Disability Minister replaced in Cabinet reshuffle
Justin Tomlinson has been replaced by Chloe Smith as Minister for Disabled People as part of Boris Johnson’s latest Cabinet reshuffle.
Tomlinson launched the National Disability Strategy at the end of July along with the Green Paper on Health and Disability with consultation ending on 11 October. He ended the special rules for terminal illness (SRTI) six-month rule policy. The controversial rule had determined that terminally ill people entitled to special government benefits could only get it if they were expected to die within six months.
Smith is now tasked with implementing the Government’s heavily criticised National Disability Strategy. Reflecting on the appointment, DR UK Head of Policy, Fazilet Hadi, said: “Justin Tomlinson MP’s time as Minister for Disabled people left Disabled people at the back of the priority and spending queue. There’s been little recognition of the scale of the barriers that Disabled people face across society and the recent Disability Strategy has failed to put forward a radical agenda for change.
“We welcome Chloe Smith to the role and hope to see improved engagement with organisations led by Disabled people to shape and implement strategies to transform the lives of Disabled people.
Gillian Keegan replaces Helen Whately as the Minister for Care.
Labour has announced that its Shadow Equalities Secretary Marsha de Cordova has quit, with Party Chair Anneliese Dodds replacing her in the role.
Read more here.
New Disability Minister backs removal of UC uplift
The new Minister for Disabled People, Chloe Smith, has spoken of her support for the withdrawal of the £20 per week Universal Credit uplift at the end of September.
In a post on her constituency website, posted a day into her new role, she said:
“A number of constituents have contacted me regarding the temporary £20 Universal Credit uplift. I do appreciate the seriousness of this issue for some of my constituents and I’m grateful to those who have contacted me to let me know that it affects them.
“As people are aware, the £20 uplift to Universal Credit (UC) was announced by the Chancellor as a temporary measure in March 2020 to support those likely to be facing the most financial disruption during the pandemic. I do think it has been clear all along that it was temporary, and it was sensible as an emergency response. I also think it is right now to look ahead at what is needed after the pandemic, and to plan for the future.
“In particular, as the country re-opens, the Government is focused on getting people back into work and has announced a multi-billion pound plan for jobs, in order to support people in the long-term by helping them learn new skills and increase their hours or find new work. The £2.9 billion restart scheme will provide help to over a million jobseekers who have been out of work for over 12 months.
“I can assure constituents that I will look very closely at everything to do with welfare in Parliament in the coming weeks. There will be a Spending Review, where the Government will look at how taxpayers’ money is used across everything, in the autumn. That is where I expect the full way forward out of the pandemic and beyond to be laid out.”
Charities and senior Tories concerned about triple threat and UC cut
Senior Conservatives including former Cabinet member Damien Green are joining over 350 welfare charities in their concerns that the imminent cut to Universal Credit will cause serious hardship as it has been announced that energy prices will massively increase this winter as a result of a 250% wholesale price increase since the beginning of the year, 70% of which has been since August.
The benefit cut is due to affect six million households.
DR UK Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “Government has been insistent that it is going to steamroll ahead with this move, despite knowing it will push 800,000 people into poverty, almost a third of whom are children, many of whom are Disabled, despite announcing a forthcoming burden of increased National Insurance contributions, and now knowing that households who already have to choose between heating and eating will see energy bills skyrocket.
“Government has to start listening. A cut in income, next year’s rise in National Insurance, a sky high rise in fuel bills in October and again in April, and shortages and price increases around food, will push people already struggling over the brink. The cut must be revoked.”
A fifth of housing not fit for good health – Good Home Inquiry
Around 10 million people in England currently live in a home that presents a serious threat to their health and safety – defined by the government as ‘non-decent’.
That is part of the findings of the Centre for Ageing Better’s Good Home Inquiry report. The final part of the report, ‘Good Homes for All – A Proposal to Fix England’s Housing’, has just been published.
The Good Home Inquiry provides an evidence-based analysis of England’s housing policies to determine the causes of, and solutions to, the poor quality of so many of our homes.
DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “A fifth of the population is Disabled. A fifth of all housing is inadequate to meet the needs of Disabled people and Older People. It is vital that the Government acts swiftly to ensure that our old, unadapted and unadaptable housing stock, in both the public and private sectors, is made accessible. New builds need to reflect full accessibility standards with a percentage being appropriate for wheelchair users, and adaptations to owned and rental homes need to be much easier to procure.
Watch comedian Rosie Jones’ video on rental housing inaccessibility here and access the reports here.
The end of shielding
The Government has formally ended all shielding measures.
In a press statement released on the day of the Cabinet reshuffle, the Government said: “people previously considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable will not be advised to shield again, as the government agrees to end the requirement for centralised guidance for these groups following expert clinical advice. The closure of the shielding programme follows a pause to shielding guidance in place since 1 April 2021.
“Shielding was introduced at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as one of the few interventions available to support those who were considered to be most at risk of serious illness from the virus.
“While this was the right decision at the time to protect the most vulnerable during the initial waves of the virus when little was known about the virus and risk characteristics, shielding advice was extremely restrictive and for some, had a significant impact on people’s lives and their mental and physical wellbeing.
“Since 19 July, the guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people has been to follow the same advice as the rest of the population, with the suggestion of additional precautions people may wish to take. Research and evaluation for some individual clinical groups will continue.
“This will move the country towards the situation pre-COVID-19, where people managed their own conditions with their health professionals, who know the needs of their individual patients best.”
DR UK’s Fazilet Hadi said: “The decision to universally remove all support for shielders, including assured food and medicine delivery schemes, and financial support for people who would be at risk going to work in public places, is at odds with new evidence that the risk of Covid is still far higher for some groups, including people with Down’s Syndrome and dementia.
“Vaccines have a failure rate of around a third. That is still way too high a risk for people who have compromised immunity. It is plain wrong of the government to insist that Disabled people who previously shielded now take personal responsibility about how they live through the pandemic, effectively having to choose for themselves whether to shield or not shield, without providing the support some Disabled people will still need to get through the pandemic unscathed. Cases of Covid are now higher than at any point we have seen to date. Deaths may be fewer overall, but Disabled people who have been vaccinated are still dying at a rate of nearly three to one compared to people who have not been vaccinated. People with Down’s Syndrome are thirteen times more likely to die. Our lives matter. We are not a negligible set of statistics – we are people who deserve the best chance at surviving the pandemic. We deserve to live.”
Deaf mums win Little Mix concert case
Three Deaf mothers have won a landmark case after gig promoters working for the band Little Mix refused to provide BSL interpreters.
Lawyer Chris Fry argued on behalf of the parents that they were only able to follow part of the event, and only after issuing an application for an injunction in the County Court. The Little Mix events promoter had refused to accept that British Sign Language (BSL) Interpreters were reasonably required, and when challenged with legal action threatened the families with costs liabilities of over £100,000.00. Read more here.
Elections Bill bad news for Disabled voters
The Elections Bill currently going through Parliament has the potential to make voting even more difficult for Disabled people. The highly contested bill had its second reading at the beginning of the month and is even proving controversial amongst senior Conservative party figures.
In her evidence to the Elections Bill Committee, Fazilet Hadi, DR UK Head of Policy, outlined the international and domestic laws requiring equality of participation in the electoral process by Disabled people.
Fazilet highlighted that demanding photo ID and removing rules on prescribed equipment would have the effect of disenfranchising Disabled voters.
You can view Fazilet’s evidence here. Read more here.
BBC recruits presenter with Down’s Syndrome
The BBC has hired 20 year-old actor and dancer George Webster, who has Down’s Syndrome, to guest present on its cbeebies children’s channel. The move has been met with universal praise on social media, in stark contrast with the fear and criticism received when Cerrie Burnell, who has limb difference, was hired 15 years ago. DR UK’s Media and Communications Manager Anna Morell said: “This is great news. It’s so important that Disabled children can see themselves represented, in public, in all the arenas they want to be in when they grow up. Cbeebies has always been at the vanguard of positive representations of disability at the BBC. That this appointment has been met with such delight compared to the awful, discriminatory reporting around Cerrie’s hiring shows that attitudes are changing fast among our young people. Now we just have to get adult-centric media channels to follow cbeebies’ lead.” Read more here.