Having been reappointed as Minister for Disabled People just days ahead of Christmas and the New Year, this edition’s column feels like an opportune time to reflect on some of our progress on improving our support for disabled people.
Throughout the year (2019), working with disability charities and stakeholders, we made many positive strides in helping improve the lives of disabled people across all spheres of Society.
We have stopped regular reviews of Personal Independence Payment awards for those of State Pension age. Those on State Pension have been moved to reviews every 10 years – meaning they are not asked to attend a face-to-face assessment unless their needs have changed.
We want everyone to receive the support they need, while seeing improvements to their lives and how the benefits system treats them. In the summer we started an evaluation of how the benefits system supports people nearing the end of their life. Charities have campaigned for the rules to be changed for those with terminal illnesses. We want to make sure we get this right and this very important piece of work will be continuing this year.
In October, we appointed the nine chairs of our new Regional Stakeholder Network. These chairs will feed back to the Government issues of concern in the areas they represent – allowing a more structured and better informed approach to future policymaking. This is one of the initiatives headed up by the Office for Disability Issues which has now been moved to the Cabinet Office.
They are now part of the newly formed Equalities Hub, a new cross-departmental disability unit that will bring the voices of disabled people into the heart of government.
More than 15,000 employers have signed up to the Disability Confident (DC) scheme to give them the knowledge and confidence they need to recruit, retain and develop disabled staff. In November we moved to strengthen DC even further. Among the changes made were a new requirement for DC leaders to practice what they preach and ensure disabled people are on their payroll.
And in one of my final visits in late December, I was given a tour around Fairfield Halls in Croydon, London, to see the fantastic work being undertaken by the theatre to adapt panto shows to audience members with autism. Venue and artistic director, Neil Chandler highlighted how staging and lighting could be altered to cater for children with autism and offer a more serene environment. It was great to see how changes at the grassroots level can improve the lives of disabled people.
Looking forward to 2020, I want to continue building on the great results of the past 12 months and we’ll be bringing the same energy and commitment to our work as we have done to date.
I am very proud of what we – and others – have achieved in 2019 and hope together we can repeat it with another year working to break down the barriers disabled people face in everyday life.