So Justin Tomlinson is the new Minister for Disabled people, the 5th Minister in 5 years. Much has been said over the past few days about his voting record, but what is maybe more striking is his total lack of interest in disability issues as evidenced by his Parliamentary record. This did not prevent him voting, and sometimes very strongly, in a way which has made life much more difficult for disabled people, either in favour of the bedroom tax, against raising benefits in line with prices, or paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability etc.
The press and social media have picked up on two of his most inhuman votes in the House of Commons:
The refusal to make an exception for those with a cancer diagnosis or undergoing cancer treatment from the 365 day limit on receiving contributions-based Employment and Support Allowance, which means that these claimants are only entitled to one year of support, and to refuse to set the lower rate of the Universal Credit payment in relation to disabled children and young people at a minimum of two-thirds of the higher rate. Read a very good article by Jenny Morris which explains the twisted thinking behind it
Nor does he seem to be very keen on human rights and equality for all, and voted in 2012 to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998, and to remove the duty of the CEHR (Commission for Equality and Human Rights) to work to support the development of a society where people’s ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination and there is respect for human rights. Put otherwise, he is not opposed per se to prejudice or discrimination.
His full voting record is here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9mlh9-2YHH4aUJJcV8zWW5ibmc/view What a nice chap!
While there is no doubt that the new Minister for Disabled People is not of the progressive type, his voting record reveals what has been the main objective of this government over the past five years, which is to reduce the welfare bill and specifically the disability benefits component. Behind all the rhetoric of disabled people being stuck on disability benefits (disproved by statistics), of disability being a ‘lifestyle’ choice, and of helping disabled people to achieve their potential by ‘helping’ them get a job, what his appointment highlights is one of the greatest failures of this government. After tightening even further a disability assessment devised under Labour and geared to reduce the claimant count by 1 million, after restricting the duration of entitlement for people receiving contributions based ESA to 365 days, after putting disabled people through 4.8 million assessments, and after applying sanctions to 3000 disabled people each and every month as admitted by McVey in her evidence to the W&P Committee Q248 , the claimant count today is roughly similar to what it was in 2010 and the government had to constantly revise its expenditure forecasts.
Not only is the number of disability benefit claimants on the rise, but contrary to what the government would like us to believe, the number of disabled people who moved into work, although on the rise, has not narrowed the gap between the employment rate of disabled and non disabled people. And all this in spite of a very visible government campaign #disabilityconfident, which has made no difference whatsoever. At the same time, the government has been reducing the support disabled people need to work or to go to work: Access to Work has been initially reduced and now capped, the Independent Living Fund will close at the end of June 2015, and 3,000 out of 8,000 users have lost their motability vehicles following the introduction of PIP.
With this appointment, the government is flying its true colours. But disabled people have proved to be proud and defiant. They have not gone away quietly. They have been fighting, challenging the government and exposing it for what it is. Whether it is on the streets or on social media, disabled people have made disability a visible issue, and have exposed the callousness of this government. With £12bn of welfare cuts in the pipeline, the fight must go on.