Tory conference police force admits sharing information on protesters with DWP

Disabled activists have demanded an inquiry after a police force that has patrolled four Conservative party conferences since 2010 admitted sharing information about protesters with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).




Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has now become the second police force to admit sharing information about people taking part in protests with DWP, following a similar admission by Lancashire police.

Policeman

But GMP has also admitted having a “sharing agreement” with DWP, even though the department explicitly stated two months ago that it had no such arrangements with any police force.

The admissions have followed claims reported by Disability News Service (DNS) that police forces have been targeting disabled protesters taking part in peaceful anti-fracking protests across England.

Lancashire police then admitted in December that it had shared both information and video footage of disabled anti-fracking protesters with DWP, in an apparent attempt to have their disability benefits removed.

Last month, DWP refused to say – in response to a DNS freedom of information request – which police forces had passed it information about claimants of disability benefits who have taken part in anti-fracking and anti-austerity protests.

But Greater Manchester Police has now told DNS that it passed DWP information – but not video footage – about protesters taking part in the anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss, Salford.

Those protests took place in 2013 and 2014, but the force also confirmed that it has shared information with DWP from protests not connected with fracking.

This raises concerns that it has passed information to DWP about disabled people who protested in Manchester about the government’s austerity-related social security reforms, particularly high-profile actions in 2015 and 2017.

In 2017, disabled activists from the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) and Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) criticised “heavy-handed” police tactics at a direct action protest that blocked tram lines outside the conference.

The Tory party is due to return to Manchester in September for this year’s annual party conference.

Andy Greene, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “Using the cover of suspected benefit fraud as a shroud for the targeting of disabled activists is outrageous.

“These are public services and should be deploying every resource they have to support disabled people to be active and engaged citizens.

“Yet, what we see is the use of those resources deployed against disabled people as if we are enemies of the state.

“Violence, the weaponisation of hunger, the ‘grave and systemic violations of disabled people’s human rights’ – this is what we are experiencing at the hands of the police, the DWP and other public services every day.”

He added: “There needs to be an inquiry into what’s gone on; and where wrong has been done, people have to be held to account.

“Who made the decisions within these services to share this information, when, how were these decisions justified?

“Disabled people need to be shown – not words – that they are safe to take part in protests, demonstrations, campaigning and activism without the threat of police violence or having their benefits and services taken away.

“The policing of disabled people by the very services designed to empower and enable us is a dangerous road to go down.”

Dennis Queen, who lives in Manchester and was arrested at the 2017 protest for public disorder but was later found not guilty, also backed calls for an inquiry.

She said she did not understand how the police could lawfully know who was claiming disability benefits.

She said: “In the same vein I don’t understand what business it is of the DWP if a person decides to attend a protest.

“As far as I am aware there are no questions in benefit claims about attending protests.

“There is no rule that claimants may not attend protests for us to be breaking. If there is then we ought to have a right to know about it.

“I can only assume this is being done to cause a chilling effect and make disabled people afraid to protest. As such, it’s an informal ban on protesting against disabled people.”

Three other police forces that have been involved in policing anti-fracking protests over the last six years – Sussex, Surrey and North Yorkshire – have told DNS that they have not passed on information about protesters to DWP.

A Greater Manchester Police spokesperson said in a statement: “As part of a sharing agreement, information about protestors has been passed to DWP but only in the event where concerns have been raised.

“During the course of our duties, whether this is at protests or not, if any concerns are identified, we are duty-bound to pass these onto the relevant partner agencies in any policing operation.

“No-one is deterred from taking part in protests or exercising their right to free speech.

“As with any operation, a strategy is put in place in order for us to facilitate peaceful protests with as little disruption to the local area as possible.

“The sharing of information is a useful tool for both us and our partners, helping us to build greater intelligence pictures, identify areas of concerns and work better with the communities we serve.”

A force spokesperson later added: “Information was passed to DWP in relation to the Barton Moss protests.”

She said that the raising of concerns that lead to information being passed to DWP are those “identified from intelligence gathering before all protests, reports made by the public and information passed on by police officers on the ground”.

The spokesperson also confirmed that information had been passed to DWP about both anti-fracking and non-fracking-related protests.

It is not yet clear which other protests have led to information being passed to DWP by Greater Manchester Police.

A DWP spokesperson said: “There is no formal arrangement in place between DWP and any police force for this or other similar scenarios.”

She had not said by noon today (Thursday) whether this meant her department was accusing Greater Manchester Police of lying about its “sharing agreement” with DWP.

She also refused to say if the minister for disabled people accepted that this exchange of information with GMP risked creating a more hostile environment for disabled people who receive benefits.

She also refused to say if Newton accepted that there would be grave concerns over the possible sharing of information with DWP by GMP from anti-austerity protests that were critical of DWP and its policies at Tory party conferences in Manchester.

Story source: John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com



The Care Quality Commission and improvement: a system-wide issue

Ruth Robertson writing at The King’s Fund – Many policy issues seem simple from afar but they nearly always become more intricate on closer inspection, one current example being Brexit. Understanding the impact of the regulatory approach of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) is no different. On the surface, we seem to have a simple bilateral interaction: CQC tells a provider where it needs to improve; the provider then does or does not make the improvement. When we look closer, however, this view starts to fragment.




Regulation is a multifaceted intervention. It happens over long periods of time and, for best effect, requires a whole system focused on improvement. Our recent research about CQC’s regulatory process developed a framework of eight impact mechanisms as a tool to help policy-makers and practitioners understand and navigate this complexity. Once we understand how regulation affects provider performance, it becomes easier to work out the best way to maximise its impact.

Caring

Getting this right is a system-wide challenge, which is why, following the publication of our recent report, The King’s Fund and Alliance Manchester Business School gathered with representatives from CQC, leaders from health and care providers, commissioners, national bodies and patient representatives to unpick the issue. At this roundtable discussion, we discussed three system challenges that emerged from our research as key areas for action to maximise CQC’s impact.

First, how can regulators and providers develop the effective relationships that our research shows are critical to the functioning and impact of regulation? The CQC is rolling out a new programme of training for its inspectors to help with this. While investment in the development of regulatory staff is critical, relationships are a shared responsibility. For regulation to work, providers need to respond openly and constructively to inspection and use ongoing regulatory relationships to drive improvement in their organisations.

Second, how can CQC ensure it has the right insights about providers and systems to prioritise inspection activity and assess performance? Our research shows that routine performance indicators are not very useful for this type of prioritisation because they don’t correlate with inspection outcomes. CQC is working to widen its pool of hard and soft intelligence by, for example, working with charity call centres and scraping social media posts for patient comments. CQC is developing a new monitoring approach but no one should underestimate the difficulty of getting this right.

Third, how do we ensure providers and local systems have the right skills and support to respond to CQC inspections? Our research found that ‘improvement capability’ (skills within providers and external support from improvement agencies) is critical in determining impact. There is a great deal more of this capability in the hospital sector than in general practice and – most notably – adult social care. The lack of improvement capability in general practice and adult social care may explain why some providers in those sectors are stuck at the bottom of the performance tables.

One idea from our roundtable discussion is that, although many social care organisations are private providers operating in a competitive market, this does not have to hamper collaborative improvement efforts. There are examples from other sectors (a roundtable participant mentioned the US blood-donation market as one) in which providers have worked together to improve quality through benchmarking. This has been achieved despite the providers being competitors, although this type of work usual requires external facilitation. While improvement support is not CQC’s business, its absence in some sectors is reducing the effectiveness of CQC’s approach.

I left the roundtable discussion with a looming sense of the scale of this task and the many tensions within it. To get the most out of regulation, CQC needs to spend more time on local relationship-building but initial estimates show that its new risk-based approach to inspection is leading CQC to inspect more, not less – a challenge for local CQC staff with a limited number of hours in their day. To gain an accurate view of performance in local areas, CQC needs to cast the net wide and combine qualitative and quantitative information. But with such a diverse and broad dataset, how can it identify the signal in the storm? To adapt to changes in health and care, CQC needs to inspect systems and not just individual providers. However, doing both simultaneously creates a capacity challenge – for both the regulator and those it regulates.

The challenge for CQC as it seeks to navigate these tensions will be working out what to stop doing, to create space for a new focus on relationships and systems. And how can it harness others to ensure that providers are supported to respond to CQC interventions. Creating a regulatory system that drives improvement in health and care is complex, and CQC cannot crack this nut on its own.

Source: The King’s Fund