The equality watchdog is facing concerns over links between the government and two of its leading figures as it prepares to investigate whether Tory welfare reforms have breached the human rights of disabled people.Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) revealed that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) was to examine the impact of changes to the welfare system on independent living and poverty.The announcement was included in the watchdog’s new business plan for 2016-17 which was published by EHRC last week without any publicity.But concerns have now been raised about the impartiality of two key figures in the commission, who are both likely to play a key role in the inquiry.Disability Rights UK (DR UK) has come forward to raise concerns over the voting record of Lord [Chris] Holmes (pictured), the watchdog’s disability commissioner and a Conservative peer, who voted in the House of Lords in favour of those welfare reforms.But there are also concerns over David Isaac, the lawyer the government has chosen to take over as the commission’s new chair.Isaac, a former chair of the gay rights charity Stonewall, is a partner in law firm Pinsent Masons, and specialises in providing advice on “major public and private sector UK and global commercial and outsourcing projects”.His own profile on the firm’s website states that he “leads teams of lawyers on major projects” for, among others, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).But Pinsent Masons this week refused to say which outsourcing projects Isaac has worked on for DWP, leading to the possibility that he could have been involved in some of the reforms his own watchdog will now be investigating.Sue Bott, DR UK’s deputy chief executive, said Lord Holmes had voted in favour of the government’s welfare reforms, including cutting payments by £30 a week for new employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants placed in the work-related activity group.She said: “He is solidly in favour of the ESA cuts, he is solidly in favour of the cuts to PIP [that were later withdrawn by the government] and every other cut to disabled people’s income in recent time.”But she said these were measures the commission would be investigating as part of its probe into the human rights impact of the government’s welfare reforms, with Lord Holmes likely to take a lead role.She believes EHRC was pressured into carrying out the inquiry by the work of the House of Lords Equality Act 2010 and disability committee, which concluded last month that government spending cuts were having “a hugely adverse effect on disabled people”.Bott said: “We are concerned about the voting record of Lord Holmes because it is straight down the line voting for the government and we wonder therefore how disabled people are to have confidence in the inquiry whilst Lord Holmes has his position as a commissioner and chair of the EHRC’s disability committee.”She pointed out that other Conservative peers had voted against the government or abstained from votes on the welfare reforms.She said: “We think Lord Holmes has some questions to answer as to what his position is. I think that he needs to make his position clear so that it is all upfront and transparent.”Asked whether she would be concerned if Lord Holmes played a role in the investigation, she said: “I think he should consider his position and whether he feels able to lead such an inquiry, given that he is so clearly in favour of everything the government has done to date.”Asked whether she also had concerns about Isaac, she said: “It is important that disabled people have confidence in what the EHRC is doing and that there is clear independence and leadership.”EHRC plans to commission an assessment to “determine how changes to the welfare system have affected equality of opportunity and the human rights of people who share certain protected characteristics”.It also says in its business plan that it is “not clear whether the government’s reforms to tax, welfare and public spending have taken into account the cumulative impact of these changes on the standard of living of disabled people”.Asked about the impartiality of Lord Holmes and David Isaac, an EHRC spokesman said in a statement: “We have an ambitious programme of work to tackle discrimination and promote equality of opportunity based on comprehensive evidence about the barriers and unfairness faced by disabled people.“The fact our business plan includes these priorities underlines that we are fully independent, and we will show neither fear nor favour in how we do our work.“We have rigorous processes in place to avoid any conflicts of interest. Commissioners are required to comply with the principles of public life [first set out by Lord Nolan in 1995] and our code of conduct, with a register of interests publicly available.“The strength of our board comes from the diverse range of professional skills, experience, personal qualities and perspectives our commissioners bring to bear on our important work.”A Pinsent Masons spokesman said that the company’s “professional obligations governing client confidentiality mean we are unable to comment”.
A note from the editor:Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations. Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009. Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS… The government’s mainstream benefit sanctions regime has been discriminating against disabled people throughout nearly the whole of the last decade, according to new figures secured by Disability News Service (DNS).The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures, obtained through a freedom of information request, show that disabled people claiming the mainstream jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) were more likely to have their benefits sanctioned than non-disabled people in all but two years.The figures show this has been true for every year from 2009 to 2018, except for 2017 and 2018 when the figures for disabled and non-disabled JSA claimants were almost identical.They provide further evidence for the call in the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition for DWP to be declared institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose*.The DNS research builds on work by the academic Ben Baumberg Geiger, from the University of Kent, which was published in February 2018 and reported figures for 2010 to 2014.It has taken DNS nearly 18 months to secure the necessary data from DWP – which has repeatedly breached its legal obligations to provide the information – to show whether the discrimination continued after 2014.The figures show that, when the JSA sanctions system was at its most discriminatory – in 2009 and 2013 – disabled people claiming jobseeker’s allowance were about 50 per cent more likely (2009) and a third more likely (2013) to have their benefits sanctioned than non-disabled people claiming the same benefit.The figures take a snapshot of how many disabled and non-disabled JSA claimants were sanctioned in one month – May – for every year and compare that with how many disabled and non-disabled people were claiming JSA in that month, using figures provided by DWP through the freedom of information request.When DWP’s sanctioning regime was at its most extreme, in 2013, more than seven per cent of disabled people claiming JSA were sanctioned in May of that year, compared with more than five per cent of non-disabled JSA claimants.In May 2013, more than 21,000 disabled people (21,526) claiming JSA had their benefits sanctioned for breaching conditions laid down by DWP.But even in 2018, when far fewer JSA claimants were being sanctioned, a disabled JSA claimant was still almost as likely to be sanctioned (0.41 per cent) as a non-disabled claimant (0.45 per cent).A DWP spokesperson did not dispute the DNS figures, but he said that DWP did not accept that the evidence showed the department was institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose.He also pointed out that the figures were drawn from “an amalgamation of two different sources”.He said: “Since 2012, of all decisions that have been referred to a decision maker, disabled claimants are less likely to get an adverse sanction decision imposed, compared to non-disabled claimants.“Furthermore, the likelihood of the outcome of a sanction referral being adverse [a recommendation that a claimant should be sanctioned being confirmed by DWP] is lower for disabled claimants than non-disabled claimants.”He added: “It is completely untrue to say that sanctions are applied more harshly to disabled people.“In fact those with a severe disability or health condition, who are not required to seek work, are not subject to sanctions at all.“Sanctions are only ever used where a claimant has failed to meet their agreed obligations without good reason, and any obligations will vary depending on an individual claimant’s circumstances.“The latest figures show that universal credit sanctions have fallen to the lowest rate on record, affecting fewer than three per cent of claimants who are subject to obligations for their benefits.”Although the DWP figures are important in showing how the department appeared to repeatedly discriminate against disabled people for nearly a decade, there are now crucial concerns over its failure to show how many disabled claimants of the new universal credit, which is gradually replacing JSA for most people, are being sanctioned.Anita Bellows, a researcher for Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), this week told a parliamentary inquiry into the impact on children and disabled people of the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 that many disabled people were “becoming invisible” on universal credit.She told the evidence session, chaired by Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, that the lack of clear information about universal credit (UC) being provided by DWP made it impossible to tell how many disabled people were being sanctioned.Dr David Webster, a leading researcher on unemployment and sanctions at the University of Glasgow, made a similar point to the Commons work and pensions select committee last year.He warned then that it was impossible to tell from DWP statistics how many claimants of UC who had been sanctioned were sick and disabled people.A House of Commons briefing paper last September – drawing on Dr Webster’s research – said that sanction rates under UC appeared to be “several times higher” than under the benefits they were replacing.Bellows said: “It is not surprising to learn that disabled JSA claimants are being disproportionally sanctioned, as it has been a constant feature in the benefit system that some people, including disabled unemployed people, are seen as soft targets by the DWP: people who have learning difficulties, mental and physical health issues, along with people for whom English is their second language, etc.“What is worrying is that the introduction of UC has led to the invisibility of disabled people in the system. “Information given by UC statistics does not desegregate the data by claims, or by work capability assessment outcomes, but by ‘conditionality group’.“These different conditionality groups include disabled and non-disabled claimants, which makes it impossible to know the percentage of disabled people exposed to sanctions, or who are being sanctioned. “What it means is that it is more difficult to know what is happening to disabled people in the benefit system and to hold the DWP accountable for its performance, at a time where the DWP is more and more resorting to exemptions in order to refuse answering freedom of information requests.”*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee
AWAY days are some of the best you can have with the Saints.Bouncing on the terraces at Warrington after the opening win of 2014… beating Salford Red Devils on a cold night… and that last gasp win at Castleford.Saints ‘on the road’ conjure memories that will never be forgotten – and this is the kit in which new experiences can be created.The Sky Blue body colour with Black shoulders and sky criss-cross details make it a cut above its peers in Super League.“Sky Blue and Black have been two of the most popular colours with fans on the Away kits we have produced over the years,” Steve Law, Merchandising Manager, explained. “We asked O’Neills to develop a kit that would feature both colours whilst ensuring it is modern, distinctive and retaining a vee that is synonymous with this club.“The black speckled vee highlights this superbly and the players that modelled the shirt said it was one of best they had seen.“We’re sure it will be equally as popular with the fans too.”As with the home shirt, it is available in pro, adult, kids, toddlers and ladies’ versions – and we have also reduced its price without neglecting its quality.An adult home shirt is £45 making it even better value for season ticket holders when you use your 10 per cent discount.Sizing and Price:Adult: Small to 7XL – £45Kids: 5-13 – £35Ladies: size 8 to 18 – £45Toddlers: From £30Shorts and socks are also available.The sizing is designed to be ‘snug’, so please refer to the guide on the Saints Superstore.Personalisation will be available but please note 2015 Squad List hasn’t been confirmed yet.You can pre-order the away kit by popping into the Saints Superstore or logging on here.We are expecting delivery in the first week of December.
Candidates forum held at Leland Town Hall on Oct. 19, 2016. (Photo: Sarah Johnson/WWAY) LELAND, NC (WWAY) — With less than five weeks until Election Day, voters in northern Brunswick County get a chance to hear from candidates tonight.The League of Women Voters of the Lower Cape Fear is sponsoring a series of candidate forums for certain Brunswick County municipal elections before the Nov. 7 votes. Those forums begin tonight with candidates running for Leland mayor, Leland Town Council and H2Go Commissioner.- Advertisement – H2Go commissioners represent water customers throughout northern Brunswick County.WWAY Evening Anchor Daniel Seamans will moderate tonight’s forum at Leland Town Hall at 102 Town Hall Drive off of Village Road NE. The forum starts at 6:30 p.m.Residents are encouraged to submit questions for the candidates at firstname.lastname@example.org.Related Article: “Thank you President T”: Trump tweets as holiday break endsWWAY Morning and Noon Anchor Randy Aldridge will host the next forum scheduled for Oct. 16 in Southport. That event also starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Southport Community Building at 223 E. Bay Street. It will features candidates for mayor, Board of Aldermen Ward 1 and Ward 2. Residents can submit questions for the candidates at email@example.com.The League of Women Voters of the Lower Cape Fear’s final forum is Oct. 18 in Oak Island. Candidate for mayor and town council will face off at 6 p.m. at Town Hall at 4601 E. Oak Island Drive. Residents can submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.Early One-Stop Voting runs Oct. 19-Nov. 4.
Gail Lemiec, who is apart of the education team, said she hopes this day helped share a lot of information about these animals to the public.“If they don’t know it’s Endangered Species Day, then they are made aware and educated about it like, hey not only do we have endangered species in this country, but there are endangered species right here that they can see,” Lemiec said.Lemiec said the Aquarium works specifically to save sharks, sea turtles and gopher frogs. Endangered Species Day (Photo: Jenna Kurzyna/WWAY) KURE BEACH, NC (WWAY) — The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher held an endangered Species Day Saturday. They taught visitors all about the threatened animals and the ones in our area.The Aquarium said they highlighted ten different species. They also had programs on sharks, sea turtles as well as a bald eagle and alligator feeding programs.- Advertisement –
“The feeling of being on stage is just really exciting once you’re on it. And so, you’re nervous of what they’re going to think but once you’re up there, you just do your own thing,” pageant participant Daniel Vestal said.At the end, they awarded everyone, both boys and girls, with crowns for their performances. All participants were given a crown for their performances in the pageant. (Photo: Hannah Patrick/ WWAY) WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — It’s not your typical beauty pageant. It’s a pageant highlighting the talents of those with developmental disabilities in our area.From singing to dancing to piano playing, participants showed off their skills to the audience at the Cape Fear Christian Church. Everyone was supportive of each other after all the practice they put into their performances. It was pretty nerve wracking for some participants but they said it was an amazing experience.- Advertisement –
Advertisement Google says this photo was taken after the Street View car had passedA Google Street View image of what appears to be a seriously injured or even dead donkey in Botswana has prompted questions about whether the search giant harmed the animal.Twitter user @TheRealSheldonC has tweeted an image of the donkey, which appeared to be seriously injured or dead.Images from Google Street View initially show the donkey standing upright on the right side of the road. However, scrolling up further along the dirt road on Street View and looking back reveals that the creature is lying on its side. – Advertisement – Subsequently, speculation has emerged that the donkey was hit by a car that Google employs to capture images used on the Street View offering.But the search giant has denied that it has done anything wrong.“Our Street View teams take the safety of people and donkeys very seriously,” a Google spokesperson told Australian news website news.com.au.“A review of our imagery confirms that we did not cause any harm to the donkey,” said the official.Google reportedly told news.com.au that the donkey was lying down when it was approached by the Street View car. The search giant adds that the animal then stood up and walked off uninjured.However, a news.com.au report says that the version of events seems inconsistent with photos of the scene.A cloud of dirt can be seen near the donkey, leading some Twitter users to suggest it was caused when the animal hit the ground, says the news website.Botswana became the second country in Africa after South Africa to get the Google Street View service last year.Credit: ITWeb Africa
Advertisement Apple has bought social media data analytics firm, Topsy Labs, which specialises in using data from Twitter to track customer sentiment.Topsy is one of the few firms to have access to Twitter’s entire data stream.It has recently created a searchable database of all tweets sent – more than 400 billion – since Twitter’s launch. – Advertisement – Apple did not say how much it paid for the firm, but the Wall Street Journal which first reported the story put the figure at around $200m (£122m).Topsy competes with firms like DataSift and Gnip to figure out who is influential on Twitter, what terms are trending, and the impact of specific Twitter campaigns.It is Apple’s second acquisition in recent weeks.Last month, it announced it had bought Israeli firm PrimeSense, which specialises in making 3-D motion detection technology.Surprise move?Apple is one of the world’s biggest firms in the technology sector but the firm is not known for its forays into the world of social media.The company’s earlier effort at social networking – the Ping music sharing service – failed to catch on with consumers.As it confirmed the latest deal, an Apple spokesperson declined to give details of the firm’s plans with Topsy.“Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time and we generally do not discuss our purpose,” the spokesperson said.However, some analysts said Apple could look to use the data analytics for a variety of purposes, not least a better placement of its products across social media.“There are millions of people sharing their thoughts on platforms such as Twitter on any given day,” Sanjana Chappalli, Asia-Pac head of LEWIS Pulse, a firm specialising in digital marketing services, told the BBC.“For companies to be able to understand what is popular with these users and what they are interested in, and then use it to their advantage, they need to filter the content and understand it.“Topsy gives Apple the tools to do just that,” she explained.Manoj Menon, managing director as consulting firm Frost & Sullivan added: “Brands across the world are looking at ways to use the time spent by customers on social media to enhance their brands, and Apple is no different”.Personalised searchAt the same time, companies operating internet search engines have also been looking to tap into the social media sector to try and offer more personalised search results to users.“They are looking at what your friends are commenting on or tweeting about and then giving you similar recommendations when you look for information online,” said Ms Chappalli.She added that search engines such as Google and Bing have been moving in that direction for some time.“Apple, with its Safari web browser on all its devices, could do with such an analytics capability provided by Topsy to achieve that,” she added.At the same time, some analysts suggested that Apple could also use Topsy’s technology to its own data, such as information from the App Store.“Apple may also be able to provide better user experience to customers by integration of analytical capability to its products and services,” said Mr Menon.
Advertisement Facebook added a new donation feature on Monday 16th/Dec that allows users to contribute cash to non-profits directly through the platform.Facebook partnered with 18 different non-profits during the initial rollout of the feature, including the Boys & Girls Club of America, Livestrong Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund.Users can donate using an embedded “Donate Now” button on each partnering non-profit’s Brand Page. The button allows users to donate in preset amounts of $10, $25, $100 or $250, using a credit card, debit card or PayPal. – Advertisement – If a user comes across a non-profit’s post in his News Feed, he can donate using the same button embedded on the post. This button also gives donors the option to manually enter a preferred donation amount so they are not restricted to the preset amounts listed above.For now, only the 18 partner non-profits can elicit donations on Facebook, but the company “hope[s] to open it up in the coming weeks” to other non-profit partners, according to a spokesperson. There is no plan to add partners that are not non-profits.Facebook first tested this feature in November when users were able to donate to Red Cross via Facebook following the deadly Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on the amount of money raised through the campaign, but in that instance, users were able to donate straight from a notification at the top of their News Feeds.The feature was rolled out on Facebook’s web version to all users in the United States on 16/December. There is no set timetable for its availability on mobile, but a Facebook spokesperson called mobile integration a “priority.”Credit: Mashable
Image Credit: vrbites Advertisement Social networking giant Facebook has hired a team of experts in London to create the first European base for its Oculus virtual reality division, a media report said.The social network has substantially expanded its British team of engineers and developer relations staff in the last six months after acquiring Oculus for $2 billion in 2014, the Telegraph reported on Saturday.Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is betting heavily on virtual reality for his company’s future. The social networking site last year bought a British virtual reality startup, Surreal Vision, and moved its team to the Oculus office in Redmond, Washington, the report said. – Advertisement – The Oculus team in Britian is led by Mike LeBeau, a former senior engineer at Google who founded the company’s voice search software. He moved to London to join Oculus in January this year.“We’re going to build some really cool stuff,” LeBeau said in a Facebook post.Zuckerberg strongly believes that virtual reality will be the next major technology we use to interact with each other.“Virtual reality is going to be most social platform (and) we’ve created new teams at Facebook to build the next generation of social apps and VR,” Zuckerberg said earlier this year.Besides Facebook, Google and Sony are also making huge efforts to bring virtual reality into the mainstream. Apple is also believed to be exploring the technology.[Gadgets 360]