Equality Act Disability Select Committee evidence

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Nov 112015

Well, that was a nervy and interesting experience. I am very grateful to the Lords Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability for giving me the opportunity to give evidence today, along with Mr Jonathan Fogerty and (later) Mr Paul Breckell. I’m also grateful for the support of Gwynneth Peddler and Lianna Etkind from that wonderful group of disability transport activists Transport for All, and to my wonderful, committed and hard-working PA Mike.

Here’s a transcript of my oral evidence – or there’s the video of the recording below..

My written evidence to the Committee is already online.

Applications for S28 Assistance

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Nov 082015

As part of my research into the number of disability discrimination – goods and services cases taken under the Equality Act 2010, I have sent a Freedom of Information request to the Equality and Human Rights Commission as to their consideration and approval of applications for funding under Section 28 of the Equality Act 2006. This is the mechanism by which the EHRC can provide funding, legal advice or other support to people seeking assistance to take legal action for discrimination.

I’ve analysed the responses. I must immediately state that it is likely that I have made errors in the analysis or in understanding the information, or that the EHRC may also have made errors; also that some cases were open to interpretation and some cases (e.g. “my” case against Firstbus) were sent for decisions more than once so occur several times in the stats.

My “raw analysis” of each case, such as it is, is in this Google Sheets spreadsheet. I have indicated whether each case is on one of the eight protected characteristics – Disability, Race, Religion or Belief, Age, Gender, Transgender, Sexual Orientation, Human Rights or Pregnancy and Maternity – or if the case involves more than one characteristic, and if so, whether that includes Disability. I have also indicated in each case whether it was an Employment issue or Other, and whether the EHRC approved the application for assistance.

Since January 2013, there have been 177 such applications for assistance. 45 were granted assistance; that’s 25%. 71 applications were for employment discrimination (40%). 20 applications for assistance with employment were approved; that’s 39%. Meanwhile, 25 cases in the provision of services were approved; an approval rate of 24%.

Of the 177 applications, 56 (32%) exclusively involved the protected characteristic of disability, and a further 21 (12%) were on multiple characteristics including disability. That means that disability was a common characteristic in applications for assistance, more than other characteristics, and featured in 44% of such applications.

Of cases that included disability (either as the sole characteristic or with others), 22 (29%) applications were approved. 25 applications (32%) were in employment. 52 applications were for assistance in disability goods and services cases (that’s around 17 per year). 15 were approved (29%).

The stats therefore make clear that there are very few applications for the Equality and Human Rights Commission to support cases for disability discrimination cases in the provision of goods and services. There are less than 17 applications each year, of which on average 5 cases are approved. Given the repetition noted in the stats (some cases appearing more than once), the number is lower than that.

I guess one conclusion we could reach is that there are very few instances of breaches of the equality act in disability discrimination in the provision of goods and services here in the UK. I must immediately discount this. I reckon I experience unlawful discrimination more than 17 times each year, all on my own, let alone the other several million disabled people in the UK.

So the next question is: why are there so few cases for disability discrimination? Why are there so few applications to the EHRC for assistance? And why are so few applications granted? Is the EHRC enabling disabled people to challenge the discrimination they experience?

I am grateful for the support that I am receiving from the EHRC for “my” Firstbus case. However I have to wonder if the EHRC could and should take a wider role in challenging the discrimination disabled people face.

Nov 052015

In oral evidence to the Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability on Tuesday just gone (3rd November), after apposite and powerful evidence from Transport for All / Gwynneth Peddler (including on the repeated difficulty of conflict for the wheelchair space on buses,) Simon Posner of the Confederation of Passenger Transport Industries said that conflict for the wheelchair space on buses was less frequent than some would claim. I contacted the Committee with concerns about his evidence and out of courtesy copied him in on the email address in his Linked In profile, but my email to him bounced. I therefore decided to make this an open letter and Tweet it at him (@SimonPosnerCPT).

Dear Committee,
I watched Tuesday’s evidence session and I am concerned at something Simon Posner said.

In response to Baroness Campbell’s query about the use of the wheelchair space on buses: “Can you just tell me how you are helping your drivers to address this issue in the absence of the law?” Simon Posner told the Select Committee:It is a problem, I have to say it’s one that’s possibly not as widespread as many people would lead us to believe“.

He has previously stated similar in a live TV interview with me on Channel 4 News – he said this is a “very isolated case“.

Yet the CPT has participated in specific research that demonstrates otherwise. The DFT’s Mobility and Inclusion Unit commissioned substantial research into this area in 2006-2008, at a cost to the taxpayer of £30,000 – see their project summary. I attach the research  report – note that this is actually the final report, even though it says “draft”.

Some key quotes:

Bus drivers interviewed through this research identified that the last two years in particular have seen the growth in the problems from buggy use and the competition for priority space on the bus.

A substantial majority of wheelchair users in all three areas identified that there were problems with their space on the bus being occupied by a buggy or pushchair. In the West Midlands, 93% of respondents said that the space is occupied a lot or sometimes, 92% in Merseyside and 87% in Aberdeen. Overall, less than one in ten wheelchair users said that this never or rarely happens.

nearly a third of respondents who were wheelchair users said that the buggy owner refused or usually refused to move.

the majority of wheelchair users said that the bus driver rarely or never intervenes

It is therefore clear that there is substantial evidence that there is a frequent and substantial problem of conflict for this space. As noted, this competition was increasing due to the increasing number of “accessible” buses in use round the country and thus the increasing number of pram, pushchair and wheelchair users attempting to use the bus. I have no doubt that competition for the space is more intense than it was when this research was conducted 9 years ago; anecdotal evidence of disabled peoples’ experiences confirms this. Comments that such conflict is infrequent are met by derision when made or read out at meetings of disabled public transport users.

The CPT were involved in and fully appraised of the results of the research. A contemporary report to DPTAC stated that the bus companies who took part in the research were approached through the CPT: “Bus companies were approached through the Confederation of Passenger Transport” and the attached report demonstrates that the findings were fed back to the CPT:

For the final stage of the study, a number of case studies were identified using the information in the literature review on measures taken to address the problems and a presentation to a selection of bus operators on the findings of the research organised by the Confederation of Passenger Transport.

Mr Posner was CEO of the CPT when this research was conducted in 2006. Before he joined the CPT he worked in the mobility unit at the Department for Transport, which commissioned the research. He has also previously served as DPTAC’s secretary, as he noted in the session.

I am therefore quite concerned that Mr Posner appears to be attempting to play down this issue. I would not want the Committee to be mislead by Mr Posner’s comment.

To be fair to Mr Posner, I have copied him in to this email.

Thank you

Doug Paulley

Oct 222015

There’s a Lords committee afoot, looking at the efficacy of the Equality Act 2010 as relates to disability discrimination. (Snappily entitled the Equality Act 2010 and Disability Committee.) Given this, the question is: how many court cases are there for disability discrimination in the provision of services?

This should be easy, because in response to the Work and Pensions select committee in 2009:

There is a lack of data on the number of DDA cases on goods, facilities and services in the county courts, although a number of witnesses presume the numbers to be very small. We recommend that the Government monitors the trends in the number of cases taken and their outcomes. (The DDA was the Disability Discrimination Act, the immediate precursor to the Equality Act 2010)

The Government promised:

The Government will consider introducing changes to the county court IT system when there is an opportunity to do so. Until then, courts will be asked to manually gather information on DDA cases involving goods, facilities and services.

Well, that’s okay then, I can just ask for these figures, right? Wrong.

In any event, we are not able to identify from our County Court case management system, cases that have been brought under a specific Act.

The information that you have requested may be in case files held locally at individual courts. However, I estimate that the time required to examine the files in question, extract, record and collate the information that you have asked for, would significantly exceed the limits set out above.

Riiiiight. They totally fulfilled their promise.

We should be fine, however, because under Section 2 of the Practice Direction: Proceedings under enactments relating to disability, for every case under the Act,

the claimant must give notice of the commencement of the proceedings to the Commission and file a copy of that notice.

Except this doesn’t happen. I reckon I’ve taken among the most numbers of cases in disability discrimination in the provision of services in the country (I’ve certainly taken a lot), and I think I’ve told the commission about a case twice. Even then in one instance the commission didn’t know what to do with my notification – they thought I was asking for help and referred me to the Equality advice helpline service. Hmmm.

So, we’re reduced to anecdotal evidence. I had the honour today of being at an event in which Catherine Casserley, Douglas Johnson and Nony Ardill were speaking to The Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations’ Legal Network.

Douglas said that when he did some research a few years ago, there were about 5,500 Employment Tribunals per year, and there had been about 100 cases for disability discrimination in the provision of goods and services. Ever, not per year.

Nony said that the Commission had received 111 notices in 2014 under the Practice Direction above. Of those, 44 were for disability discrimination. (Of those 44, 8 related to the Police, 8 to service providers, 14 to educational establishments, and 7 unknown.)

As for applications for the Commission’s advice and assistance to bring a disability discrimination case (under S28 of the Equality Act 2006), she was aware of three:
* Allen vs RBS,
* Campbell versus Thomas Cook, and
* a little-known case dubbed Paulley vs Firstbus.

Oh, and one case against a mosque which settled before going to court.

That’s the sum total of the disability discrimination in service provision cases across the UK assisted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

We also know that according to the Government’s own legal aid statistics for year 2013-2014, there were 22 applications for legal aid representation in equality cases (not just in disability) and that the grand total granted such funding was four. The 18 applications for funding that were turned down weren’t appealed.

So, does the low number of cases mean that disability discrimination in services is very low? Less than 1% of the cases of such discrimination in employment? That discrimination in service provision is so rare we should stop bleating about it?

I think all disabled people know the answer to that one. I’ll leave us with this accurate and prescient quote from Cath Casserley from the 2009 committee:

In any event, relying upon individuals to bring about systemic change through individual litigation places a heavy burden upon disabled people.

Equality Act and Disability written submissions published

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Oct 202015

The Lords Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability has published the written submissions made for its consideration. We’ve all had to avoid publishing our evidence until now; it’s somewhat of a relief!

My evidence to the Committee: as a webpage, in a PDF file.

Firstgroup made a submission. Their submission (webpage) consists of a couple of pages of positive info about their commitment to accessibility through training, vehicles and so on. The second half consists of commentary on the recent judgments in Paulley and in Black. This is interesting in that the call for evidence said:

You should be careful not to comment on individual cases currently before a court of law, or matters in respect of which court proceedings are imminent.

I’m sad that The Fleur Perry‘s submission to the Commission was eaten by the sock monster gremlins as it seems not to have made it to the Committee. She had many cogent things to say, as demonstrated by her recent blogs on Trailblazers and in the HuffFleur’s other blogs at the Huff are well worth reading.

If I count correctly there were 150 written submissions to the Committee, by organisations and people. I already know that the ones by Inclusion London, Gwynneth Pedler,  Transport for All and Unity Law are well worth reading; and I’m excited to note submissions by many ULOs (e.g. DEX and Manchester Disabled Peoples Access Group) as well as other important and influential groups and people (e.g. the Bar Council and Louise Whitfield.) I have less confidence that the big disability charities will have written much cogent or useful, but still, plenty of reading material for me for the next few weeks!

There’s plenty to watch too. Andrew Lee of People First Self-Advocacy gave oral evidence to the Select Committee today (16:06 onwards) – I am looking forward to watching his evidence. Here are links to all the oral evidence so far. I give oral evidence on 10th November.

Even in these dark, dark times of denigration and defamation of disabled people, of death and suffering and withdrawal of support and facilities, there are still signs of hope. I recently had the pleasure of meeting with some stalwart disabled people, both online and in person; I feel like I am in the company of giants. Long may it continue, and all power to everybody’s elbows!

Oct 152015

A few weeks ago, I raised the question of what payment mechanisms a data controller must accept for the payment of the £10 fee for a Subject Access Request. I have had a somewhat protracted discussion with the ICO since – see the addendum to my original post. The Information Commissioner’s Office have finally come up with their fully-formed opinion on this, as below:

We have received some further guidance from our policy team who have clarified the situation with regards to SARs and when a fee should be accepted.

As I have previously stated if an organisation do not have the facilities to accept a fee by a certain method then they would not need to create one, as per my previous example regarding PayPal.

In general there is no legal obligation on a data controller to accept a particular method of payment. A data controller can express a preference as to the payment method it would accept, and the data subject should normally comply with this preference where it is reasonable to do so. As we have advised before though, the data controller may on occasion have to have regard to compliance with disability discrimination requirements.

It is also possible for a data subject to express a preference, but, as a payment is to be made to the data controller, agreement would have to be reached with the data controller that this is an acceptable method of payment. The data subject is not able to insist that any recognised legal method of payment should be acceptable to the data controller. Consequently, there is no requirement for the data controller to accept any form of payment just because that is the preference expressed by the data subject.

However, the right of subject access is a basic, fundamental right. This means that it must be sufficiently easy for a data subject to make payment to a data controller in order to exercise that right. Although there may be some cash-only businesses that do not have the facility to process card payments, we believe that the vast majority of organisations do have this facility. Where this is the case, the controller should accept card payments for subject access in order to facilitate the applicant’s request. We would consider it obstructive for the controller to refuse card payments for subject access where it makes and receives card payments for other purposes. The same is true of bank transfers and other payment systems.

My basic tl;dr of the above is that organisations can dictate which mechanism they want applicants to use to pay the SAR fee and the requester can’t override this, though the organisation might have to make a reasonable adjustment for a disabled person and in any case if they have the ability to take payments for other things by alternative mechanisms the ICO would consider them to be obstructive if they don’t accept SAR fees by them. What consequences for the organisation would be had by the ICO thinking them being obstructive isn’t listed, but I suspect naff all, frankly.

The above seems to be at odds with the ICO’s DPA Lines To Take document on SAR fees (.doc file), which says:

If a data subject provides the correct fee in a format which is legally recognised in the UK to denote payment eg cash, cheque or postal order etc. and assuming that they have correctly provided all the other elements of a subject access request eg adequate identification etc, the moment the data controller has received the request (section 7(2)), its obligations under section 7 begin.

A data controller does not have to accept the payment, but the obligation begins nonetheless – acceptance is not a condition of receiving. A data controller is well within its rights to state a preference for a particular format of payment, but it cannot demand it.

To me, that doesn’t fit with what the ICO has just written in the above email to me:

In general there is no legal obligation on a data controller to accept a particular method of payment. … The data subject is not able to insist that any recognised legal method of payment should be acceptable to the data controller. Consequently, there is no requirement for the data controller to accept any form of payment just because that is the preference expressed by the data subject.

Clear as mud to me…

Oct 092015

Leonard Cheshire have announced that the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded them £242,250 to “enable the charity to use its archives to raise awareness about the history of disabled people“, topped up to £305,500 by two other charities.

Cartoon by the wonderful Crippen / Dave Lupton Cartoons: www crippencartoons.co.uk

Cartoon by the wonderful Crippen / Dave Lupton Cartoons www.crippencartoons.co.uk

For their full, nauseating and uninteresting press release (why do charities write such?),

View press release

From: Selina Mills [mailto:Selina.Mills@leonardcheshire.org] Sent: 09 October 2015 12:54
To: Selina Mills


  • Leonard Cheshire Disability ‘REWIND’ project secures £242,250 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)
  • Archive will show history of disabled people’s lives over 70 years
  • Project will increase access to archive materials
  • Total amount raised for the project is £305,500

Leading charity Leonard Cheshire Disability is delighted to have been awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant of £242,250 which will enable the charity to use its archives to raise awareness about the history of disabled people.

The HLF grant will be used to fund ‘Rewind – seven decades of stories from Leonard Cheshire Disability’ project. It will support vital conservation work, digitise archive material and record new oral history interviews with disabled people. The project will create an accessible website and allow online public access to the collections for the first time.

It comes alongside contributions to the project from the Sobell Foundation and the Brighton and Worthing Charitable Trust. The total amount raised for the project is £305,500.

This project uses archive materials from the home of the founder of the charity, Leonard Cheshire, called ‘Le Court’ which was adapted for its disabled residents. Le Court had a film unit, radio station, publishers, archive and artists group run by disabled people and played a significant role in the beginnings of the disability rights movement.

Stephanie Nield, Leonard Cheshire Disability Archivist, said:
“We have such a rich and diverse archive and as a result, the heritage we hold from Le Court forms a unique part of a rarely documented social and disability history.

“Our founder, Leonard Cheshire, started our charity in 1948 with a single act of kindness when he took disabled veteran Arthur Dykes into his own home to care for him. This is an important step in helping us shape our history to share this dynamic story with the world.”

Stuart McLeod, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South East, said: “Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players we’re able to support Leonard Cheshire Disability’s project that will explore, raise awareness and share the heritage of disabled people over the last 70 years. This is particularly timely as 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act – so it’s the perfect time to uncover this largely hidden part of our history.”

A community engagement programme is also planned and will run in six locations in the Home Counties of Surrey, West Sussex, Essex and Kent with trained volunteers assisting community groups to share memories and experiences. Volunteers will also record the oral histories of people who had contact with and experience of the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, as well as capturing the experience of disabled people over seventy years.

The project will increase the opportunities for of disabled people to talk about and share their experiences of care and capture a unique part of UK social history.


For further information, images and interviews, please contact Selina Mills in the Press Office on 020 3242 0298 or on Selina.Mills@leonardcheshire.org

Notes to editors

The Heritage Lottery Fund
Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about – from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.hlf.org.uk @heritagelottery

Leonard Cheshire Disability is the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of services to disabled people. We support thousands of people with physical and learning disabilities in the UK and we work with Cheshire partner organisations in 54 countries around the world. We campaign for change and provide innovative services that give disabled people the opportunity to live life their way. Visit www.leonardcheshire.org


I hope the opening-up of Leonard Cheshire’s archives will be “warts and all” and not an exercise in nauseating saccharine-sweet deification of the organisation, but I suspect they will be true to form. (I also hope that they put the £242,350 to good use: shame they can’t use it to pay carers the living wage. Mind you, it wouldn’t even pay a year’s salary of their two highest earning staff.)

The history of Leonard Cheshire Disability is not insignificant to the development of the disabled peoples’ rights movement, throughout the UK and indeed the world; though probably not in the way that they would really like people to believe. I wonder if their archive will release some of the following history.

It’s ironic that Leonard Cheshire Disability are releasing their archives as a result of a Lottery grant, because Leonard Cheshire Disability had to wrestle their domain name off a disabled ex-trustee, who was using the domain to show LCD were duplicitous in their treatment of disabled people and were allegedly fraudulent in their grant application to the Lottery.

But there’s much more history than that.

The seminal Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation, the founder of the disabled peoples’ movement and the originators of the Social Model, occurred as a result of Paul Hunt‘s reaction to institutionalised care and  segregation in Le Court, the inaugural Leonard Cheshire home.

The residents of Le Court resisted the disabling regime. They did so initially through sending the staff to Coventry in 1956 to 1958. They went on to stage the infamous “pyjama protest” – they instituted a protest of mass defiance of the rule that they had to change into their pyjamas by 6pm. Their protests earned them eviction notices, which Leonard Cheshire served against multiple residents and only rescinded following a direct appeal to Group Captain Leonard Cheshire himself.  “Our Len” said that a Cheshire home was a home for life, words which echo down the ages…

Paul felt that these charities, by focussing on Residential Care, were basically wrong. He saw disabled people’s place as being in the community. In addition Paul felt that these existing long established ‘disability’ organisations did not reflect the interests of disabled people and that disabled people should organise and form their own organisations.

The same clarion call across the decades: Leonard Cheshire would have you believe that they are disabled peoples’ mouthpiece, yet they don’t represent disabled people and they don’t always practice what they preach in their own service provision.

I hope the archive will show documents from when residents challenged Leonard Cheshire after LCD chose to close Le Court in 2002. Leonard Cheshire won by creating the legal precedent that (despite being paid hundreds of millions of pounds in taxpayers money) they are not subject to the Human Rights Act, including the obligation to respect disabled peoples’ right to choice over their homes. As a result, they can – and did – shut Le Court against residents’ wishes, evicting the disabled people living there.

I wonder if the archive will include the two pieces of research (by Peter Beresford and Northumbria University) commissioned by LCD’s Trustees but then quietly hidden as they showed that Leonard Cheshire actively undermined residents’ rights to basic everyday choices and support?

Will it include that they spent hundreds of thousands of pounds changing their brand and their name; in the process failing to tell or consult Leonard Cheshire’s family? Or that BBC presenters suggested that they choose a name that describes what they do, e.g. “jobs for the boys” or “keep us out of sight, out of mind you bastard”?

I hope Dr Laurence Clark‘s research paper, “Leonard Cheshire vs. The Disabled People’s Movement: A Review” is given due prominence:

Oliver (1990, page 39) points outs that the post-war ‘rescuing’ of disabled adults from other unsuitable provision by the Cheshire Foundation may subsequently be reinterpreted as “incarceration” by historians. Although the organisation would argue that in recent years it has changed to an “enabling” approach, the movement maintains that it “continues to appropriate our language as efficiently as it corrupts our image and comodifies our lives to ensure its thriving status as the leading charity provider of services for disabled people in the UK today” (Carr, 2000).

To be fair and comprehensive, it would have to include the many protests by disabled people against the Leonard Cheshire. For example, in 2007 disabled people stopped Leonard Cheshire’s glitzy ball by blockading it and letting off stink-bombs, as a protest against the “prison like regime” in many Leonard Cheshire homes.


Perhaps it should include Leonard Cheshire’s tragic failures: incidents where their cost-cutting and incompetence have resulted in people dying. For example, Leonard Cheshire killed one young man because they left an unsupervised voluntary worker who don’t know his care plan, to feed him without supervision, even though the Council paid the home £1,700 per week for his care. (That home eventually shut.)

Leonard Cheshire have repeatedly demonstrated that they are unable to run any new services. For example, Waltham Forrest council abandoned using Leonard Cheshire’s services shortly after appointing them, due to this debacle which caused misery and suffering for many disabled people.

Leonard Cheshire sunk a lot of other people’s money (including mine, from my fees to another care home) into an Acquired Brain Injury unit in Goole. It shut shortly after it opened due to a shortage of clients, because Leonard Cheshire’s regional director annoyed a neurological consultant. Leonard Cheshire had to cut their losses, yet another provider has since opened the same unit. It’s now profitable and providing a decent service.

“Since the closure of the nearly-new 1.5m Leonard Cheshire unit in 2003, people from the Goole area have had to travel to Leeds or York for treatment. But the unit is now reopening in August thanks to a joint venture between the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust (BIRT) and Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Trust (NLAG).” Strange that, I wonder why this Trust could run it but Leonard Cheshire failed…

I hope the published archives include my little comma in the history of the organisation. Leonard Cheshire had the only enforcement notice ever issued against a charity by the Information Commissioner’s Office, after they tried to hide from me that senior managers called me a “git” and a “plonker” and attempted to sabotage funding for a holiday I’d booked, in recompense for me raising issues that residents had been overcharged by hundreds of pounds due to LCD’s failure to follow its own transport procedures.

They then attempted to evict me whilst still going through the façade of mediating with me; resulting in the local safeguarding adults’ board reaching a formal finding that Leonard Cheshire had subjected me to institutional abuse. Leonard Cheshire threatened judicial review, following which the Board re-investigated and concluded that their first conclusion was too light. They unanimously concluded that Leonard Cheshire had subjected me to institutional abuse, and specifically psychological abuse, by a range of senior management over a period of years.

I guess in one respect we should thank Leonard Cheshire for creating such amazing disability activists as John EvansPaul Hunt, Liz Carr and Paul Darke, and prompting them to create the Social Model; much as we should “thank” PW Botha‘s South African apartheid regime for creating Desmond Tutu and Madiba Mandela, and for prompting them to create the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“Wheelchair accessible” Taxis and School Transport

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Oct 082015

People who know me know that I’m the largest land mammal in the world. As such I struggle somewhat to get into most supposedly “accessible” taxis. I end up with my shoulders rammed against the ceiling; together with facing backwards it’s a recipe for discomfort and car-sickness.

dishevelledcabI thus prefer to use minibus taxis (or buses, though the less said about that the better…)

The problem is that between about 7:30am and 9:30 am, and between 2:30pm and 4:30pm, on most weekdays, it’s pretty much impossible to book wheelchair accessible minibuses in Leeds, because they are all already booked.

Word on the street (well, in the taxis) was that this is because the school transport service used them to transport pupils. So I thought I’d put in a Freedom of Information Request to Leeds council to find out exactly what the situation is.

The answer is that Leeds city council use an average of 255 taxis and private-hire vehicles every school day to take disabled kids to school; rising to a maximum of 291. Of those vehicles, an average of 57 are wheelchair accessible minibuses; rising to a maximum of 62. Leeds has a total of 61 private hire wheelchair accessible minibuses, and no wheelchair accessible minibus taxis.

The council use all available private hire wheelchair accessible minibuses every school day. They have done so for years, in my experience. This raises the following questions.

  • Why doesn’t Leeds City Council provide enough wheelchair accessible minibuses to take disabled kids to school? Surely it’d be cheaper?
  • Does Leeds City Council not give a stuff about other disabled people who might need the private hire wheelchair accessible minibuses?

I suspect the answer to the last one is “no” but I can’t prove it yet as the Council haven’t provided their impact assessment in a readable form.

The response provided more statistics that may be of interest. I list them below for all and sundry to pore over like the boring sod I am, but the headline figure is that of the 4,170 taxis and private hire vehicles, under 8% are wheelchair accessible; and less than 3% of private hire vehicles. “Purple pound” eh.

Hackney Carriages (Taxis) in Leeds
Seats Accessible Non-accessible %
4 165 276 37.41%
5 to 7 92 4 95.83%
8+ 0 1 0.00%
Total 257 281 47.77%

Private Hire Vehicles in Leeds
Seats Accessible Non-accessible %
4 19 3500 0.54%
5 to 7 10 227 4.22%
8+ 61 162 27.35%
Total 90 3889 2.26%

All Taxis and Private Hire in Leeds
Seats Accessible Non-accessible %
4 184 3776 4.65%
5 to 7 102 231 30.63%
8+ 61 163 27.23%
Total 347 4170 7.68%

Vehicle Usage for Pupil Transport
Taxi People carrier Inaccessible Minibus Accessible Minibus Total
Average 125 23 50 57 255
Max 150 25 54 62 291
Aug 282015

Our responsible citizen, Luke Gutteridge, was walking somewhere in Broxbourne council’s jurisdiction one day when he accidentally dropped a 10p sized piece of orange peel without noticing. A council enforcement officer spotted him and pointed out he’d dropped it. Mr Gutteridge immediately apologised and picked it up. That’s where this story would have stopped, but it didn’t.

The enforcement officer issued a £75 fine for littering. Mr Gutteridge refused to accept the fine (understandably) and challenged it through the Magistrate’s Court. He was successful: the Council lost because the Magistrates considered that whilst he may have dropped a piece of litter, he hadn’t abandoned it.

The question is how much the authority’s farcical behaviour cost the taxpayer in this time of strict austerity. I put in a Freedom of Information Request to find out precisely that.

The Council initially told me that there were no costs because it was all done by their in-house legal team. I requested an internal review, because I know that all legal teams quantify their costs to claim off the other side if they win the case. The Council then told me that it had cost them £1,700 in lawyers time and £100 for the enforcement officer to attend Court.

I thought I’d bottomed the costs, but an article in the local paper, the Hertfordshire Mercury, has revealed that even that figure is incorrect. “It has now emerged the case cost taxpayers £2,057.” The Mercury quotes the Council’s response to my FOI request, leaving the reader with the very legitimate question as to why the Council gave me a lower figure.

Even this is lower than the actual cost, mind you, because as Mr Gutteridge won his case, the Council will be liable for his legal costs too.

One hopes that when the Auditor comes to examine the Council’s accounts, that the Council are somewhat more straightforward and honest than they appear to have been when complying with their legal obligation to provide accurate information in response to my FOI request.

Leonard Cheshire Disability’s CEO Clare Pelham on poverty

 Leonard Cheshire  Comments Off on Leonard Cheshire Disability’s CEO Clare Pelham on poverty
Aug 232015

Clare Pelham had this to say in Leonard Cheshire’s annual accounts 2014-2015:

Disabled people are more likely to be living in poverty and less likely to have savings than most. The pressures on social care funding available to councils in this country have increased and this has affected many disabled people.

She ought to know about poverty; after all, she’s only paid between £140,000 and £150,000 per year. She is one of 25 staff earning more than £60,000 – none of whom are directly engaged in the core activity of providing personal care and support to disabled people. Indeed, the number of staff in the charity earning £100,000 or more actually increased this year. To put that in context, MPs’ salaries are £67,060.

The report also lists the following risk and mitigation: (my emphasis)

Rising wages costs and our ambition to pay all staff at least the Living Wage could impact the financial sustainability of some or all of the Charity’s operations
  1. Annual increases in our fees requested from commissioners to offset the cost of wage increases and to support our efforts to work towards paying the Living Wage.
  2. Annual budget and business planning cycle.


This is perhaps progress, because even though Clare Pelham had this to say in September last year:

At the very least we should celebrate care as a wonderful career choice with great training; and nothing less than a living-wage should be acceptable.

the charity continues to pay its carers less than the living wage. They claim it’s because commissioners don’t pay them enough:

Commissioners are working under increasing financial pressure, so in many cases achieving living wage rates is not possible immediately

Yet until I kicked off about this in January, they’d not asked any commissioners to pay more so they could pay carers the living wage – and even now they’ve only recently written to a small proportion of commissioners to start the conversation. (At least I’ve forced them to go through the motions.)

In fact, the company reduced their spending on staff wages by over £2,000,000 in financial year 2014-2015 compared to 2013-2014, despite receiving an increased income of over £1,000,000 from fees paid by councils, part of their £7,500,000 overall increase in income. (£6,000,000 of the increased income is sat in their bank accounts – Goodness knows where the rest is.)  Check their annual reports and accounts (PDF file) – hold your nose to get past the odious self-congratulatory bollocks in the first half of the report; their figures for income are on p64, staff costs on p91, and the salaries of their most senior employees on p92.

One wonders if the reflection in their annual report may indeed by correct. It’s my view that they don’t give a stuff about their low wages to carers; they are only interested in appearing to give a stuff about their carers’ pay, and they don’t view the living wage as something to aspire to but as a threat to their business model.

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