Disabled activists have highlighted the “shameful” access barriers they face on a daily basis, in a series of protests in Birmingham timed to coincide with the city hosting the Conservative party’s annual conference.Members of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) blocked buses, trams and other traffic, but also shamed city centre businesses for their lack of wheelchair access, as part of a day of action.Their protests highlighted the UK’s continuing failure to comply with article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which covers disabled people’s right to live independently and be included in the community.Bob Williams-Findlay, who helped organise the day of action on behalf of DPAC West Midlands, said disabled people had “played a Cinderella role” in society for too long and were still excluded from mainstream society, while changes that followed the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act and the Equality Act had been “cosmetic”.He said that austerity-driven cutbacks meant this was “only getting worse” and he and his fellow activists were “here to say that we are not putting up with it” and were “not prepared to carry on being Cinderella… we are here to demand that we go to the ball”.The day of action focused first on a multi-million pound refurbishment of The Grand Hotel, an iconic Birmingham building, which includes a row of new, high-end, street-level businesses.DPAC West Midlands pointed out that these businesses, including cocktail bar and restaurant The Alchemist, and a café, 200 Degrees, still had steps at their entrances, despite the millions of pounds spent on the refurbishment.Although both businesses produced portable ramps to allow DPAC wheelchair-users to enter their premises, activists – who chanted “shame, shame, shame” and “let us in, let us in” – said this was not good enough after such expensive renovation work.Their concerns were underlined when a portable ramp collapsed as one of the activists, Sam Brackenbury (pictured), was using it to leave The Alchemist.Williams-Findlay, a former chair of the British Council of Disabled People, said Birmingham City Council was “shirking its responsibilities” under the Equality Act to ensure that such renovations ensured access for disabled people.The group then moved to nearby Snow Hill railway station to protest at plans to remove more safety-trained guards from trains.They pointed out that guards “play a crucial role in supporting disabled people to get on and off the train, by providing assistance and erecting ramps for wheelchair-users”.Andy Thompson, one of the activists, said the threatened loss of guards was a “safety issue for the whole public and especially disabled people”, and he called on the government to “prioritise access and not spending on war and tax cuts”.Protesters then blocked a main tram line through the city centre, and held up buses and other traffic, in protest at continued austerity cuts.Police then escorted the disabled activists to a protest outside the party conference, near the International Convention Centre, before the day of action ended outside Birmingham City Council House, the headquarters of Birmingham City Council.Sandra Daniels, from DPAC West Midlands, said the protest was about “the implications of not being able to work in a society geared up for those who can”, and the years of cuts to services, benefits and social care.She said that access was “a basic right for people… even when shops have been refurbished, they are still not thinking about making sure disabled people can access them.“They need to stop this slashing of disabled people’s services, their benefits, and stop excluding us and pushing us to the margins of society once again.“Disabled people have fought for 40 years to be included in society and the Tories are trying to imprison us in our own homes and push us back; they want us out of view.”Richard Norgrove, a surveyor with Hortons’ Estate, which is renovating The Grand Hotel, said there had been detailed discussions with Historic England, the city council and Access Birmingham over the refurbishment.He said the building was listed II*, and posed a number of “constraints” that made including level access “difficult”.He said he understood that steps at the front entrance suggested that the businesses did not welcome wheelchair-users.But he said: “It is regarded as one of the most iconic buildings in Birmingham. We want access to all.“It’s not as straightforward as it would seem to be. It’s quite a challenge to get level access. We don’t want to discriminate against anybody.”But Tony Willis, chair of Access Birmingham, formerly known as the Access Committee for Birmingham, said the lack of steep-free access in Colmore Row was “ridiculous” and “cannot be right” when Hortons’ Estate had spent millions of pounds on the refurbishment.He said: “We are very aware of what’s going on there and hoping that there will be a satisfactory conclusion.“I’m a wheelchair-user and I’m not happy with steps.“It seems that enforcement of the Equality Act is the burden of disabled people, and it shouldn’t be.“It’s ridiculous. Why is it our burden? It is the law and there should be an enforcement agency that looks after the Equality Act.”Richard Goulborn, the council’s head of planning management, said in a statement: “Birmingham City Council is committed to ensuring that the city’s buildings which are open to the public are as accessible as possible and under the Equality Act, the tenant, as service provider, is responsible for making arrangements to provide access to their premises – for example, having a demountable ramp and ensuring staff are trained to assist those with mobility issues when entering or leaving the premises.“The Grand Hotel is a grade II*-listed building and the new shop fronts on the ground floor have been installed at the same level as the original shop fronts due to the level of the original floor structure inside.“The internal floor structure prevents the floor levels being lowered inside the units and raising the level outside would mean significant works to replace the entire pavement, while installing permanent ramps could also create a potential hazard on the public footway.”Meanwhile, an inquiry into disability and the built environment by the Commons women and equalities committee is accepting evidence from individuals and organisations until 12 October.The committee “will explore the extent to which the needs of disabled people are considered and accommodated in our built environment, and ask whether more could be done to increase the accessibility and inclusivity of both new and existing properties and spaces”.
A disability activist has called on disabled people to shame their local councils into action, after his research showed more than a quarter had no plans to take one simple step that would protect wheelchair-users who use taxis from discrimination.On 6 April, the government finally brought into force legislation that imposes fines of up to £1,000 on drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles who refuse to accept wheelchair-users, try to charge them extra, or fail to provide them with appropriate assistance.But the new laws only apply in those areas of England, Scotland and Wales where the local authority has drawn up a list – under section 167 of the Equality Act – of all the wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles in their area.The government has been encouraging councils to start drawing up such lists for the last seven years.But three months of research* by disabled campaigner Doug Paulley – including freedom of information requests sent to all 366 licensing authorities, and the exchange of thousands of emails – shows that only 11 per cent of licensing authorities have so far introduced a section 167 list, with another 30 per cent planning to introduce a list this year, in line with government guidance.But he found that 18 per cent of local authorities were still undecided on whether to produce a list, while more than a quarter (26 per cent) had no plans to set one up, and another 15 per cent planned to produce a list but had no particular deadline.He concludes in his research that “serious flaws” in the legislation mean that it is currently of “little benefit to wheelchair users in most areas of the country”.He added: “It is disappointing that the government’s intent in bringing in this legislation is being undermined by the failure of many councils to undertake the required office work, meaning that taxi drivers can continue to discriminate against wheelchair users with impunity.”Paulley, whose work has been supported by the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK, called on disabled people and their allies to raise the issue with their local councils.He told Disability News Service (DNS): “Councils have known this was coming since the law was enacted in 2010.”He said the bureaucratic work was “not unduly onerous” for councils and all they had to do was “put the list together in the required format and shove it on their website.“I fail to see what is difficult about this, or any good reason not to do it. Why can’t they just get on with it?”He added: “Lots of councils haven’t got any idea what a section 167 list does.“Simply forcing them to understand that the only effect of a section 167 list is to put drivers of wheelchair accessible taxis under a duty not to discriminate against wheelchair users can often have the desired effect; as can explaining that the council still needs to produce a list even if all of their taxis are accessible, or very few of their taxis are accessible, or indeed that their existing ‘voluntary list’ doesn’t do the job.”He is hoping that raising the profile of the issue will convince MPs and peers to take it up in parliament.Previous research by Muscular Dystrophy UK has suggested that a quarter of disabled people have been refused service by a taxi driver because of their impairment.The Department for Transport (DfT) refused to say if ministers were disappointed by the number of licensing authorities that have set up section 167 lists so far.But a DfT spokesman said in a statement: “We brought this law into force to ensure that passengers in wheelchairs can use taxi and private hire vehicles, free from the fear of discrimination and in the knowledge that the assistance they require will be provided.“We have been talking to councils about their role implementing this legislation and have issued them with guidance to support them.“We recognise some authorities will need time to bring in the policy change and intend to speak to them again soon reminding of their role bringing in the new rules.”In his research, Paulley contrasts the situation for wheelchair-users in areas like Sheffield – which has had a ‘voluntary’ list of accessible taxis for decades, where all licensed taxis are wheelchair-accessible and drivers have to undertake disability awareness training, and which implemented section 167 on the day it was commenced in April – with others like Spelthorne, in Surrey.Spelthorne council has told Paulley it has no plans to implement section 167, does not force drivers to undertake disability awareness training and has only two wheelchair-accessible taxis licensed in the whole borough.Dawn Morrison, communications and licensing manager for Spelthorne council, told DNS that the council had decided not to set up a list because there were only two wheelchair-accessible taxis in the borough, and one of the drivers was currently ill and not working and the other was fully-booked with regular disabled customers, and so “the risk of them refusing fares is non-existent”.Paulley has previously told the council that “having insufficient wheelchair accessible taxis makes it more important to take this simple measure to ensure that the drivers don’t discriminate against wheelchair users”.Morrison said the council offered half-price licensing fees for wheelchair-accessible vehicles and had tried to persuade the industry “that there is a demand out there”.She said: “I do feel we can be doing more but we do not have the large operators we can reason with.”She agreed that the council did not have an impressive record, but added: “We don’t want to be over-burdensome at a time when they are struggling to compete with Uber.“We will look at it again. I will speak to the licensing officers. It is maybe something that can be taken forward.”*Paulley’s research data, showing which councils have failed to draw up a section 167 list, can be found on his blog
The experiences of disabled people whose lives have been devastated by austerity-related cuts were discussed in parliament last night as MPs took part in a long-awaited debate on the impact of eight years of cuts to disability support.The backbench debate was the result of months of lobbying of cross-party MPs by the disabled-led WOWcampaign, which has been pushing for six years for the government to carry out an assessment of the impact of all of its cuts to disabled people’s support.Last night’s was the follow-up to a high-profile debate that took place in the Commons nearly five years ago, after nearly 105,000 people had signed a WOW petition calling on the government to carry out a cumulative impact assessment (CIA).Some of the many accounts from disabled people of how austerity and cuts had impacted on their lives were shared with MPs during last night’s debate, which had been delayed for several hours by an emergency Brexit debate.Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, who secured the Commons debate on behalf of the WOWcampaign with fellow Labour backbencher Kate Green, told MPs how one constituent was refusing to have life-saving surgery on a brain tumour because he had been worried he would have his benefits sanctioned.He had already had his employment and support allowance sanctioned for three months after failing to attend a benefit assessment so he could receive treatment for the tumour.Abrahams told MPs that another disabled woman had told her how the contribution she had to make towards her social care had risen from £82.50 a month to £81 a week, despite no change in her financial circumstances, leaving her no money to pay for medication or independent living aids, and causing her increased pain, isolation and anxietyAnother disabled person, this time someone with significant mental distress, had described how he had been forced through seven benefit assessments in six years.Abrahams said more and more disabled people were becoming isolated in their own homes and were facing the “relentless stress and anxiety resulting from a social security system that is hostile, unsupportive and even dehumanising”.Encouraging MPs to read the WOWvoices collection of accounts written by disabled people of their experiences of austerity and cuts to support, Abrahams told them: “This is happening up and down the country. The despair in these messages is palpable.”The disabled MP Stephen Lloyd, formerly a Liberal Democrat but now sitting as an independent, backed calls for a CIA, as did the Scottish Tory MP Luke Graham, who supported the idea of having “an objective assessment of what these changes are doing for our constituents and for the most vulnerable people”.There was also support for a CIA from Jim Shannon, a DUP MP, whose party has been keeping the Conservatives in power since 2017.Shannon said government cuts to disabled people’s and child support were causing “massive issues” in his constituency and “in everybody else’s as well”.He pointed to a CIA published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in March which found that disabled lone parents with at least one disabled child would lose almost £3 out of every £10 of their net income, almost £10,000 per year, by the time the government’s reforms and cuts were fully implemented in 2021-22.The SNP’s Angela Crawley added: “If the government can spend limitless amounts of money and resource on Brexit and planning for a no deal then why can they not introduce an independent CIA of their welfare reforms?”Marsha de Cordova (pictured), Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, thanked WOW for its work over the last six years and for “making the voices of disabled people heard in this house”.She called on the government to “own up to creating a social security system for disabled people that the UN report on extreme poverty described as callous, punitive and mean-spirited”.She said: “We are demanding that the government own up to the effects of more than £40 billion of cuts to disabled people’s social security since 2010.”And she said disabled people had been “consistently and disproportionately impacted by cuts to social care, legal aid, housing, education and social security”.De Cordova said the government’s “pointlessly cruel sanctions regime” had hit more than one million disabled people in the last eight years, while disabled people now faced the introduction of universal credit, which “acts as little more than a vehicle for cuts”.The minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, said the government was spending more than £50 billion this year on the main health and disability related benefits [this figure includes housing benefit paid to disabled people].She also claimed that the lack of information on disabled people in the survey data used by the Treasury did not allow a CIA of all government policies at present, although the Office for National Statistics was carrying out work which might mean the necessary data was available in the future.She also said that DWP figures showed that “poverty for people in families with a disabled person has improved since 2010 on three of the four measures, and there was no change in the fourth”.The government has repeatedly refused to carry out a CIA, even though the organisations that have called for one include the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, the government’s own social security advice body, and peers on the House of Lords Equality Act 2010 and disability committee.And the EHRC report in March calculated its own CIA of all the tax, national insurance, social security and minimum wage reforms introduced between May 2010 and January 2018.Abrahams’ motion for the government to carry out a CIA of changes to social security on disabled people was carried, but there is no obligation on the government to act on the motion. 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…
Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.Theresa May’s deal has been heavily defeated a second time, as expected. With 391 against and 242 in favour, the majority of 149 was smaller than in January – when it went down by a record-breaking 230 votes – but still crushing. Only three Labour rebels (Kevin Barron, Caroline Flint, John Mann) voted for it. To most, Jeremy Corbyn’s pronouncement after the result that the “deal is clearly dead” was self-evident. And yet, encouraged by switchers such as David Davis, Nadine Dorries and Philip Davies, there is already talk in Tory circles of a third meaningful vote.Whatever the government plans, May is losing more and more control as time passes, so a third vote could not be on the same deal. Tonight, MPs will have the chance to vote on a motion against a no deal outcome in March, for which the Prime Minister has announced that she will offer a ‘free vote’. (Allowing her cabinet to vote whichever way they like without having to resign.) As a Labour spokesperson commented, it shows she has “given up any pretence of leading the country”. And tomorrow the Commons will have its say on whether to delay Brexit.In Labour circles, there is anger about the little mention afforded to another referendum yesterday by either the Labour leader or Keir Starmer. Perhaps Tom Watson’s Future Britain Group has, by providing an outlet for frustrated Corbynsceptics, actually relieved pressure on the leadership. It’s clear, as it frankly always has been, that the appetite among MPs for another public vote is insufficient and – I hear – dwindling further.Instead, Labour is going to focus on securing indicative votes next week, and I’m told MPs hope to achieve this by amending the Article 50 extension motion tomorrow. The ‘Kyle/Wilson’ amendment and other iterations of a ‘people’s vote’ plan would get a hearing at that point, but so would a customs union deal and Common Market 2.0, both of which are likely to garner more support. For those wondering ‘what is the point if the EU won’t renegotiate?’, which I often see from Labour members, the BBC’s Katya Adler put it succinctly this morning: “If the UK’s red lines change, the EU’s red lines change”.It is set to be an extraordinarily busy day in parliament, with PMQs, followed by the Chancellor’s Spring Statement, the ‘no deal’ debate, votes from 7pm (on the motion and probably amendments) and finally the PM’s next steps (i.e. Brexit delay vote tomorrow). Keep checking LabourList to follow it all…Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.Tags:Theresa May /Brexit /no deal /Article 50 extension /
SAINTS’ Stobart Stadium hoodoo continued as they slumped to a 27-16 defeat to a resurgent Harlequins RL.Royce Simmons’ men had no answer to their opponent’s exciting attacking play as they conceded 20 points in the opening 40 minutes.Luke Dorn, Karl Pryce and Tony Clubb all crossed in a half that could have been a lot worse for the home side.In the second, Francis Meli got Saints on the board before James Graham ploughed over to get his charges right back in it.But Nick Kouparitsas intercepted almost immediately to restore Quins advantage – and that finished off Saints’ hopes and leaves them with plenty to think about as the season progresses.Team news saw Josh Perry making his much awaited debut for the Saints, whilst Lee Gaskell came in for the injured Leon Pryce.Simmons also moved Paul Clough into the second row and called up Shaun Magennis to the substitutes’ bench.Rob Powell had to make a couple of changes to his side with Olsi Krasniqi, who featured against Catalans Dragons in the Millennium Magic weekend, and Joe Mellor coming in for Jamie O’Callaghan and David Howell.Quins got the game underway and had Saints on the back foot when an innocuous looking kick found Francis Meli trapped in goal.It was all the pressure they needed as after one solid drive Luke Gale fed Luke Dorn who made no mistake. Gale converting.And less than two minutes later, Quins were in again – this time forcing the ball on the last tackle and finding Karl Pryce. Gale adding the extras from out wide.Saints grabbed a drop out of their own after 14 minutes; coming off the back of a fantastic kick and chase. And after a great attacking set, they won another six tackles courtesy of Eastmond’s chip which troubled Mark Calderwood.From there, the ball came left and with Meli streaking into the corner, he just put a toenail in touch; unlucky for the big man who has a phenomenal scoring rate for his club.Quins then hit Saints again – and with a fair about of luck too. They broke forward and although the tackle seemed to be completed the referee allowed play to continue and Tony Clubb profited.Gale making it 18-0 to the Quins – and no more than they deserved.Saints were continuously finding handling difficult as they attacked and it was no surprise when the now buoyant Quins almost were in again.As the half ticked doen, Saints should have been within 12 as Lee Gaskell was called for a forward pass that never was but went in 20-0 down at the break following Gale’s penalty on 38 minutes.Half time: Saints 0 Harlequins 20Saints began the second half on the front foot, but Eastmond’s kick came to nothing.But on 49 minutes they finally got over the line.Paul Wellens unlocked the defence with a strong run was then hauled down, but Saints spun the ball wide and Meli got over in the corner. Eastmond unlucky with the conversion attempt.And six minutes later Graham bulldozed over to put Saints right back in it. Eastmond converting.But seconds after the re-start Nick Kouparitsas intercepted and swung the game right back in the visitor’s favour – Gale tagging on the extras.Saints toiled – as so often has been the story this season – to get into the Quins’ 20, but they couldn’t find a piece of quality to unlock the defence.And in the end it was relatively simple for Quins to hold out for their first win over the Saints since 2007; Luke Gale adding a drop goal as the clock ticked down.James Roby with a late consolation.Match Summary:Saints:Tries: Meli, Graham, RobyGoals: Eastmond (1 from 2), Foster (1 from 1)Quins RL:Tries: Dorn, Pryce, Clubb, KouparitsasGoals: Gale (5 from 5)Drop: GalePenalties:Saints: 4Quins RL: 6HT: 0-20FT: 16-27REF: Gareth HewerATT: 6050Teams:Saints:1. Paul Wellens; 2. Ade Gardner, 3. Michael Shenton, 20. Jonny Lomax, 5. Francis Meli; 6. 25. Lee Gaskell, 7. Kyle Eastmond; 10. James Graham, 9. James Roby, 8. Josh Perry, 13. Chris Flannery, 16. Paul Clough, 11. Tony Puletua.Subs: 14. Scott Moore, 19. Andrew Dixon, 21. Shaun Magennis, 22. Jamie Foster.Quins RL:1. Luke Dorn; 23. Mark Calderwood, 3. Tony Clubb, 31. Karl Pryce, 5. Chris Melling; 6. Luke Gale, 7. Chad Randall; 17. Danny Ward, 9. Andy Ellis, 10. Oliver Wilkes, 16. Mike Burnett, 13. Rob Purdham, 12. Chris Bailey.Subs: 8. Karl Temata, 11. Nick Kouparitsas, 15. Luke Ambler, 32. Joe Mellor.
THE latest In Touch Podcast features the thoughts of Nathan Brown, Alan Hunte and Paul Wellens.To listen click here or search for St Helens RFC on iTunes.Nathan and Wello talk about the recent win over Salford in the Podcast, which is partnership with 105.9 Citytalk, whilst we also caught up with Alan Hunte too.And we hear from Paul Sculthorpe on why Saints v Wigan is the biggest derby in Rugby League whilst Ross Heppenstall from the Bradford T and A discusses all things Super League with Mike Appleton.Remember if you want a question answering on the Podcast drop us a line @saints1890 on twitter or email [email protected] can hear in-depth interviews with Nathan and Paul as well as all the latest from Super League on City Talk 105.9’s In Touch show between 6pm and 7pm on Thursdays.