed to answer a series of questions, including whether it had failed to carry out an equality impact assessment on the 2014 changes; why it failed to tell Deighton Pierce Glynn about the new consultation; and why it failed to mention the legal challenge in its press release and consultation document.In a statement, a DfT spokesman said: “Blue badges give people with disabilities the freedom to get jobs, see friends or go to the shops with as much ease as possible.“We want to try to extend this to people with invisible disabilities, so they can enjoy the freedom to get out and about, where and when they want.”An NAS spokeswoman admitted that it had “focused on the good news” in its statement on the government announcement.She claimed NAS had opposed the government’s decision to link blue badge entitlement in England to only the “moving around” part of PIP mobility and had “raised this issue at the time and have continued to raise this issue since”.She said its concern had always been “broader than the link with PIP” and that its “underlying aim has been to change the blue badge rules because it has always been a real struggle for those with a hidden disability to get one” and that “not very many autistic people ever qualified for higher rate mobility of DLA to get that automatic entitlement”.She said NAS had not been “directly involved” with the legal case.She added: “The government’s proposals go beyond that change and so are likely to ensure that more autistic children and adults who need a blue badge can get one and won’t first need to access DLA or PIP.”*Not his real name**The guidance currently states that it is only those who qualify for the standard or enhanced mobility rates of PIP under the “moving around” criteria – those with physical impairments that mean they cannot walk very far – who should automatically qualify for a blue badge.Those who qualify for the PIP enhanced mobility rate because they have problems planning and following journeys are no longer automatically entitled to a blue badge, as they were if they claimed the upper mobility rate of DLA for the same reasons.The updated blue badge application form included in the guidance document has no sections in which disabled people with problems planning and following journeys can provide evidence to show why they need a blue badge.Authorities in Scotland and Wales have already made changes aimed at addressing the problems with DfT’s guidance.
The equality watchdog is failing disabled people by attempting to “mainstream” disability and treat it the same way as the other eight characteristics protected by the Equality Act, peers have warned.The House of Lords was debating the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s decision that it no longer needed a disability commissioner, and to scrap its statutory disability committee and replace it with a new disability advisory committee.The debate was secured by the disabled Tory peer Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin, who quit the commission in December over what he saw as the collusion of former women and equalities minister Justine Greening with EHRC’s decision to scrap the disability commissioner role.Lord Shinkwin (pictured) had refused to attend EHRC board meetings after his appointment in protest at the decision to appoint him as a general commissioner instead of the disability commissioner role he had applied for.He told fellow peers that disabled people were “nowhere near attaining equality” with members of other protected characteristics.He said; “The goal of equality might be the same, but the nature and extent of the disadvantage that goes with disability are so different that while mainstreaming disability might sound laudable in theory, in practice it means that disability, as the heaviest stone, falls to the bottom of the inequality pond.”He said this was why EHRC needed the “sharp focus on disability issues” provided by a disability commissioner.And he criticised the government for failing to speak out about Greening’s involvement in abolishing the role.He said: “Of course, I think there is a strong case for a disability commissioner, otherwise I would not have applied for the position.“But now it has been abolished, the case that the government need to make is why disabled people should trust them when they cannot even bring themselves to express regret for the involvement of a former minister in the abolition of disabled people’s last powerful voice.”The disabled Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness [Celia] Thomas, said that if disabled people were asked if they would prefer a statutory disability committee chaired by a disabled commissioner or just an advisory committee and all the EHRC commissioners having a duty to oversee the disability agenda, she was “pretty sure they would go for the former”.She said: “The reason is simple: as we have heard, so much of life, public and private, is denied to disabled people even now and there are still so many battles to be fought… they would want the strongest voice possible to get things changed.”She added: “We need somebody shouting the odds from the rooftops on our behalf.“Disabled people want a body that will not rest until it has brought about real change – not a body that has all the right words but not enough action.”Baroness Deech, the crossbench peer who chaired a Lords committee that investigated the impact of the Equality Act 2010 on disabled people, said that it was “not enough to treat disabled people equally with everyone else” and that “mainstreaming” disability “has not worked, so far”.She said: “There are situations where, to get to a level playing field, disabled people need favourable treatment, a concept with which employers struggle.“Witnesses to our committee thought that the inclusion of disability within the EHRC had diluted the focus on disability that had existed and had given rise to a sense of a loss of rights by disabled people.”She said her committee’s report recommended that EHRC’s disability committee “should be re-established as a decision-making body with ring-fenced resources”.She said that disabled people wanted “a champion, not to be just one of nine protected characteristic groups, and that call has not been answered”.Another disabled peer, the Liberal Democrat Lord Addington, asked if there was any evidence that the commission’s new approach was working better.He said: “I ask because that approach is not one that is reassuring to the huge and diverse disability communities.”But Baroness Prosser, a Labour peer and former EHRC deputy chair, defended the commission’s strategy.She said: “In recognition of the fact that all other issues under the commission’s remit were dealt with in the mainstream debate, the board of the commission took the view that disability would best be dealt with in the same way and therefore it would no longer seek a commissioner with that narrow remit.”Baroness Gale, Labour’s shadow spokeswoman on women and equalities, said she was “not so sure” that a case could be made for a separate disability commissioner, as it could lead to calls for a separate commissioner for the other eight protected characteristics.She said the commission’s briefing for the debate said that “it believes that the changes it has made were designed to strengthen, rather than weaken, its approach to advancing the rights of people with disabilities”.Baroness Williams, a Home Office minister, said the commission recognises the “particular rights and protections for disabled people” under the Equality Act through its new disability advisory committee.And she said the disability commissioner role was “not a statutory post but simply an EHRC-created role: a set of responsibilities connected to the former disability committee that the commission decided to change as part of its overhaul of its disability arrangements”.She said her understanding was that Lord Shinkwin had been appointed “as a commissioner, not specifically as a disability commissioner” and she said that “any decision to give EHRC commissioners specific roles and responsibilities is a direct matter for the EHRC”.She added: “I assure him that the new EHRC arrangements work better for disabled people than the old ones.”Baroness Williams said EHRC believed that its previous approach treated work on disability “separately from other work programmes”, led to “work on disability being seen as the responsibility of specific individuals in the commission rather than the collective responsibility of the board and the organisation as a whole”, and “led to some miscommunication as well as missed opportunities”.
7. Switching to an anti-Brexit position may not be enough to win back Remainers.“It is not obvious, from the evidence of local elections and Peterborough, that a more “pro Remain” position from Labour would in itself win back voters currently lost to the Liberal Democrats, or in a numerical enough way that would offset Leave voters in many of the key marginals, that have lost both recently and over the last few general elections.”8. Switching to an anti-Brexit position may not be worth the risk. According to the report, the top 50 local authority shares of the vote for the Lib Dems included four marginal seats that Labour needs to win at the next election: Cities of London & Westminster, Putney, Watford, Wimbledon.4. And these are the key Leave seats to worry about. The briefing says that the top 50 council shares of the vote for the Brexit Party include 14 Labour-held seats: Hartlepool, Great Grimsby, Ashfield, Redcar, Bolsover, Barnsley Central, Barnsley East, Penistone & Stocksbridge, Wentworth & Dearne, Dudley North, Bassetlaw, Scunthorpe, Stoke-on-Trent Central, Stoke-on-Trent North.It also comprised three marginal seats that were lost by Labour in 2017: Mansfield, Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland and Stoke-on-Trent South.5. Labour’s non-metropolitan vote continues to decline.Both local and European elections provided further evidence of “instability and fragmentation of Labour’s vote in non-metropolitan Britain, including the industrial communities which comprised Labour’s heartland at least until the 1980s”, the report outlines.It says this trend can be traced back to 1987 and 1992. However, the briefing states: “In the last three general elections, differential swings have been exacerbated, particularly with the collapse of the Lib Dems in the 2015 election.” “It remains the case that there are more target and defensive seats in the Midlands and North of England which voted leave. The recent elections don’t suggest any change to this basic arithmetic, given the geographical distribution of Leave and Remain voters. There is an evident risk that shifting to a more explicitly pro-Remain position would leave us vulnerable in seats we need to hold or win without enough potential seat gains in winnable Remain majority areas.” 6. The Peterborough result suggests voters could ‘come home’ to the main parties.“Labour’s victory in the by-election was partly thanks to an increased turnout, with 10,000 additional voters compared with the European election. Overall however some of the European election switchers must have switched back to the two major parties, a tentative indication that the European election should not be taken as a precursor of potential general election behaviour.” LabourList has seen the shadow cabinet briefing written by party strategists in full. The document, which is being discussed by opposition frontbenchers at a special Brexit meeting today, covers the recent local elections, European elections and current polling of voting intentions. It particularly focuses on how Brexit played a role in the results and how Labour should respond. Here are eight key points made in the report.1. The Tories were lucky they didn’t do worse in the local elections.“It isn’t clear what difference might have been made had the Brexit Party in particular stood large numbers of candidates, but what is certainly true is that had there been more independent and minor parties available for people to vote for the Tory losses would have been much greater.”2. Lib Dem gains in the local elections were not down to Brexit… “There is some correlation with areas with high percentages of 2016 Remain voting but this is at best a partial explanation of their performance. Actually the best pointer to a strong Lib Dem performance in the local elections was their electoral success in the past. Almost all of the councils where the made most of their gains were places where they had an established political and organisational presence.”3. … but Lib Dems wins in the European elections were down to Brexit.“Liberal Democrat support correlated strongly with Remain voting in 2016, especially when Scotland (where they were competing with the Scottish National Party for Remain votes) is not included. Brexit Party support was even more strongly correlated with Leave voting, and (positively) with 2014 UKIP support. Turnout was also correlated with Remain support, i.e. the higher the 2016 Remain vote the higher turnout tended to be.”4. On the basis of the European election results, these are the key Remain seats to worry about. Tags:Labour /Brexit /Local elections 2019 /European elections 2019 /