Another week has flown by and it’s now week two of electioneering! Are you bored yet! Anyone saying anything we’ve not heard before? I suspect the answer is influenced by how old you are! I’ve been through more election campaigns than I care to remember and it’s amazing to see how old messages are given new treatments. Anyone remember the Citizen’s Charter? Reminds me a bit of the suggestion that communities need to be more involved in running things as suggested by Mr Cameron. Anyway the really good news is that the tulips are out in my garden and the Wisteria is showing definite signs of life!! Enjoy the blog!
Personal care bill becomes law
A bill to provide free personal care to disabled and older people with the highest needs has become law, after government concessions were approved by peers.
Health secretary Andy Burnham last week described the personal care at home bill as the first of three stages of reforms that would lead to a national care service based on the principle of free personal care for everyone who needs it.
The government made two key concessions on the bill – delaying its implementation until April 2011, and agreeing that MPs and peers would have to approve its implementation after it became law.
Peers approved the new version of the bill today (8 April), and it later received royal assent.
The Personal Care at Home Act is now set to provide free personal care at home to an estimated 280,000 disabled and older people with the highest needs (although this figure includes about 170,000 people who already receive free personal care).
It will also provide intensive “re-ablement” support for around 130,000 people who need home care for the first time.
The second stage of Burnham’s care and support reforms, from 2014, will see those staying in residential care for longer than two years receiving free personal care.
Equality bill set to become law, but work remains
Disabled peers and other campaigners have welcomed the major improvements to the equality bill they helped to secure before it cleared its final parliamentary hurdle.
The bill is now set to become law after MPs approved amendments made in the Lords, many of them around disability rights. It is now just awaiting royal assent.
Three disabled peers – Baroness [Jane] Campbell, Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins and Lord [Colin] Low – played a key role in persuading the government to accept the disability amendments.
Baroness Campbell said the bill – which streamlines existing equality laws – was “not in good shape” when it entered the Lords, when compared with the rights contained in the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
She praised the efforts of her fellow disabled peers, as well as the support given by the Disability Charities Consortium (DCC), former legal experts from the Disability Rights Commission and the disability charity RADAR.
She added: “It was a truly collective effort – something that the disability movement is renowned for and good at.”
Baroness Campbell said the number of amendments relating to disability that were passed by the Lords was “out of all proportion to the rest of the bill”, with 12 amendments either preventing “regression” from rights gained through the DDA – such as those around reasonable adjustments, accessible information and education – or securing new rights for disabled people.
The new rights include a ban on employers using health questionnaires to discriminate against disabled job applicants, stronger protection on reasonable adjustments, new laws on accessible taxis and new rights toauxiliary aids and services for disabled pupils.
Baroness Campbell said the “area of biggest disappointment” was that the bill’s new public sector equality duty does not provide strong enough protection for disabled people, despite some improvements secured by peers.
A government policy statement has indicated that the new duty will be “much weaker” than the current disability equality duty (DED), she said, while there is no way of ensuring that public bodies comply with the new duties.
She and other campaigners now face “an uphill struggle” with lobbying the next government on the regulations that will set out public bodies’ specific duties.
Marije Davidson, RADAR’s senior policy officer, said the act now “provides an opportunity to generate new energy and momentum behind disability equality”.
She said: “The new government needs to take forward implementation of the equality bill as a matter of urgency, including drafting and consulting on regulations related to the public sector equality duty and taxi accessibility.
“We will press for a robust enforcement of the rights of disabled people as well as raising awareness amongst disabled people of their rights.”
Scope said it was “delighted” that many of the changes it campaigned for as a member of the DCC found their way into the bill.
It described the bill as a “positive step forward” for disabled people, but warned that “much will depend on the guidance that accompanies the bill and how it is enforced”.
John Knight, director of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD), another DCC member, said it too was “delighted” with many of the key improvements.
He said it would now be vital “to make sure that the act works for disabled people up and down the country, and that disabled people are aware of their rights, and are able to challenge discrimination when they face it”.
LCD will release a report next week on how to ensure disabled people can use the Equality Act to challenge discrimination.
Most of the measures in the new act will come into force on 1 October, although the DED will not be replaced by the single public sector duty until April 2011.
Tories back out of agreement on disabled candidates
The Conservative party appears to have backed out of a cross-party agreement to publish reports on how many parliamentary candidates are disabled people.
The proposal was a key recommendation of a cross-party “conference” headed by the speaker of the House of Commons, which aimed to increase the number of disabled, female and ethnic minority MPs.
All three main parties backed proposals to produce regular reports on how many of their parliamentary candidates – including those who are not selected to stand for parliament and those who do not become MPs – are disabled, female and from an ethnic minority.
The proposal to publish reports on the diversity of candidates was also backed by an amendment to the government’s equality bill.
But in the final Commons discussion on the bill, the Conservative shadow minister for disabled people, Mark Harper, said that both the Liberal Democrats and Labour agreed that – because of difficulties in identifying disabled candidates – “it probably makes sense to start off with reporting on gender and ethnicity”.
He added: “We can see how that works and whether it drives the necessary change before we consider reporting in other areas.”
But a Liberal Democrat spokeswoman said: “I am not sure where he has got his information from, but categorically it is not true for the Liberal Democrats. We will definitely be monitoring disability.”
And Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP who was vice-chair of the speaker’s conference, said both Labour and the Liberal Democrats were already collecting such data and neither had raised any objections to reporting on disability.
She said: “I think the Tories are backtracking now. It does concern me. It is concerning simply because we have a long way to go.”
Begg pledged that, if re-elected, she would focus on helping to correct the “enormous” historical imbalance in the number of disabled MPs.
She added: “In terms of gender and ethnicity we seem to have made big strides, but I think we have got a long way to go with disability. Where gay people were in 1992 is probably where disabled people are now.
“If I get back in then those are the kind of issues I am going to pursue from the perspective of the disabled person in a way I have never done before.
“When the political parties select the next cohort of candidates [after the election], we have to make sure they are from more diverse backgrounds.”
No-one from Mark Harper’s office was available to comment.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com