In a wheelchair and want your benefits? You’ll need to take the stairs
June 14, 2018 9:13 PM   Subscribe

Sending disabled people to inaccessible centres causes pain and distress. Worse, it leads to them being denied benefits. (SLGuardian)
This is Britain’s benefit system in a nutshell: a wheelchair user is told to negotiate 44 steps to get her benefits. Linda’s letter informs her that if she thinks she’ll “have difficulty” using the stairs, she should “ring the helpdesk”, so they can “make alternative arrangements for you”. Calling a helpline is little use when you’re deaf; panicked, Linda had to ask a friend over to contact the DWP for her. I ask Linda what alternative the DWP officials told her she could have. “None at all,” she says, “despite my friend, a MP and my doctor all saying I can’t get up or down any steps.”
posted by Lexica (44 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
Someone needs to get the Ouch podcast on this. Fuck, this is making Americans look good by comparison and I'm sure America sucks for this shit too, but...dammmmmmmn.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:45 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


Yeah speaking as someone who was on disability for a few years (and would prob still qualify but I’ll be damned if I’ll jump through anymore shitty hoops) it’s pretty fucking bad here in CA but it looks like it’s fucking nightmarish in the UK.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:55 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


It could not be clearer to me just how little the British government cares about the life of this woman. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say they'd prefer it I f she died because then they wouldn't have to spend more of their precious time dealing with her. They just want her and people like her to go away, whether that's through death or other means.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:00 PM on June 14 [18 favorites]


It could not be clearer to me just how little the British government cares about the life of this woman. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say they'd prefer it I f she died because then they wouldn't have to spend more of their precious time dealing with her. They just want her and people like her to go away, whether that's through death or other means.
Depressingly, the same description fits the current Australian governement. This article could easily be about Australia and the NDIS.
posted by krisjohn at 10:13 PM on June 14 [5 favorites]


Is there a UK/British equivalent of the ADA? Because the idea that a government office wouldn’t be wheelchair accessible just boggles my mind.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:16 PM on June 14 [8 favorites]


Fuck the DWP. Fuck the fact that the US system is being used as a benchmark here.
posted by ambrosen at 11:39 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


To be clear, the issue is that the government doesn't give a shit about respecting the law. Of course the laws exist.
posted by ambrosen at 11:45 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


So there is a lift? But you can't use it if there's a fire, so nobody who actually needs the lift is allowed inside? So the lift is just there for convenience purposes like a moving sidewalk/travellator but doesn't actually make the building accessible?

This sounds like someone thought way too hard about it and came up with the worst possible decision. I realize they don't want their staff to be responsible for evacuating people in a fire, but how is this situation different from basically every other multi-story building?
posted by zachlipton at 11:54 PM on June 14 [5 favorites]


I follow the Disability News Service, and these are emblematic of the hatred (I can't think of any better word) that is the core of the Tory government's policy towards people with disabilities. If you have a visible physical disability you can't get to the office, if you have anything less obvious (especially mental health problems) they'll say you're fit to work.
posted by Vortisaur at 2:07 AM on June 15 [10 favorites]


And with respect to the fire safety of lifts and access, remember that fire safety is at best an afterthought in Britain.
posted by Fraxas at 2:19 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]


Outrageous though it is, this is only one of a decade's worth of reports about the impact of austerity on disabled people in Britain. Disabled people were an early target of welfare cuts, and have suffered increasing social prejudice as voters have rationalised their support for them.

The thing that gets me about this casual demonisation and punishment of the disabled is that it's so fundamentally distinct from other forms of social prejudice and bigotry, as it's demonising one of the few groups of people that any of us could join in an instant. Racists and xenophobes can rest safe in the knowledge that their skin colour or accent won't change overnight. Misogynist men and homophobes don't become women or gay overnight. Few people become rich or poor in an instant, unless you win the lottery or bet the wrong way, whether on the horses or on the stock market. The old will never be young again, and the young don't yet feel in their bones that they will one day be old.

But you could be hit by a car on the way home tonight and be in a wheelchair tomorrow, and for the rest of your life. You could be blinded or deafened or lose an arm or suffer a stroke. Your child or grandchild could be born disabled. It could happen to anyone—even to Tory ideologues moulding an entire bureaucratic regime in their own heartless image. Even if they can't muster up some basic empathy, what about self-interest? Do they never take out insurance?
posted by rory at 2:26 AM on June 15 [34 favorites]


It could happen to anyone—even to Tory ideologues moulding an entire bureaucratic regime in their own heartless image.

Those same Tory wankers aren't likely to see themselves leaning on the welfare state in that eventuality. They have money, after all. And should that run out, why, their mate James or Arthur would surely just get them a cushy symbolic job in the City.
posted by Dysk at 2:32 AM on June 15 [8 favorites]


It could happen to anyone—even to Tory ideologues moulding an entire bureaucratic regime in their own heartless image. Even if they can't muster up some basic empathy, what about self-interest? Do they never take out insurance?

Because it won't happen to them. I can even point to a direct evidence of this. In the Brighton Bombing, Norman Tebbit and his wife were seriously injured, his wife paralysed. Following this the Duke of Westminster gave them a home in Belgravia on a peppercorn rent. Tory politicians in general have some sort of backstop like this, whether their own money or connections.
posted by Vortisaur at 2:54 AM on June 15 [11 favorites]


The ADA really is special which is why I'm amazed it's lasted so long.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:12 AM on June 15 [4 favorites]


Those same Tory wankers aren't likely to see themselves leaning on the welfare state in that eventuality. They have money, after all.

True, the ones at the top are more likely to be able to cushion themselves from the economic effects. Still baffled by the two people in every five who vote for them, though; they can't all have independent means or rich mates.
posted by rory at 3:34 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]


Oh, you're talking about Tory voters not the Tories themselves? Well the bigger question there is why the ones who aren't stinking rich would have any reason to vote for them. It's not just their attitude to disability, unless you're in the top bracket, the Tories are bad fucking news for you, and most of their voter base are not that.
posted by Dysk at 3:43 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]


And with respect to the fire safety of lifts and access, remember that fire safety is at best an afterthought in Britain.

Yeah, I get your point, and I just deleted a half written essay about exactly how all of the shitheads in RBKC and KCTMO and Rydon would have been the first to tell you that tenant safety is paramount and that all their buildings adhere to all safety standards if you'd have asked them on the 13th June 2017.

The rot in Britain is this complacency that the law is being rigorously applied, and that the law is fit for purpose. And of course, the regulations are followed to the bare minimum that fits the criteria, but they're written to the bare minimum of what would be enough in the best case.

And the assumption remains that there is enough breathing space that if one part of the system stutters, then another part of the system will fill the gap. Because the people making the law don't understand that if you're short of money, you can't just sell a painting to make up the gap that month.

Anyway, I'm too angry with this country to form that into a coherent argument, so I'll leave that as it is.
posted by ambrosen at 4:32 AM on June 15


Oh, you're talking about Tory voters not the Tories themselves?

Well, both, really. Are "the Tories themselves" ministers, MPs, any Tory candidates, party members, financial supporters, voters? There's plenty of opprobrium to go round... and for the bureaucrats who have been issuing these instructions to use the stairs, if they don't support the Tories' approach, why aren't they looking for ways around such obvious barriers, like using accessible venues for meetings? If they're happy with keeping them in place because they've bought into the ideology, they're just as bad. If they've tried to make it better but have been blocked, there are other parts of the civil service one can work in. Or non-government organisations that need people with bureacratic skills.
posted by rory at 4:41 AM on June 15


My cousin's condition means that she'll agree with anything you want her to. So when the assessor asked her if she'd made it to her assessment alone she agreed, and despite my aunt pointing out that that wasn't the case- obviously, because she was there, that was what the assessment noted. Blatant lies that meant her benefits were refused, 9 months to get to a tribunal which took 20 minutes to decide that she should receive highest level. Literally the day after they receive a letter from the DWP that they are considering an appeal which is quite blatantly a form letter they send round to frighten people.

Fuck anyone who works for the DWP, frankly.
posted by threetwentytwo at 4:54 AM on June 15 [6 favorites]


Because it won't happen to them.

Exactly. One of the things that annoys me most (OK, renders me apopleptic) about Brexit (apart from the sheer incompetence with which it is being handled) is that those at the top supporting a hard exit - Boris, Rees-Mogg and co - won't really be affected by it. They'll be Quite OK Thank You regardless of what happens, and so can afford to treat the whole thing as an exercise in theoretical politics.

But you could be hit by a car on the way home tonight and be in a wheelchair tomorrow, and for the rest of your life.

This strikes close to home: just before Christmas a good friend of ours slipped and fell down the stairs at home. Broke her neck. Able-bodied to quadraplegic in a few seconds. She's been in intensive care for six months, and is only now becoming able to breathe without a ventilator for a couple of hours a day. Scary stuff indeed.

(And without wanting to derail the thread, thanks to the NHS this hasn't cost a penny, leavning her and her husband free to figure out where life goes from here)
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 4:59 AM on June 15 [7 favorites]


And something that I've noticed with MIL, who sometimes needs mobility aids and has a blue badge, is that if she's doing anything nice- like on a day out with her grandchild, people will "jokingly" threaten to report her. So yeah, the hostile environment is everywhere.
posted by threetwentytwo at 5:03 AM on June 15 [11 favorites]


thanks to the NHS living in a highly developed country this hasn't cost a penny, leavning her and her husband free to figure out where life goes from here

Sorry for fixing that for you, but I feel pretty strongly that the best way we defend these institutions is to be absolutely clear that these* should be de rigueur for a rich country, not some treasured local tradition.

*All 3 of healthcare and disability benefits and unemployment benefits.
posted by ambrosen at 5:28 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]


If they're happy with keeping them in place because they've bought into the ideology, they're just as bad.

Well, it's less that they're ideologically on board, and more that they're a self-interested private company that have had the work contracted out to them, and the fewer successful claims they have the more money they can make/the more likely they are to keep the contract (or their job, in the case of the individual). They're also evil, don't get me wrong, but they're not necessarily Tories, just capitalists (enabled by the Tories).
posted by Dysk at 5:32 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


As far as I'm aware, the UK has no ADA equivalent. A friend with a moderate physical disability who lives there (after moving from the US) has really struggled with appropriate accommodation at work/home/with transit/etc. It's quite shocking that such a wealthy and otherwise developed country lacks a lot of basic support and protection for differently-abled persons. My understanding (and someone should please correct me as this is pretty uninformed) is that a lot of te lack of accommodation has to do with architectural preservation, so tons of buildings can't be modified with ramps/accessible toilets/elevators, etc.
posted by stillmoving at 5:39 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


The reason the U.S. had ADA and it's enforced to the extent it is and hasn't (yet, knock wood) been dismantled is because of kickass, death-defying, militant disability justice activists all over the country but maybe esp. in California.

I wish I could name some or all but my memory doesn't do what it used to. Heh. But Kim Neilsen's A Disability History of the United States is a good resource.
posted by allthinky at 6:04 AM on June 15 [5 favorites]


I, along with about 20 people in my building, just had to threaten an ADA suit against the building we work in, and they changed their plans tout de suite with all of us in the building management office. I can't imagine what it would be like if we didn't have an ADA option, and Great Britain needs one badly. Unfortunately, the Tories appear to think that they need to fix things by destroying everyone who isn't perfect (and has anyone looked at the imperfections on Rees-Mogg and BoJo lately).

(They announced at 11:00 AM Wednesday that as of 1:00 PM Wednesday the up and down escalator and the elevator that are from ground level to the rest of the building would be closed for the rest of the week, so everyone who has issues with stairs, including the three people in wheelchairs who wouldn't even be able to leave the building that day ran down to tell them that the court is right over there and we can file an ADA suit if we get together. They folded like a Republican facing a primary challenge and moved it all to the weekend.)
posted by mephron at 6:09 AM on June 15 [5 favorites]


As far as I'm aware, the UK has no ADA equivalent.

No, the UK doesn't have an act to protect Americans with disabilities. It does have the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) and the Equalities Act (2010), which ought to ensure that the civil rights of people with physical and mental disabilities are protected, which includes access to buildings, public and private, since the 1995 act.
posted by ambrosen at 6:17 AM on June 15 [14 favorites]


THE UK HAS HAD DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION LEGISLATION THAT IS OF THE SAME SCOPE AS THE ADA SINCE 1995.

Sorry if I come across as angry - I keep coming across posts on here that USAsplain events in my country from a position of ignorance.

Disability discrimination was folded in to general equality legislation in 2010 (previously it had been legislated via the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act). If you read that, you'll see that it covers all the things that the ADA does. Even the phraseology is very similar - the ADA requires "reasonable accomodations" by employers, the Equality Act requires "reasonable adjustments". Both have very, very similar caveats that both public and private bodies do not have to spend large amounts of money to make things accessible. My impression from talking to people who use wheelchairs in both countries is that both countries are patchy as hell regarding accessibility. Older infrastructure in the UK may make the situation somewhat worse (and I wonder if the US obesssion with the car indirectly benefits people with mobility problems who drive), but again that would very much depend on which areas of the USA you are comparing it with - for example, only about 50 Underground stations are fully wheelchair accessible, but then only about 120 New York Subway stations are fully accessible.

I've recently finished reading "Make Them Go Away", which is now an older book, but it highlights all the ways that the ADA can and has been undermined in practice. The attitude of a couple of comments above of "we have the ADA so that couldn't happen here" comes across as smug complacency which is not based in reality. Allthinky is very much correct in the enforcement of the law in both the US and the UK has been due to the powerful efforts of organisations of disabled people themselves.

(Ah, ambrosen was in before me, but I'm still letting this comment stand)
posted by Vortisaur at 6:18 AM on June 15 [22 favorites]


Sorry for fixing that for you

No problem, and I absolutely agree with you.
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 6:56 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]


So basically, the situation here is that the UK Government is not just ignoring but actively trying to refute its own laws, which is a special kind of Hell that should be addressed by, as the saying goes, the fact the Bible is iffy on the subject of kneecaps.
posted by mephron at 7:13 AM on June 15 [5 favorites]


Thank you Vortisaur. As I mentioned in my post, didn't intend to USA-splain, was only relaying what I'd heard from a US-ian living in the UK about the difference in obtaining adequate and reasonable accommodation from US vs UK employers. My friend, for example, is limited only to using the bus in London as the Tube is so difficult for persons with mobility issues, has had a nightmarish time obtaining adequate accommodation from work for mobility issue (oh, no ramp is available, we're not sure where to put you then), etc...

Didn't intend an ADA derail, either, was just responding to query upthread (with query of my own, perhaps obfuscating the subject, apologies!)
posted by stillmoving at 8:16 AM on June 15


I'm reasonably sure that it is a deliberate policy on behalf of the Benefits Agency to make being able to claim what is legally due as difficult as possible.
I was in the position of needing to claim for a while, and the assessors at my local office played all sorts of tricks trying to make me miss "meetings". If it wasn't for some of the other staff risking discipline, I would have had quite a few payments stopped.
The favoured method at this office was rescheduling meetings for the following day and only sending notification by second class post - even though two phone numbers and email were available. This meant you missed the meeting and benefits were stopped immediately pending investigation which often took several weeks and payments were then not back dated because I missed the meeting that I didn't know about.
posted by Burn_IT at 8:31 AM on June 15 [6 favorites]


to be fair, a lot of the stock of ADA compliant public buildings that we have in the US are the result of new construction since 1990 in which ADA compliance was built into existing building codes. the hard work is retrofitting older buildings, sometimes one lawsuit at a time.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 9:13 AM on June 15


Just yesterday I listened to 99% Invisible's episode on curb cuts, which had lots in it, but two things in particular that I personally took away:

1) Curb cuts are a thing because disabled activists fought to make them a thing at Berkeley in the 60s. The ADA is a thing because when it was not yet a law and hung up in congress, disabled activists literally got out of their wheelchairs and crawled up the steps of the Capitol to make sure it went through.

2) Curb cuts are in a long list of things that were intended to help what's initially thought of one population of people, but wind up helping many more. As is close captioning, or automated door buttons, or football huddles (which were invented by deaf football players so opposing deaf football teams couldn't see them signing to one another).

There's so much to do in this world. It astounds me that even a few of us spend any energy at all making things harder vs. thinking of ways to make things easier and better for as many people as possible while we're here.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 10:48 AM on June 15 [11 favorites]


[Couple things removed. The ADA isn't the subject of this post but it's also not unreasonable for folks living or dealing with disabilities to have that as part of their context, so it's okay if it comes up a bit in the flow of conversation. Let's just keep it from wandering too far out of the original subject. In any case, there's a lot of charged hard stuff tied to this so let's try and be kind to each other and avoid stuff like sarcastic rebukes. I know stuff is tough, but we're in this together and we can be good to each other.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:58 AM on June 15 [4 favorites]


To be clear (and now that I've got time to research it properly, I can be less terse), the reason that it's not sensible to ask whether the UK has laws to protect the rights of disabled people is that every country except Botswana, Eritrea, South Sudan and Somalia is a signatory to the UN Committee on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which obliges signatories to ensure people with disabilities have their accessibility rights protected, so yes, virtually every country has a Disability Discrimination Act.

Uniquely, the UK has been censured by the Committee on the Rights of People with Disabilities, for exactly the issue that is the subject of this post. I guess the reason it wasn't this perspective wasn't reiterated in the article is because it's part of a series/column called Fuck Iain Duncan Smith and Every Tory Bastard DWP Secretary of State Since Hardworking Britain which is concerned with how the health and welfare system and the human rights of those who depend on it are being totally destroyed for no reason except that some very stupid people who were lucky enough to be born rich or (in a very few cases) trample on enough people's faces either actually believe that money is a zero sum thing, or they are insecure enough in their feeling of deserving their wealth that they distract themselves from it by punishing those who need help and categorising their need as a moral failing.

Anyway, Frances Ryan is fighting the good fight with her writing and the UK is still being destroyed.
posted by ambrosen at 11:14 AM on June 15 [9 favorites]


This is the logical endpoint of following that nice Mrs Thatcher’s maxim: “there’s no such thing as society”.

Incidentally, how are civil servants being trained to enforce these new unwritten rules? I think a little digging could find some incriminating PowerPoint trainings or some civil service heroes who resigned or were fired because they refused to comply. Kafka-esque bureaucracies always leave paper trails.
posted by monotreme at 2:27 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


> a little digging could find ... some civil service heroes who resigned or were fired because they refused to comply

There are plenty of those, e.g. "I worked at a jobcentre – I'm so sorry for the way we treated you", Guardian, July 2017 or Glassdoor reviews left by ex-Atos employees

The resignations don't seem to make any difference: there are people lining up to take horrible jobs where you have to be horrible to people, because they need the work.

I would love to see some concrete suggestions on what ordinary UK citizens could do to help make things better, if anyone has a link to something like that?
posted by richb at 3:26 PM on June 15 [3 favorites]


Kate Belgrave's blog.

(This is in no way an answer to richb's request.)

She's an activist who supports the more marginalised claimants in their struggles with government agencies as well as interviewing them about their experiences. If you felt like getting angrier and more depressed.
posted by Grangousier at 3:04 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


... there are people lining up to take horrible jobs where you have to be horrible to people, because they need the work.

*sigh* I suppose you're right. How depressing.

It definitely seems that many problems with the NHS seem to be caused by under-funding and bad management, but at least the people on the front-line seem to want to do the right thing. Not so for the DWP.

IANAL (and I know that 'law' is not the same as 'justice') but I wonder if someone could be sued because of a lack of "duty of care"?
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 5:47 AM on June 18


It definitely seems that many problems with the NHS seem to be caused by under-funding and bad management, but at least the people on the front-line seem to want to do the right thing. Not so for the DWP.

Front line workers in the NHS don't tend to be given targets for how many people they should debt service to, with their job security tied to meeting those targets, unlike front line jobcentre and DWP staff (the ones that haven't been farmed out to Atos or similar, I mean.
posted by Dysk at 6:52 AM on June 18 [2 favorites]


...how many people they should deny service to, that should be...
posted by Dysk at 8:07 AM on June 18


A 4500 year old stone circle tweets: There will be charging facilities for mobility scooters at Solstice this year.
posted by ambrosen at 12:15 PM on June 18




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