Disability Living Allowance process set for big changes

If you are currently suffering with a physical disability, and use high spec mobility scooters, you are probably aware or have been through the process to claim for Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

If you are disabled and use a high spec mobility scooter you may not be eligible for disability allowance.

But did you know that the benefit appeal process could have a radical makeover in terms of how decisions are made in terms of who receives benefits? Instead of ‘in person’ hearings benefit appeals could shift towards judges basing their verdicts on a series of written evidence, calls and/or video conferences; these changes are open to consultation until the end of October and are part of an effort to digitise the justice system.

At the moment individuals who claim benefits have to appeal benefit decisions via paper submissions or by attending a tribunal. The new methods are hoped to be more convenient for people. The Ministry of Justice stated that non-physical appeals will only be used if it is suitable and appropriate, and for those that are not so tech-savvy, will be given the right support to assist them with the new digital system, with paper channels accessible for those who are not able to get online.

However, there is an increasing fear from disability advocates that this shift could have negative consequences, such as less appeals being upheld.

“We get 90% success when the appeal’s in person. On paper, even with us involved, it’s barely 50% success,” according to the founder and lawyer at Fightback 4 Justice, Michelle Cardno. “So it would be detrimental for claimants,” she added. Fightback 4 Justice is a not-for-profit organisation that offers people appeal advice and advocacy.

The results from research conducted by the University College London Judicial Institute and the Nuffield Foundation in 2013 found that claimants are nearly three times as likely to win their appeal for disability living allowance (DLA) after they have an oral hearing than paper on its own (with 46% in comparison to 17%). This demonstrates that without the disabled individual sitting in front of the judges that the panel cannot see for themselves how bad the condition is. This point was highlighted by Cardno, “If the claimant is there to put it across in person, no matter how tough it is for them, that’s so much better.”

Co-founder of Benefits and Work, the non-for-profit benefits advice resource, Steve Donnison explains: “Appeal panels have to make a decision about the honesty and credibility of an appellant. It’s far easier for them to make this judgement if the claimant is in front of them answering their questions.”

Without seeing claimants in person there is a risk factor that all the evidence needed to make the decision is not available to the panel, who would usually ask for gaps, because claimants are not aware of the criteria for being eligible for benefits. “And when the appeal is by paper, the tribunal has no way of filling in the gaps in the evidence so they can’t make an award,” added Donnison.

There is also criticism of the paperwork that is provided to the tribunal, which has been seen as very poor. “There’s nothing on the form for disability appeals that tells people they should include evidence of their medical history,” Cheryl Thomas, professor of judicial studies at ULC pointed out.

There is also another significant change the government are considering that could see the success rate for appeals decrease. The government are considering changing the structure of the panels themselves, by removing a panel member who has experience of disability through disability appeals for DLA. The current appeals are currently heard by a judge, medical member and someone who has a disability or someone who is a carer.

Cardno strongly believes this cut could be detrimental to the success rates for disabled individuals winning their appeals, “I’ve seen that panel member steer the judge so many times, a simple thing like, if it’s said the claimant’s able to go shopping, the judge may make assumptions for a simple ‘yes, I can go to a supermarket’ and not explore further. But a panel member who is disabled themselves is more likely to explore a little more [to] establish if a person is able to do something such as shopping for the majority of the time instead of as a one-off, or odd times. They have more understanding that people push themselves through pain to try and do ‘normal’ everyday things.”

There have been several cuts to local welfare advice services that mean a lot of disabled individuals are struggling to fight benefit appeals alone, in the face of mental health problems, physical or learning disabilities.

It is unsure whether these changes will adversely affect the claimants of DLA – however an MOJ spokesperson stated: “We have a world-leading legal system and are investing over £700m to reform and digitise our courts and tribunal services to deliver swifter and more certain justice. We are consulting on proposals to make tribunals more flexible, so they can be composed according to the needs of the individuals involved, while still allowing members with specialist knowledge to take part in cases where necessary.”

Life expectancy rises over the past 35 years

Over the past 35 years the global life expectancy has risen by a staggering 10 years according to The Global Burden of Disease study. This is due to the progression in treatments for life-threatening diseases, however diet, obesity and drug use are now indicated as significant causes of death and disability. This rise in life expectancy increases the risk of ill health and disability in later life, which may result in the need for mobility scooters, like the TGA mobility scooters, to get around.

Elderly couple enjoy longer healthy life

The study reviews the cause of illness, disability and death in each country and the results have shown an improvement in health, but this differs country to country. As the life expectancy rises, there is also concern as results show more people are suffering from ill health and disability in later life.

The life expectancy from 1980 to 2015 has increased across the globe, with the average now being 69 years in men and 74.8 years for women. The study found that an alarming 70% of deaths are caused from lifestyle factors, the main ones being heart disease and diabetes- which can be prevented or managed by changes in diet and lifestyle.

“Development drives, but does not determine health,” according to Dr Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute. “We see countries that have improved far faster than can be explained by income, education or fertility. And we also continue to see countries – including the United States- that are far less healthy than they should be given their resources.”

A lack of iron in people’s diet was the main reasons why people suffered with low back and neck pain, sight and hearing loss, depression and anaemia according to the study. Whilst several environmental factors showed a significant impact on people’s health worldwide. Drug use and being around pollutants such as diesel exhaust or benzene in their working lives had an impact on diabetes, heart disease and cancer- according to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. Those who choose to indulge in bad diets, which were high in salt and low in fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and sea-foods also had a negative impact on these diseases.

Worldwide progress has been made in decreasing the health threats from smoking, unsafe sanitation and water and household air pollution. With exposure to smoke falling by over a quarter worldwide, however it is a leading risk factor for ill health in the UK and US.

Professor John Newton of Public Health England, who acted as the chair of the European Burden of Disease Network for the study commented on the results of the study: “This presents a great opportunity for prevention both in England and worldwide. Consequences of a poor diet now account for 10% of all ill-health worldwide and levels of alcohol consumption and air pollution have hardly changed. We can tackle all of this and more through committed individual, national and global action.”

Image credit: Candida Performa, Available under Creative Commons.


Can brain training games offset the aging mind?

It is important to maintain a healthy life later in life. There are several ways that can help you achieve this. High spec mobility scooters can make mobility easier and maintain a good social life, exercise plans and healthy diets help your body stay healthy, whilst doing tasks that keep your mind active can promote a healthy mind.

A few years ago ‘brain training’ games were released onto the market and were advertised with the promise that they could slow or reverse the cognitive decline that age can bring. This marketing technique made these types of games very popular, especially amongst the older generations. However scepticism grew around whether these claims were truthful, with two groups of scientists offering different results in 2014.

As the over-65 population rapidly grew, and the average life span increased, there was a desperate need for treatments that help prevent or reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other types of cognitive decline. The promises from these brain training games to improve memory and intellectual capabilities, as well as prevent memory loss, were an attractive offer for consumer’s and consequently a potentially huge business for the companies that released them.

Elderly man plays brain training game on computer

So how could they could promise these results? Our brains can get better at specific tasks if we continue them repeatedly, that’s why if you play a specific game regularly you are bound to see great improvements in your skills since you first started. However what makes these brain training games different, according to the companies, is the transferable skills learnt from the tasks involved in the game into real life.

A new study, by the Department of Psychology for the University of Illinois, has now tried to bring an answer to this debate. The meta-analysis consisted of reviews of over 130 papers into the subject. However only a handful of studies have actually tried to give comprehensive answers on whether these types of games can impact real-life performance.

These studies focused on the brain’s ability to form new neural connections but have assumed this would mean that this would influence the real-life abilities. For over a century scientists have been studying human’s ability to transfer skills we’ve learnt from one situation and apply it to others, with differing results. What makes this area of study difficult is the fundamental differences between types of knowledge, with certain knowledge being specific to one task and others being transferable to many scenarios.

The game Luminosity, from the company Lumor Labs, was fined $2 million dollars earlier this year due to false advertising. Advertising rules clearly state that a product is not allowed to claim it is an effective medical treatment unless there is sufficient data to prove it.

The scientists that conducted the study conclude: “ Nevertheless, we know of no evidence for broad-based improvement in cognition, academic achievement, professional performance, and/or social competencies that derives from decontextualized practice of cognitive skills devoid of domain-specific content. Rather, the development of such capacities appears to require sustained investment in relatively complex environments that afford opportunities for consistent practice and engagement with domain-related challenges…

Brain-training programs typically train performance on relatively simple skills in a limited range of contexts (typically on a home computer and with little involvement of substantive content or knowledge), but their marketing materials imply generalization to a wide range of skills in varied contexts with varied content.”

You can read the full paper that consists of 50,000 words. The paper highlights that there are still a lot of questions around whether cognitive training can really prevent the problems of old age, but so far the results from available literature shows that brain training games only really make you good at performing the tasks involved in the game and not the answer we had all been hoping for.

The search for a viable treatment for cognitive decline continues.


Fundraiser raises money for Devon charity devoted to people with limited mobility

Plymouth city centre was the venue for a great fundraiser idea earlier this month, as several people on high spec mobility scooters cruised through the centre in an effort to raise funds and awareness for a local charity they rely on for support.

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Seven people on their scooters started at the Access Plymouth base at Mayflower East car park, on 2nd September, at around midday before taking the ‘conga’ through Frankfort Gate and Drake Circus shopping centre.

The fundraiser’s objective was to raise awareness of the much needed support the charity provide for their local users, such as short-term hire of mobility scooters for shopping trips and sponsorship money.

The conga could unfortunately not rely on the weather but despite wet conditions Erica Travies, the Access Plymouth fundraising officer, was pleased with the outcome of the event and a similar ride is being planned for next year.

Commenting on the event, Travies said: “The ride promoted the charity and raised awareness of the needs of people who use mobility scooters.”

“It was a visual demonstration of the type of services we provide.”

The fundraising event was a demonstration of mobility scooter users and their needs which are unfortunately not being completely met in Plymouth city centre.

“Our people spend a lot of money in town and some shops are completely off-limits because of poor accessibility. That’s something we’ll be looking at.”

Plans for next year’s event are well under-way with Travies stating: “Perhaps next year we’ll look at sending everyone out on scooters with a shopping survey to see where they’ve been, what the access was like and any ideas for improvement so businesses realise how valuable we are.”

70-year-old Bruce Abbott, user of the charity, joined them on their fundraising ride. Bruce noted the importance of mobility scooters for people with limited mobility.

“People need to be aware that we have the same rights as them to get around the city and to do our shopping and I think this ride helped draw that to people’s attention, as well as trying to get the sponsorship.”

“When I came to Plymouth 17 years ago, I could walk around but I have been using this service since 2003. I’m at the stage now where I would be isolated without a scooter, whether that’s in town or while I’m at home.”

Mobility scooters are a lifeline for people with limited mobility in ensuring an independent and sociable life.

Image Credit: socialBedia, Flickr. Available under Creative Commons.

Wheelchair innovation allows wheelchair users to enjoy the sea

Advances in technology have allowed people to explore new, and previously difficult, places with the use of all terrain mobility scooters. We previously reported about how these nifty chairs allowed a disabled mountaineer to rediscover his love for the countryside. All terrain mobility scooters are perfect for off-road adventures, which allow people to make the most of the great outdoors and enjoy visits to the beach, with easy steering, turning circles and all terrain wheels which make for easy driving.

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Standard wheelchairs are also starting to see innovative advances to make more places accessible for disabled people.

Sandbanks, in Poole, have been testing out floating wheelchairs that allow wheelchair users to have a more interactive experience with the beach.

Sandbanks have acquired floating beach wheelchairs that are made up of aluminium and stainless steel frames, secure harnesses and buoyancy aids. The innovative wheelchair allows wheelchair users to go into the sea, as the chair acts as a support for floating or swimming from, with the use of the secure harness and buoyancy aids.

The Borough of Poole beach team leader, Tracey Moore, said: “They have been a huge success, and very well received by both local people and visitors to the beaches of Poole…. We have received a lot of interest in the Floating Wheelchairs and it has been lovely to see people, who have unfortunately been unable to go into the sea previously, enjoy the experience.”

This ‘Life’s a Beach’ project was funded by Tesco and Groundwork’s Initiative ‘Bags of Help’, where they were awarded £10,000 due to the token scheme vote by Tesco shoppers.

The success of this project could be the start of wheelchair users being able to enjoy a dip in the sea around the UK, including Devon, if the project is picked up. Meanwhile, a brilliant range of all terrain mobility scooters gives you the freedom to travel to explore a variety of places, including our beautiful Devon beaches.