As we head into a new year I’ve been thinking about what I want to achieve in the next 12 months. What will be the most important issue for disabled people in 2019? And what can I do, as the minister representing you, to help break down the barriers faced by the disabled community?
While I was reflecting on the answers to these questions it became clear to me that it would be almost impossible to choose just one issue. Unfortunately, disabled people still face barriers in almost every area of their lives, often making it much more difficult for them to access vital services which most of us take for granted.
That’s why it’s so critically important that we take a more joined-up approach to disability.
Tackling the issues affecting disabled people, not just in my own department, Work and Pensions, but across the whole of Government, is a personal priority for me.
So, in 2018 I took action and created the Inter-Ministerial Group for Disability and Society, bringing together ministers from a number of departments to drive forward co-ordinated action.
And this New Year I am making a commitment to Able’s readers, and the whole disabled community, that I will do everything in my power to push for change across every area of our everyday lives – whether that’s housing or healthcare, transport or employment.
Fortunately, we won’t be starting from scratch. We’ve made real progress over the last year, and it’s important that we build on the work already underway, while always looking out for areas where we can improve.
Last year we launched our Inclusive Transport Strategy. We’re putting money behind our plans, making up to £300 million available for rail accessibility improvements, providing £2 million to significantly increase the number of motorway service areas with Changing Places facilities, and spending £2 million to support the installation of audio-visual equipment on buses.
But transport is just one area in which we’re making headway. We’ve set out new measures for tackling hate crime against disabled people; we’ve launched a review into disability and public appointments; and we’ve seen the 10,000th employer sign up to our Disability Confident scheme, meanwhile disabled people are now more likely to be in employment than out of work for the first time.
Legislation has also been brought in to ensure landlords are no longer able to ignore reasonable requests from their disabled tenants to make adjustments to common areas, like stairways.
And we’ve also worked with Purple on the UK’s first ever accessible shopping day, sending a powerful message to retailers across the country to make their disabled customers a priority. It was backed by more than 500 retailers and retail property groups and 50 disability groups. The list goes on.
In 2019 I want disability to be taken even more seriously. There is a lot more work to be done, but I am ambitious. I truly believe that we are starting to see the cultural change needed to ensure disabled people can participate fully in every area of our society, and I am personally committed to driving forward the change needed across Government.