Many local authorities are unlawfully restricting disabled people’s ability to choose to live independently in their own homes, and are forcing them instead towards residential care, research by a disabled campaigner suggests.

Fleur Perry spent more than six months seeking and analysing information about the independent living policies of more than 230 councils across England, Scotland and Wales, using the Freedom of Information Act.

She wanted to discover their policies on providing choice to disabled people in need of social care.

In those responses, most of the local authorities failed to provide a clear picture of their approach to independent living, and whether their policies risked forcing people into residential care against their will.

But of the 36 councils in Britain that did provide enough evidence, Perry concluded that there were concerns about the approach taken by 22 of them, while the other 14 appeared to respect service-users’ human rights, for example by actively promoting independent living and choice “over and above legal requirements”.

She also found that with every one of the 18 local authorities in England where there were concerns about their independent living policies, each one of them had much higher rates of people living in residential or nursing accommodation than the national average.

One of the responses that concerned Perry came from Bedford council.

The council had told Perry that the maximum weekly amount it would spend on a care package “will be no more than the net weekly cost to Bedford Borough Council of a care home placement that could be commissioned to meet the individual’s assessed eligible needs”.

Jenny Morris, a member of the Independent Living Strategy Group – Perry is also a member – who helped write the Labour government’s Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People white paper, welcomed the new research.

She said the group’s understanding was that policies like Bedford’s breach government guidance on the Care Act because “local councils should not set arbitrary upper limits on how much they will pay to meet a person’s eligible assessed needs”.

Morris welcomed Perry’s research, and said: “It is very worrying that we are seeing more and more examples of the yawning gap between what the Care Act intends to happen and what disabled people are actually experiencing.

“Article 19 of the UN Convention [on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities] – which our government has ratified – states that disabled people should have the right ‘to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others and are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement’.

“If the policy of councils such as Bedford is not halted we will soon be back to the days when to be disabled meant to be hidden away in an institution.”

A Bedford council spokesperson said: “The Bedford Borough Council Fair Care Policy is used as a trigger for discussion and there is not a limit or a cap.

“We will assist people in choosing the support they want to meet their needs and not push disabled people towards residential care and away from independent living.”

Perry’s research was published this week in the online disability lifestyle magazine Disability Horizons, which is run by disabled people.

She decided to carry out the research after she was asked by Disability News Service (DNS) last March to comment on concerns that disabled people would be forced into residential homes against their will by Conservative-run Barnet council’s new cost-cutting adult social care policy.

Perry had already raised concerns about similar policies in NHS clinical commissioning groups in 2017.

In response to the Barnet concerns, she submitted freedom of information requests to every local authority that funds social care across England, Scotland and Wales.

It took her more than six months to submit the requests, chase up those local authorities that failed to respond, and collate and analyse the results.

Perry said: “Residential accommodation by default is a threat to the independent living movement and to disabled people’s choice and control over their own lives.”

Among the concerns she uncovered were councils putting pressure on disabled people set to be discharged from hospital; councils that would only offer enough funding to pay for one option of where they would live; and councils that failed to make it clear that they recognised the rights of their service-users.

And she said that legislation and guidance failed to protect people’s right to live independently.

She said: “Though ‘genuine choice’ is emphasised as a key principle, restrictions that seem to completely remove or limit choice without justification are not difficult to find.

“Changes must be made to ensure that people can meaningfully make choices about their own lives without undue pressure or restriction.”

In a report based on her research, she calls for the government to introduce a legal right to independent living, and an Independent Living Act, and for policy-makers to engage with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations “to make change happen”.

30 January 2020. News provided by John Pring at



Secondary schools across England are breaching their legal duty to publish plans showing how they will improve access for disabled pupils, according to new research published today (Thursday).

The research, carried out on behalf of The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), says the government, the education watchdog Ofsted and local authorities are all failing to monitor how schools are meeting their legal duties to publish these accessibility plans.

The legal duties have been in place since 2002, with the first plans published in 2003, and new versions due to be published in April 2021.

Schools are supposed to use the plans, described as “a hidden secret”, to show how they will improve access – including the impact of noise, lighting and physical barriers on disabled pupils – and develop an accessible curriculum.

But the research found that many schools have made little effort to publicise their plans, so disabled students and their parents are often unaware they exist and unable to use them to challenge disabling practices.

Of 127 local authorities in England that responded to a freedom of information request, almost two-thirds did not know how many schools in their area had accessibility plans in place.

Those plans that do exist often fail to comply with legal requirements and are more of a tick-box exercise, with promises unfulfilled and meaningless in practice, according to the report.

The report, by disabled academic Dr Armineh Soorenian, who herself had experience of mainstream and segregated education and home schooling as a child, says schools are breaching their duties under equality laws and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Her report was due to be launched at the Supreme Court today (Thursday) as ALLFIE held a day of action to draw attention to the failure of schools to be fully inclusive of disabled pupils.

ALLFIE was also due to hand in a petition at 10 Downing Street that has been signed by more than 107,000 people and which calls on the prime minister and the education secretary not to “shut disabled people out of mainstream education”.

It came as Ofsted this week published its annual report, which raised concerns of “a lack of coherence and coordination” and “fractures in assessment and planning” in the provision of education for disabled children.

The ALLFIE research included input from more than 400 respondents, through focus groups, interviews and surveys with disabled pupils, their parents and education professionals.

Many of the parents did not realise that schools were legally required to provide lifts, ramps or other reasonable adjustments.

Parents said they often met discriminatory attitudes and obstacles that denied them the opportunity to make informed decisions regarding their child’s education, the report found, and were sometimes forced to choose a special school or home schooling because they feared their child would receive inadequate support at a mainstream school.

Disabled young people who took part in the research described how the reasonable adjustments they tried to secure for exams and assessments were “unpredictable and inconsistent” and sometimes even led to “blatant refusals”.

The pupils spoke of teachers’ “negative attitudes and lack of understanding of their diverse needs”.

Parents of disabled children described how they were met with “non-compliance and inflexible attitudes” when they tried to persuade staff to address access barriers.

Some even spoke of being “coerced” into signing letters accepting “part-time” contracts for their child or endorsing their child’s non-attendance at school.

One mother described how her disabled son repeatedly refused to miss a day of school despite being severely bullied, including being beaten up, thrown in a river, attacked in a lane, and bullied on social media, and even being put in a bin (in an incident caught on CCTV). The report says such incidents were disability hate crimes.

Among its recommendations, the report calls for Ofsted to be given a new legal duty to monitor the implementation and impact of accessibility plans, while it says the Department for Education (DfE) must monitor, promote and enforce their development and implementation.

Other recommendations include the incorporation of disability history into school curriculums; disabled pupils to be given regular opportunities to express their views on teaching practices; and schools to be “created, built and planned with the needs of Disabled young people in mind”.

ALLFIE called for new national guidelines on accessibility plans for schools.

Dr Soorenian said: “Schools should involve parents in developing and reviewing their accessibility plans.

“They should promote them rather than hiding them away in the furthest reaches of their website.

“Crucially, schools clearly need to turn the fine words often set out in those plans into meaningful support for disabled pupils and their parents.”

Ofsted had not responded by noon today (Thursday).

A DfE spokesperson declined to say if the government supported the recommendations on ensuring Ofsted had a legal duty to monitor accessibility plans; for new national guidelines for schools on accessibility plans; and to ensure that DfE itself monitors, promotes and enforces accessibility plans.

But she said in a statement: “The Equality Act 2010 places a duty on all schools to support disabled children and young people.

“Schools must have accessibility plans which set out how they will improve access to the curriculum and make sure their buildings enable disabled pupils to take full advantage of the school.”

DfE said it was investing £365 million between 2018-19 and 2020-21 through the Special Provision Capital Fund, which will support local authorities to make capital investments in provision for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in mainstream and segregated provision.

It said this funding, as well as the basic need allocations provided to local authorities, and funding for new free schools, would “make a real difference” to disabled children attending those schools.

But ALLFIE said the percentage of pupils with SEND in mainstream schools had fallen by 24 per cent since 2012 while the number in special schools had risen by nearly a third as the government was planning “costly new special schools”.

Michelle Daley, ALLFIE’s interim director, said: “Accessibility plans must focus not only on the removal of physical barriers in schools, but on challenging attitudinal, systemic and other obstacles within the admissions process so disabled learners can attend their preferred school and achieve their full potential.

“That is an internationally-recognised human right.”

The research was funded by DRILL (Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning), a £5 million research programme funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and delivered by Disability Rights UKDisability Action (in Northern Ireland), Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales.

23 January 2020. News provided by John Pring at



A world-renowned university is facing claims of “institutional failings”, after an investigation by its own disabled students into allegations of disability discrimination.

The Disabled Students’ Network (DSN) of University College London (UCL) is set to publish a report next week which accuses the university of repeatedly failing to make reasonable adjustments for its disabled students and overcharging them for their accessible accommodation.

The report – which has been welcomed by UCL – includes results from a survey of disabled UCL students, which found two-thirds of them (67 per cent) had experienced disablism by UCL and about three-fifths (58 per cent) said they had been made to feel unwelcome by the university because of their impairments.

Last year, UCL was ranked as the world’s eighth best university, as well as the third best in the UK and the fourth best in Europe.

The survey was carried out in November and December 2019 after DSN was approached by several disabled students with “worrying reports of their treatment” by the university.

Many disabled students told DSN they had experienced a deterioration in their health and had thought about quitting their course, as a result of the treatment they had received.

The report says the testimonies collected by DSN “indicate that the average disabled student’s experience at UCL is likely to include being expected to study in spaces that are not accessible to them, encountering ignorant or offensive statements about disabled people from an academic or administrative staff member, not being informed or being misled about their rights” and having to “spend a significant amount of time chasing after a reasonable adjustment and either having it be denied or significantly delayed”.

The reasonable adjustments that have been refused include requests to secure recordings of lectures and applications for extra time for exams.

The report – Disability Discrimination Faced by UCL Students – says DSN was able last term “to ensure that several students, after months without support, finally receive the reasonable adjustments that the law states should be in place when they start their education”.

It adds: “Without our work several of them would have had to terminate their studies.

“At the same time our work has no power to give these students back the first months of their studies.

“Nor are we able to advocate for students who do not know their rights because they do not come to us when they have issues.”

DSN says it hopes the report will achieve “change on an institutional scale and not just individual victories”.

One disabled student told DSN: “The amount of explaining yourself and how much you have to prove how you are being affected by things can make you feel like you are being treated as though you don’t have a disability.

“Like having to explain that autism is permanent and affects you physically, mentally and emotionally over and over again and that all autistic students are different from each other.”

Another said: “Throughout my whole university experience I’ve felt unwelcome and unheard.

“Whenever I would bring up my situation to my examinations officer he would advise me to either drop out or simply get on with it.”

A third student said: “When my mental and physical health worsened last year, I felt that I needed to take some sick-leave.

“Unfortunately, my supervisor and course organiser did not feel that this was in my best interests, and repeatedly discouraged me from applying for leave, or even seeking external advice on this matter.”

Another told DSN: “Access needs are not being met at all at UCL. I cannot get into and out of any classroom or lecture theatre within UCL’s Institute of Education independently – thus surely failing to meet the legal requirements outlaid within the 2010 Equality Act, entirely.”

One student said: “Because I feel so unwelcome here compared to my last institution I’ve thought about dropping out many times.

“Since the lack of support caused my illness to flare up I might not have a choice.”

Michelle Daley, interim director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), pointed to an ombudsman’s ruling on Richmond council’s failure to support disabled children, published this week (see separate story), and an ALLFIE report on the failure of schools to be fully inclusive for disabled pupils, due to be published next week.

She said: “It’s just the start of the year and already we are starting to see these failures in disabled people’s education.

“It’s scary to think what the rest of the year might be like.”

Among the report’s recommendations, DSN calls for: a new team of trained staff to address the issues raised by its report; disability equality training for staff running UCL’s facilities; all broken lifts to be fixed; a map of toilets on the university’s campuses in central and east London; training for all heads of department by a disability consultancy; regular surveys of disabled students’ experiences; a more streamlined complaints process; and efforts by UCL to inform disabled students of their rights.

DSN also wants the university to set up a system that will ensure that all students who disclose they are disabled when they apply for a place can set up a “summary of reasonable adjustments” before they begin their studies; and for all lecturers to be told they can no longer refuse requests to record their lectures without providing equally good alternatives.

And it wants the university to contact all disabled students with information about overcharging for accessible accommodation and how they can secure reductions in their rent.

UCL welcomed the report and said it would “take seriously all issues raised” and “implement any necessary improvements to ensure its policies and practices meet best practice and that teaching, learning and student life at UCL are inclusive and accessible”.

A UCL spokesperson said: “We are committed to fostering a welcoming and caring environment for all of our students.

“Ensuring excellent student experience and academic outcomes for all disabled students is an absolute priority for us.

“The wellbeing of disabled students at UCL is of utmost importance and we will be working with the group to make sure their concerns are addressed and the best possible support is in place.”

16 January 2020. News provided by John Pring at



A local authority is seeking government funds for a “unique” £4 million project that would transport disabled people into the heart of a historic city via “on demand” electric, driverless shuttles.

The trial would allow disabled people with blue parking badges to request a shuttle service from park and ride facilities on the fringes of York to key amenities and tourist destinations in its pedestrianised city centre, using a kiosk in the carparks or via a mobile phone app, website, or phone.

The routes taken would be “flexible” and would depend upon requests made by disabled customers, with the shuttles running in addition to conventional bus services.

Although the shuttles would be automated and driverless, City of York Council plans for them to be staffed by “customer care assistants”.

The council believes there are about 20,000 potential customers with blue badges in the Greater York area, as well as many more from wider afield.

It says it would work with blue badge holders to design the details of the scheme if it secured the funding.

City of York Council is seeking funds for the project as part of a wider £27 million bid for funding put together by West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) (PDF) under the government’s Future Mobility Zone scheme, as York moves towards a city centre that is car-free for non-essential journeys.

In its funding bid, WYCA says the scheme would “benefit users’ mobility and increase the opportunities for them to access amenities, services and locations for employment and education.

“This can improve their quality of life and meet their needs as existing commuters, prospective workers, job seekers, people on lower incomes or young people.”

It also says the scheme would reduce the need for people with mobility impairments to make private car journeys into the city centre and would lower their transport costs.

It adds: “We will develop the service offer, customer environment and interfaces with user groups to ensure that it specifically meets their needs and expectations and provides as frictionless as possible a journey to the heart of one of the UK’s premier tourist cities.”

James Gilchrist, the council’s assistant director for transport, highways and environment, said: “City of York Council is bidding for Department for Transport funding which seeks to promote innovations in transport which harness new technologies and support mobility for all.

“Our bid could create the opportunity for York to pioneer an innovative solution to support people with mobility issues in and around our historic and vibrant city.

“This involves trialling a new transport service for mobility-impaired users, registered under the blue badge scheme.

“This proposal is only possible due to our city’s advanced digital infrastructure and our Smart Transport Programme.

“The proposal follows positive conversations at city centre access workshops, where the idea of an ‘on demand’ shuttle service from outside of the city centre was widely well received.”

The Department for Transport said a decision on the WYCA funding bid would be made “in due course”.

9 January 2020. News provided by John Pring at