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News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Treasury minister blames disabled people who work for fall in productivity

Government policies relating to people with disabilities appear to be in even more disarray than usual. Once again, those with disabilities resulting from diseases such as multiple sclerosis, or any other cause, are under attack.

The department for work and pensions’ assessment system for disability benefits is ‘encouraging’ disabled people to find work. But chancellor of the exchequer Phillip Hammond seems to be singing from a different songbook. That’s because he is blaming people with disabilities who work for Britain’s low productivity.

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Chancellor Phillip Hammond. pictured on budget day.

The Treasury Select Committee asked Hammond about the fall in UK productivity that he mentioned in his budget speech. In reply, the chancellor (treasury minister) said: “It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce.”

He stated that this includes “far higher levels of participation by marginal groups and very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people.”

While he followed the government line that this is “something we should be extremely proud of”, he went on to say that it “may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.”

However, that is neither fair nor accurate. People with disabilities are not the real reason for the drop in productivity. No, the real reason is closer to home – it is a series of government policies.

Of course, the chancellor didn’t want to admit that. So, he tried to use disabled people to distract the committee from the truth. But, all that led to a more than ironic situation.

Productivity: A government-made crisis

Not so long ago, people on disability benefits were demonised as scroungers and skivers. Now, though, it is the turn of disabled people in work. Hammond is trying to demonise them for lowering the productivity of the whole workforce. That would be funny, if it wasn’t so sick.

Labour’s work and pensions shadow secretary Debbie Abrahams was quick to condemn Hammond.

She said: “It is disgraceful that Philip Hammond is scapegoating disabled people for a productivity crisis created by the Conservatives’ failed economic policies.

“This is coming from a government that has forced disabled people to pay the price of their (the government’s) failed austerity agenda, including by cutting measures that help disabled people into the workforce and scrapping their own manifesto commitment on halving the disability employment gap.

“We should be increasing disabled people’s access to employment, not denigrating their contributions. The chancellor should apologise immediately.”

I agree, Hammond should say sorry. He should apologise for wrongly blaming the disabled for the country’s drop in productivity. He should apologise for failed economic policies for which he, as chancellor, is directly responsible.

In fact, Hammond should apologise for being chancellor – and then resign.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Assessment complaints for disability benefit up nearly 900% in a year

Complaints about assessments for a key government disability benefit have rocketed by 880% in 12 months, according to official figures. It is a benefit paid to people with diseases like multiple sclerosis and those with other disabilities.

Yes, claimants’ complaints about assessments for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), that totalled 142 in 2015-16, rose to 1,391 in 2016-17.

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Photo: The Independent

Furthermore, if that was not shocking enough, it gets worse. The UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has produced figures that show that the number of complaints about PIP assessments that were upheld. Over the same time, these rose from 67 to 545 – an increase of more than 713%. To me, that is a sad commentary on the lack of quality of the assessments and honesty of the assessors.

The facts were revealed by Penny Mordaunt, minister for disabled people, in answer to a parliamentary question from Stephen Kinnock.

assevssmentsBenefitsandwork.com, the campaigning website, commented: “In our last newsletter we highlighted the case of a PIP claimant who had used a secret recording of his PIP assessment to win his appeal tribunal.

“Given this level of doubt about the trustworthiness of assessments, and given the difficulties the DWP place in the way of claimants wanting to openly record their medicals, covert recording seems more and more reasonable.”

Not fit for purpose

According to Disability News Service, Kinnock claimed the figures were “further evidence that the PIP system is not fit for purpose”, despite the assessment system being in place for more than four years. He said:

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Stephen Kinnock MP.

“While the scale of this is truly shocking, it is not in the least bit surprising, because week after week I hear from my constituents about how claimants are treated, how they are humiliated, belittled and denied basic human dignity.

“Government has been told by MPs, claimants and by disability experts that the system needs reviewing.  

“Instead, they have carried on regardless with their ideological drive to remove the help which people so desperately need, so that they are able to manage the basic daily costs of living with a disability.” 

A spokesman for the DWP is reported to have been unable to offer any explanation for the huge rise in complaints. He commented: “Complaints may be made for a variety of reasons and there is no evidence to suggest that there is dishonesty in the assessment system.”

Yeah, right!

Assessments appeals going online

PIP assessments appeals, and those about other benefits, are set to change. This is because HM Court and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has reached stage two of the roll out of online hearings.

It says that virtual hearings and online hearings using ‘rapid messaging’ will become a reality over the next 18 months. Apparently, it will be possible to appeal online and track the progress of the case by text, email or online.

Many are likely to welcome the chance not to have to attend a face-to-face hearing. However, paper hearings have a very much lower success rate than in-person hearings. Claimants may well seek physical hearings, if the same low success rate applies to ‘rapid messaging’ hearings. 

HMCTS says in-person hearings will still be available “for those that need them”. My question is: Who will decide if a claimant is in ‘need’ of one? It should not be the DWP.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

 

 

 

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Silly season lacks real news stories – whether general or about disabilities

It’s silly season right now. At least, it is in the UK and many other countries. In the US, it is called the slow news season. Elsewhere it can be called cucumber time, or another such term.

The reason, of course, is that at this time of year news is harder to come by. Yes, there are still things going on but in the northern hemisphere parliaments and congresses have long summer breaks. So do courts. South of the equator, the season tends to refer to a period surrounding the Christmas and New Year holidays. Remember, December and January are summer months there.

silly seasonSilly season is a term with which I am quite familiar, having spent my career in journalism. I know full well about the scarcity of real news during the summer.

And that’s why we see frivolous news items in the Press that would not be likely otherwise. Frivolous items that give rise to the term ‘silly season’.

It’s true, too, for news about disabilities. Whatever, and however, a disability affects us – developments are scarce during these months. Changes to benefits? Sorry, no, the government is on holiday.

The independent organization Benefits and Work publishes a regular newsletter, but not during the silly season. In its last edition on July 17, it said: “This is our last newsletter, and money-off coupon, until Friday September 6. Parliament is about to go into recess and will return on September 5, briefly, before the conference season begins.

Silly season = slow news

“That should mean that we are spared any more new initiatives or bogus consultations before the Autumn and gives us all a chance to recharge our batteries. But, if anything dramatic does occur relating to benefits, we’ll bring out a special edition.”

In the UK, parliament has not met since July 20 and returns on September 5. In the US, congress finished one week later, on July 28, but also restarts on September 5.

Any news about developments in new drugs and treatment of diseases such as multiple sclerosis? No, not at all. The last news update on the website of the MS Society was posted on June 30. In the USA, the National MS Society last posted a news item on August 8 – and that wasn’t about MS. It was about the congress summer holiday.

And don’t expect to take your benefits claim to court either. The UK High Court’s summer break lasts from August 1 to the beginning of October.

Oh well, it looks as though the news media will, once again, have to resort to the frivolous.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Features Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

 

 

 

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People with Disabilities are Right to Fear a May Victory

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Theresa May, Conservative.

So, the people of the UK are facing a second general election in two years. And people with multiple sclerosis and other disabilities are worried what the results of polling day may mean for them. It could give prime minister Theresa May even more MPs to support her European exit strategy which is likely to lead to reduced benefits.

Mrs May has repeatedly dismissed the idea of holding another election but the fact that she now has one so is no real surprise for anyone with a healthy skepticism towards the honesty and trustworthiness of politicians of any nationality.

By calling an early general election, the prime minister gas gone back on her own statements. Indeed, she has repeatedly refused to call an election earlier than the due date of 2020.

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour.

In the last weeks and months, her spokesmen have maintained her public position that she herself expressed on the BBC TV’s Andrew Marr Show last year, Mrs May herself said: “I don’t think there’s a need for an election. I think the next election will be in 2020.”

When pressed by Marr, May was more direct, saying: “I am not going to call a snap general election.”

No ifs, no buts – just a categoric statement that there would not be early an election.

Tim Fallon, Liberal Democrat.

This week came her announcement. The prime minister went back on her word and called a snap general election to be held on June 8.

Should we be surprised? Of course not, it’s just another politician proving you can’t believe a word they say.

Let’s consider what it means. Of course, all UK citizens will potentially be affected, whether or not they vote. And that’s because the composition of the House of Commons will materially affect the outcome of the Brexit negotiations which could significantly shape their future.

Then there are those of us who are receiving disability benefits. We stand to be affected by the fact that UK laws are likely to be less generous without the EU looking over its shoulder.

Paul Nuttall, UKIP.

The likelihood of a Conservative government in a UK, without EU constraints, is not something that I can anticipate with much pleasure, in fact not with any pleasure at all – but, while I live in Spain, at least I have the right to vote back in the UK.

 

 

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Disabilities: Government warned forced activities ‘could make health worse’

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Plans for people with disabilities to be forced to undertake ‘mandatory activities’, even though they have already been assessed as being unfit for work, is being opposed by disability groups such as the MS Society.

It is good to see the society urging the UK government to scrap plans, included in the Green Paper Improving Lives, that would require people in the support group of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to participate in those activities or risk facing cuts to their benefits.

disabilityThe ‘Green Paper’ is a supposed consultation document that sets out what the government calls its 10-year vision for helping people with chronic conditions – who can and want to – find and stay in work. It also includes other areas, such as health and changes to disability benefits.

In a statement issued on Friday, the MS Society said: “We’re really concerned about changes to disability benefits proposed in the Government’s Green Paper on work, health and disability. And we let them know in our detailed response today.”

Society policy manager Laura Wetherly said: “The government must recognise that many people with MS simply can’t work because of their condition and may not be able to return to work in the future. For these people, work has become impossible and in some cases could actually make their health worse.

“Putting pressure on people already deemed unfit for work won’t help their condition improve, will only make the system more stressful for them, and won’t help to close the disability employment gap. We’re urging the Government to make the welfare system make sense – the most vulnerable people need to be properly supported.”

According to the government’s own figures, of the people with MS claiming ESA, 92% are in the support group and are currently people not expected to carry out any work-related activity.

The MS Society says its January survey of more than 1,300 people with the disease revealed:

  • Almost two thirds of respondents (64%) say they are not employed.
  • Over half (53%) of this group say they would ideally like to work, but the vast majority (77%) say their MS means it’s not possible for them to work.
  • 62% of those not working feel they couldn’t return to work even with appropriate support.

According to Government figures, of the people with MS claiming ESA, 92% are in the support group. Currently people in this group are not expected to carry out any work-related activity as they tend to have the very highest support needs.

On its website, the society highlights the story of Carole Bennett, who is 58 and from Leeds, was diagnosed with MS in 2003. It says:

Around five years ago, she had to give up her job as a local government officer because her symptoms became too severe to carry on. Shortly after, she started receiving ESA.

Carole says: “I wouldn’t be able to do anything without this money – it’s my main form of income. I do very little as it is because the amount I get is only just enough to get by on. I enjoyed my job and if my health was better, I’d love to get back into work. But MS is so unpredictable – some days are better than others and I never know when I’m going to be ok. If I were forced to look for a new job now, the stress would make my symptoms worse and my life would be even harder than it is at the moment.”

I firmly believe that the plans should have no place in what, in the 21st century, should be a caring, tolerant and decent society.

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ian-skype_edited50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/disorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

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President-elect Trump on Disabilities, what now?

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What does the election of Donald Trump mean for people with disabilities such as multiple sclerosis?

Yes, two days ago the people of the U.S.A. decided who they wanted as their next President. They were faced with a difficult choice between a candidate with no experience of holding an elected public office and one who had served as a senator and Secretary of State. Ok, they could have ignored the two main candidates and voted for another candidate but, realistically, it was a choice between Trump and Clinton.

Now, before I go any further, it is essential to point out that I am not American and so am commenting from the position of an observer.

So, let’s take a look at what President-elect Donald Trump said about disabilities and social security payments.

Back in 2013, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, in Washington, Trump said: “As Republicans, if you think you are going to change very substantially for the worse Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in any substantial way, and at the same time you think you are going to win elections, it just really is not going to happen.”

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President-elect Donald Trump.

In Time to Get Tough he said; “Social Security faces a problem: 77 million baby boomers set to retire. Now I know there are some Republicans who would be just fine with allowing these programs to wither and die on the vine. The way they see it, Social Security and Medicare are wasteful ‘entitlement programs’.

“But people who think this way need to rethink their position. It’s not unreasonable for people who paid into a system for decades to expect to get their money’s worth – that’s not an ‘entitlement’, that’s honoring a deal. We, as a society, must also make an ironclad commitment to providing a safety net for those who can’t make one for themselves.

“Social Security is here to stay. To be sure, we must reform it, root out the fraud, make it more efficient, and ensure that the program is solvent.

“Same goes for Medicare. Again, people have lived up to their end of the bargain and paid into the program in good faith. Of course, they believe they’re ‘entitled’ to receive the benefits they paid for – they are!”

Tackling the issue of fraud itself, in Time to Get Tough, he said: “The top estimates are $2,340,000,000 in Medicare fraud over a decade – or 16% of America’s entire national debt!

“Then there’s the disability racket. Did you know that one out of every 20 people in America now claims disability? That adds up to $170 billion a year in disability checks. Between 2005 and 2009, it is estimated that $25 billion were eaten up in fraudulent Social Security Disability Insurance filings. On and on, scam after scam it goes; as always, taxpayers are the ones getting stiffed.”

What next, I wonder?

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ian profile50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/didorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Green Paper shows disability support plans

Earlier this week, on Monday October 31 to be exact. the UK government published its Work, Health and Disability Green Paper. Yes, believe it or not the government chose to publish it on Halloween. Hopefully that is not an omen of things to come.

A Green Papers, popularly known as a discussion paper, is designed to stimulate debate on government proposals before it decides on a course of action.

Damien Green: Self-interest.

Damien Green MP.

Publishing the paper, Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green said he wanted “targeted and personalised support” for people with chronic conditions while they look for work.

The green paper shows that the government plans to introduce a new Personal Support Package for people with health conditions who are out of work. This, supposedly, is to ensure that those concerned receive tailored health and employment support from work coaches and community partners with expertise in disability.

Another government plan is to reform the work capability assessments process for people claiming Employment Support Allowance and Universal credit. This scheme is so flawed that tinkering around the edges just won’t be enough, it needs to go, now.

One positive move is a plan to separate assessments for financial support from employment support. If that happens, which I doubt, it should be possible for people who may be able to work with the right support to access the help they need without affecting the financial support they receive. Yeah right!

Both the MS Society and the MS Trust gave guarded welcomes to the green paper.

MS Society chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: “Since its inception the Work Capability Assessment has failed to recognise the fluctuating nature of conditions like MS and the debilitating impact of their more ‘hidden’ symptoms. We welcome the government’s plans to review this assessment and to improve the support available to people who may be able to work.

“We are keen to help create a system that makes more sense. However, it must be recognised that many people with long-term progressive conditions will simply be too unwell to work and no amount of extra employment support will change that.”

She added: “We’ve been calling on the government to make sure the welfare system makes sense for those who rely on it. As part of our MS: Enough campaign, we’ll be reviewing the government’s proposals and what they mean for people with MS.”

MS Trust policy officgreen paperer Amanda Croft said: “The right work is a big driver of overall health and wellbeing, but we know that unemployment rates are much higher among people with MS than the general population. The MS Trust welcomes this recognition from the government that people with long-term conditions are still a valuable asset to the workforce, and that flexibly tailored support can help people with conditions like MS to achieve their employment goals.

“The unpredictable nature of MS symptoms is a particular challenge for individuals with MS and employers. Work capability assessments have historically been poorly designed for a fluctuating condition like MS. We urge the government to take the opportunity offered by their proposed review of the assessment process to ensure that the fluctuating and hidden symptoms of MS and their impact are properly taken into account.

“It is imperative that better employment support is combined with a fair and compassionate welfare system that offers support and security to those whose condition makes it impossible for them to work.”

 

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Disabilities among party’s top priorities

Never missing a chance to secure more votes, the Republican Party is clearly seeking the support of people with disabilities by including a raft of pro-disability policies among its top priorities. Theoretically, that should be good for everyone with a disability, such as anyone like me who has multiple sclerosis, but what politicians promise before an election and what they actually do if elected are not always the same.

The gop.com website says: “We (the Republican Party) renew our commitment to the inclusion of Americans with disabilities in all aspects of our national life.

Voting-booth usa“In keeping with that commitment, we oppose the non-consensual withholding of care or treatment from people with disabilities, including newborns, as well as the elderly and infirm, just as we oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide, which endanger especially those on the margins of society.

“Because government should set a positive standard in hiring and contracting for the services of persons with disabilities, we need to update the statutory authority for the Ability One program, a major avenue by which those productive members of our society can offer high quality services.

“The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has opened up unprecedented opportunities for many students, and we reaffirm our support for its goal of minimizing the separation of children with disabilities from their peers. We urge preventive efforts in early childhood, especially assistance in gaining pre-reading skills, to help many students move beyond the need for IDEA’s protections.

“We endorse the program of Employment First, developed by major disability rights groups, to replace dependency with jobs in the mainstream of the American workforce.”

Interesting, no mention of support to maintain social security benefits for the disabled.

 

Here’s the full list of key policies in the Republican platform, as published on gop.com:

Renewing American Values

Preserving and Protecting Traditional Marriage

Creating a Culture of Hope: Raising Families Beyond Poverty

Adoption and Foster Care

Making the Internet Family-Friendly

Advancing Americans with Disabilities

Repealing Obamacare

Our Prescription for American Healthcare: Improve Quality and Lower Costs

Ensuring Consumer Choice in Healthcare

Supporting Federal Healthcare Research and Development

Protecting Individual Conscience in Healthcare

Reforming the FDA

Reducing Costs through Tort Reform

Education: A Chance for Every Child

Attaining Academic Excellence for All

Consumer Choice in Education

Improving Our Nation’s Classrooms

Addressing Rising College Costs

Justice for All: Safe Neighborhoods and Prison Reform

On Tuesday November 8, the same day as the USA goes to the polls to elect a new president, voters will also make their selections for a total of 469 seats in the US Congress. Of these, just 34 are in the Senate. All 435 House of Representatives’ seats are up for election.

 

 

MSNT strapline copy

 

 

 

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Flat rate universal basic income plan for everyone whether in work, unemployed or with disabilities

ubi swiss ubi posterSwiss to vote on UBI on June 5.

Several countries around the world are talking about the idea of introducing Universal Basic Income (UBI), not to be confused with Universal Credit which is being introduced in the UK to replace several means-tested welfare benefits.

Universal Basic Income is where the government pays everybody a set amount, whether they work or not, in place of means-tested benefits. Of course, the incentive to work is still said to exist as most people will want to have more money than paid by UBI.

On June 5, Switzerland is holding a referendum of its citizens that, if successful, means it will become the first country to provide universal basic income. They will be voting on a plan that could see all adults receive about 2,500 Swiss Francs (approximately £1,700; $2,460) a month, with children receiving 625 Francs (about £445; $615) for each child. There will be no additional disability benefits.

The Swiss federal government estimates that the proposal will cost around 208 billion francs a year and the Swiss parliament has called for voters to reject the proposal with all parties united against it. Only 14 MPs supported the basic income initiative. One MP described the initiative as “the most dangerous and harmful initiative that has ever been submitted,” mentioning the risks of immigration, disincentive to work, and that the basic income proposed would not be financially feasible.

The Federal Council, Switzerland’s executive branch, also recommended its rejection, noting that UBI would cause low-paid jobs to disappear or be transferred abroad and would send women back to house work or care work. They said that implementing the initiative would also raise taxes and weaken incentive to work.

To understand how this proposal has come so far despite opposition from the government, you need to know that Switzerland has a form of direct democracy alongside its Parliament. Citizens simply have to gather 100,000 signatures calling for a vote on a proposal, and a ballot must be held with its result binding.

There have been UBI-type policies and experiments in both India and Brazil that have suggested that, contrary to fears about ‘welfare sapping people’s initiative, a basic income might actually increase people’s appetite for work. It seems to increase their sense of stability.

In the Netherlands, in the city of Utrecht, there is a pilot UBI-ish scheme whereby people on benefits are paid unconditionally.  Other Dutch towns and cities look set to follow Utrecht’s example. Finland has plans to pilot an even more ambitious kind of basic income.

UBI ideas have been suggested in other countries, including both the USA and UK. So far, however, no firm proposals have been put forward in either nation.

 

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Access for people with disabilities. What is ‘reasonable’?

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For the disabled, particularly anyone in a wheelchair, gaining access to buildings and all their facilities can still be more than a little difficult in the UK. The situation in other countries may be similar but, from what I have seen, Britain seems to be lagging behind other westernised countries.

True, we have the Equality Act 2010 that followed the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and this legislation is supposed to make discrimination against the disabled illegal. But the trouble is that the law contains the word ‘reasonable’ and that term is subjective – what is reasonable to me might be unreasonable to someone else. Just who determines what is reasonable?

So, as far as access to a building and its facilities such as toilets, the owner of any commercial business otherwise known as the ‘service provider’ is required by law ‘to take reasonable steps to remove, alter or provide a reasonable means of avoiding a physical feature which made it impossible or reasonably difficult for disabled people to use a service.’

Hm, one sentence with reasonable twice and reasonably once; room enough, in my view, for said ‘service providers’ to avoid doing anything.

Of course, most shops, restaurants, offices open to the public and so on do have level entrances or have alternative means of access, such as ramps or lifts but some still need improvement.

Over the last year, Lisa and I have eaten out at several restaurants in Colwyn Bay, the town in which we live. All the meals have been enjoyable but the facilities for customer with disabilities have been a bit hit and miss.

Pen-y-Bryn bar and restaurant is in its own grounds with a large car park but, disappointingly, has just one bay bearing the wheelchair symbol. Access to the building and the necessary facilities is trouble free.

Dolce Vita Italian restaurant has an on-street location with a level entrance. It has its main seating area and facilities upstairs but when I telephoned to make a booking and mentioned my wheelchair, I was guaranteed a table in the small ground floor dining area and was assured that I would be welcome to use their staff restroom on the same level. The owner also told me that he had plans to put in new customer facilities downstairs.

Vergilio’s Pizzeria and Portuguese Grill also has an on-street location and when I phoned to book I was told that my wheelchair would not be a problem. Well, true the staff were attentive and most willing to help me overcome the step into and out of the building as the entrance is not level. However, the bigger problem is that the restrooms are upstairs and so beyond the reach of people like me.

The Venue @ The Clockhouse Indian restaurant is another on-street location with a step to go in. Once again, the owner and manager together made short work of helping me both in and out of the building. Inside, everything is one level but facilities for the disabled do need improving. I discussed the issues with the owner and was pleased to hear that he already had plans to address both of them.

In the past year, my wife and I have also dined at more than 10 restaurants in Honolulu, New York City and Spain. All had level entrances or gentle ramps, the ones with dining rooms not on the ground floor had elevators. All washroom facilities were perfect. A lesson worth learning.

Back in Colwyn Bay, The Toad restaurant is in a prime location with sea views from its first floor restaurant. But there lies the problem, access is by external stone stairs while inside there is a staircase going down to the toilets on the ground floor. When I asked about facilities for customers with disabilities, I was told nothing could be done as it is a Grade 2 Listed building. That’s a building of special interest.

However, to say nothing can be done to such a property is not true. Any alteration would need listed building consent but even if such consent was denied a service provider would still need to take whatever other steps that are reasonable to provide the service.

And to underline that, Planning Policy Guidance Note (PPG 15) issued by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions makes it clear that “it is important in principle that disabled people should have dignified easy access to and within historic buildings” and that with a proper approach “it should normally be possible to plan suitable access for disabled people without compromising a building’s special interest”.

So, alterations should still be possible – even to listed buildings.

Access laws in America seem more strict than in the UK. Lisa told me about a Florida restaurant that had an upstairs bar and entertainment venue with no access for people with disabilities. The owners were told to make such access available or to close their business. No messing.

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