Celia Hensman: The disabled community must be better represented in Parliament and local councils

23 Aug

Celia Hensman is the Digital & Communications Executive for The Conservative Disability Group.

The Conservative Party in government has a proud history of introducing policies and practices aimed at enabling and empowering those living with disabilities to have the freedoms, opportunities and support to productively live their lives in the way that they choose.

These include The Disability Discrimination Act 1995; Access To Work in 1994; the introduction of Disability Living Allowance in 1992; and more recently the publication of the National Disability Strategy.

As the population grows older, consequentially the number of those living with a disability also increases. Estimated at 13.9 million, now more than ever our elected representatives must reflect the disabled diversity of the United Kingdom.

Currently, parliamentary and local council representatives do not reflect the disabled diversity of our society. Within the incumbent Westminster, figures demonstrate that the number of MPs, out of a total of 363, who have declared a disability is shockingly low. With nearly 14 million disabled people living in the UK, it is fundamental that disability is adequately represented, both in Parliament and local authorities.

Unfortunately, historically many health and social care-related policies have been designed without due care and attention to the needs and want of the disabled community, whose lives are arguably affected more than the general populace each day by these decisions. It is vital that the voices of the disabled community are heard, observed, acknowledged and – crucially – woven into legislation and decision making.

Our parliamentary representatives are simply that; our representatives, and 13.9 million people are shouting for greater representation. Accessibility and disability inclusivity is a right, not a privilege, and should be considered throughout policy formation, at a core level, this is achieved through the increase of the number of disabled persons elected. The increase of disabled representation is not a want it is a need, the need to ensure as a society we are progressing forward and not stagnating.

The Conservative Disability Group (CDG) fundamentally believes that having a disability, whether visible or non-visible is not a negative. Disabilities for too long have been stereotyped as a solely negative trait. Yes, there are negative aspects of living with a disability – this is undeniable – however as a society we must move away from this intrinsic thought that those of us living with a disability are categorised as utterly hindered and unable.

Disability does not equate to less ability. Living with a disability gives you a unique set of powerful attributes such as greater empathy, resilience, determination and the ability to think outside of the box, to name but a few. These attributes make for the ideal elected representative.

The disabled community is exhausted by the prospect that in society for too long one’s ability is preemptively assumed based on a disability before one’s actual capabilities have even been examined. To remove this stigma, we must work hard, as a united disabled and disabled supporting community to educate, inform and advise.

Often, discrimination against disabled individuals is not enacted from hate, but from accessibility barriers born from a lack of education, awareness, and understanding. Education of those not exposed to disabilities and demonstration of the strengths and power of disabled individuals lies at the heart of change.

Disabled people sharing their experiences, expertise, and knowledge must be at the core of policy formation, disabled and able-bodied persons alike working as a united allied community. One cannot logically dispute against the argument that, for example, health and social care policy are best designed in collaboration with the disabled community, to argue against would be to dispute that our strong female leaders should not be absent from the beating heart of legislation for the advancement of gender equality.

Because of this, for over 30 years, the CDG has been advocating for greater disabled representation, support, equality, and opportunity across the many facets of the Party. The movement forward for increasing the number of disabled members being selected as candidates has previously been relatively stagnant, however, times are changing, the party is entering into a revolutionary and exciting period of leaping towards increased disabled representation.

For over a year, the CDG has witnessed energetic, collaborative, and concerted action from CCHQ to effectuate the positive change sought by disabled party members across the length of our nation. Working closely with Dr. Caroline Johnson MP, the Vice-Chair for Disabilities, and the Outreach team, the wheels of Ability2Win have been set in motion.

Ability2Win, officially launching in September, builds upon the Disability Campaign Toolkit, which provides advice for activists with disabilities who would like to stand as councillors, as well as for association officers who want practical tips on how to make their association and its processes more inclusive. Ability2Win will give our disabled candidates the platform to showcase their abilities with support through training, development and mentoring.

The support provided by Conservative MPs and local leaders, will enhance candidates’ knowledge and strengthen innately powerful attributes and skills, equipping candidates to head towards an election. One must not be concerned, that the aim of Ability2Win and the work of the CDG is to distribute unfair advantage or abled discrimination, Ability2Win ensures that we are levelling up the opportunities available to all members of the Conservative Party.

Our candidates must better reflect the beautiful and increasing diversity of the society within which we live. The CDG in collaboration with the Party is working harder than ever to tear down accessibility barriers brick by brick, paving the way for increased diversity and inclusivity in our representation.

Elliot Colburn MP: Disabled children and families have been hit hard by Covid. Now they must get the support they need.

13 May

Elliot Colburn is MP for Carshalton and Wallington.

Disabled children and their families have disproportionately felt the sting of the pandemic and its inevitable restrictions. The strain of the crisis on the NHS and care systems, and the closure of schools multiple times, has meant that many families have seen reductions in support services and health appointments.

I want to thank the Government for the work they have done to try and mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the lives of disabled children, particularly the laser-like focus of Vicky Ford, whose dedication to helping the most vulnerable children get through and recover from this pandemic I have seen first-hand.

Nevertheless, as a member of the Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee, our inquiry into Unequal impact? Coronavirus, disability and access to services had some very stark findings, and the Disabled Children’s Partnership (DCP) – a coalition of over 80 charities that I have been working closely with – has been surveying a demographically representative pool of over 1,200 parents of disabled children. The results have been startling.

From a report earlier in the year, the DCP estimates that over 75 per cent of parents reported delays to routine health appointments during the pandemic. These vital check-ups – such as MRI scans and Orthopaedic assessments – can help identify where important medical interventions are needed, such as physiotherapy or surgery. These interventions are often vital to help manage a child’s condition. Sadly, as these appointments have been delayed due to the strains of the pandemic, over half of parents say their child’s condition has got worse.

This is deeply concerning. Many families have been working hard for years to help their child live and manage their conditions, but much of this progress has been lost.

In my own borough, for example, I have been working with organisations like the Sutton EHCP Crisis Group, founded by parent champion Hayley Harding, to fight the severely unfair system we had in our area, with a Liberal Democrat-run Council exposed in a BBC Panorama special on special educational needs provision for their disastrous and shameful treatment of local families. This is something I have had to raise in the House a number of times, including during Prime Minister’s Questions.

Not a week goes by that a parent doesn’t come to my surgery looking for help with getting an EHCP for their child, and the pandemic has only exacerbated their struggles.

Unfortunately, this damage has not been limited to physical health. Additional research from the DCP also found that disabled children and their families are more socially isolated than the rest of the population. As has been highlighted in The Sun and Metro, many disabled children have been unable to use technologies like Zoom to speak to friends and family – meaning they have missed out on vital social connections that many of us have taken for granted.

As face-to-face support has had to be reduced due to the pandemic, parents have had to become full-time specialist teachers and carers during the pandemic, leaving little time for socialising. The DCP’s research found that 60 per cent of parents are socially isolated with 80 per cent of them qualifying for NHS psychological support in normal times, due to the levels of anxiety and possible depression they’re experiencing.

Undoubtedly, children across the country – disabled or not – have missed many opportunities for educational and social development over the past year. The Government’s response to this unprecedented situation has been admirable, with the education recovery package for children and young people totalling at £700 million. It is good to see that this package will help target disadvantaged children specifically, including the expansion of one-to-one and small group tutoring programmes.

However, I note that this package is ring-fenced for disabled children and their families. Faced with a flurry of competing demands, we need guarantees that this money will be allocated to disabled children when school leadership teams are making budgetary decisions. In addition, a large number of the services that disabled children need – e.g. speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, educational psychology and physiotherapy – are not the sole responsibility of schools, and will often be provided and funded by the local authority or health service, and are therefore out of the scope of the premium funding. The concern here is about the spending priorities of local government, which as can be seen in the case of Sutton, does not always reflect the needs of disabled children.

Likewise – on mental health – it is brilliant to see the Government taking a proactive approach in providing £79 million for millions of children and young people. But again, it is not clear that any of this funding has been specifically allocated to meet the complex needs of disabled children and families.

As we come out of lockdown and catch-up policies are implemented, the Government must ensure that those that have been hit hardest by the pandemic the support they require. We need specific, ring-fenced funding for disabled children and families – as we on the Women and Equalities committee have been calling for.

This should be a part of a holistic Covid-19 recovery plan for disabled children and families that addresses the disproportionate impact they have experienced – as disability campaigners have been pushing for through the DCP. An additional therapies plan could help children with cerebral palsy fight muscle degeneration. Extra respite care could help combat a mental health crisis in parent carers. Activities to combat social isolation could help disabled children recover vital life skills that they have fallen back on, like communicating with others.

The Conservative Party has a proud track record of supporting children. We can’t let disabled children fall out of the conversation when they need it most.

Caroline Ffiske: How non-crime hate incidents came into force. And why they should be reformed – or scrapped altogether.

18 Feb

Caroline Ffiske is a former adviser to the New Zealand Government and Conservative councillor in Hammersmith & Fulham.

Sir William Macpherson, who led the damning report into the Metropolitan Police following the murder of Stephen Lawrence, has died, aged 94. Tributes have poured in for his groundbreaking work in naming and tackling institutional racism.

However, his legacy is mixed. For it was the Macpherson report which introduced into policing, the concept of the ‘non-crime hate incident’ which has become so controversial today.

Introduced with the best of intentions, it has grown and morphed beyond reason – more so than Macpherson could surely have imagined. How can we now freely debate important and controversial political issues, when to do so might land us with a police record accusing us of hate?

The question is of growing importance. Conservative MPs are taking an increasing interest in free speech – and Priti Patel is reported to be considering an overhaul of hate crime law.

Action would be complicated. There isn’t a single piece of hate crime law that, with a tweak or two, would restore us to a Miltonian lost paradise of free speech. But the non-crime hate incident is part of the mix ,and needs reform. Before exploring options, it’s useful and timely to revisit its origin and evolution; and also to carefully consider whether and how it harms.

The origin of the non-crime hate incident

The widely publicised Harry Miller case in 2019 helped to bring the non-crime hate incident to public attention – and gave the police a jolt.

Miller received a call from the police and was told to ‘check his thinking’ – and so learned that participating in online debate about the meaning of sex and gender had earned him a police record accusing him of hate.

When he took the matter to court, the judge agreed that the behaviour of Humberside Police, in their visit to and warning of Miller, had breached the boundaries of the reasonable. Their actions were criticised as being akin to those of the Cheka, the Stasi, and the Gestapo.

However, the judge also concluded that it was perfectly correct for the police to maintain a record of Miller’s tweets. In doing so, they were following the College of Policing Hate Crime Guidance which originated in the Macpherson Report.

This introduced key components of the non-crime hate incident; the most significant being the validity of individual perception. A ‘racist incident’ should be defined as ‘any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person’. That was in 1999.

Concept creep

The College of Policing’s current Hate Crime Guidance can be found here; and the definition of non-crime hate incidents here.

As inspired by Macpherson, this says that all reported incidents must be recorded. There is a reminder of their supposed seriousness; they “should not be dismissed as unimportant; they can cause extreme distress to victims and communities”. After all, they might be “the precursor to more serious or escalating criminal offending”. This reminds us of Macpherson’s original serious intent.

But, twenty years on, nothing seems too trivial to count as a hate incident. It’s anything that anyone perceives to have been “motivated wholly or partially by hostility…the victim does not have to justify or provide evidence of their belief”. Indeed, police officers “should not directly challenge this perception…police officers may also identify a non-crime hate incident, even where the victim or others do not”. Indeed, “victims … may not be aware that they are a victim of a non-crime hate incident, even though this is clear to others”. Hostility? This from the Met: ‘evidence of the hate element is not a requirement.’

Macpherson intended the concept to tackle racism. But more ‘monitored strands’ have since been added: disability, religion, sexual orientation, and, most recently, transgender, in 2015. However, these don’t limit the concept: “non-crime hate incidents are also committed against victims who are targeted because of a non-monitored personal characteristic”.

The non-crime hate incident has become a concept without meaningful boundary – no wonder the police record people’s tweets.

The police keep notes; how is that a problem?

Firstly, the scale of the issue is not insignificant. In January last year, it was reported that police forces in England and Wales had recorded 120,000 non-crime hate incidents over the last five years.

People aren’t told when they’ve been accused of a hate incident now on police record. And there is an issue over how police handle these records.

In the Crime Report relating to Miller’s tweets, Humberside Police stated that “the suspect” was “posting transphobic comments on Twitter” and “showing hatred for the transgender community”.

This was a slur. Sarah Phillimore, a barrister who co-founded WeAreFairCop with Miller, discovered that her local police force has records describing her as ‘a barrister who has been posting hate about Jewish and transgender people‘.

Regarding her comments about Jewish people, they noted that there is nothing ‘overtly offensive’ about them, but nevertheless claimed that she had been ‘posting hate’.

Again, this was a slur. But when Phillimore asked the Wiltshire police to delete the record, they wouldn’t – and here seems to be no mechanism for review. College of Policing Guidance also indicates that records could be shared with future employers via DBS checks.

You may feel sympathy for the police as they battle the intersections of ‘culture wars’, ‘vexatious reporting’, and guidance which requires them to record trivial matters. They must, at least, minimally comply.

But here is a video from the Wiltshire Police touting for trade ‘if you experience any kind of hate crime or incident then please call us on 101 or report it online’.

More generally, the non-crime hate incident now feeds into a police culture too focused on accusing us of offence. It’s one of the building blocks, which, taken together, resulted in the police investigating Darren Grimes for a media interview with David Starkey, and arresting Kate Scottow at her home and holding her in custody for eleven hours, because of some offensive tweets.

In February 2019, Boris Johnson said of Scottow’s case: ‘Whatever the rights and wrongs of this internet feud, we are wasting too much time and resource on cases like this’.   Macpherson intended the concept to help drive community cohesion; I would argue that the non-crime hate incident has grown into a tool that can be used vexatiously to drive us apart.

Options for reform

The obvious route is a Law Commission Review. But the Commission is already mid-way through such a process – and it’s not boding well for free speech.

It’s more of the same: the Commission proposes to expand the reach of hate crime law, not limit it. It has proposed a new category of communication offence.  Here is a telling extract: “The offence does not require proof that anyone was actually harmed”.

No, the Government must take charge. Racism and discrimination must be taken seriously; so too, must free speech and open debate – and the pursuit of violent crime. None of these benefit from police focus on the inconsequential.

Here are some suggestions for reform:

  • The emotive concept of ‘hate’ is not helpful – would ‘discrimination’ be better?
  • Some degree of significance is needed.
  • If someone is accused of a non-crime hate incident, they should be informed.
  • There should be a mechanism for challenge.
  • Records should use non-emotive language; they should not slur people.
  • The police should not tout for trade.
  • Non-crime hate incidents should not be disclosed in DBS searches.

Alternatively, the government could grasp the bull by the horns; in the spirit of Macpherson, be bold. Twenty years on, the Conservatives could go full circle – and simply do away with the concept of Hate Crime altogether.

Esther McVey: We should honour our manifesto commitment to close the digital divide. Especially during this time of Covid.

3 Dec

Esther McVey is a former Work and Pensions Secretary, and is MP for Tatton.

The country has just entered what is essentially a third lockdown. Ninety-nine per cent of the population is now in the highly restrictive Tier Two or Three until early February, along with all the huge damage that will continue to bring to people’s mental health and livelihoods. So it is desperately important that everyone is able to connect online.

Covid has speeded up the digital revolution that would have evolved over a longer period of time. GP appointments, business meetings and education have rapidly moved to online, and millions of us have stayed in touch by using video services for the first time. It is becoming more and more essential for people to be able to get online with a reliable online connection for vital day-to-day services like banking and shopping. Yet many are being left behind.

According to research by the Good Things Foundation, nine million people who struggle to use the internet independently have been locked out of this digital economy and are being left behind. Nearly 200,000 children in the UK have almost no connectivity at home, and had no hope of getting an education whilst schools were shut, and 23 per cent of children from the poorest families do not have access to broadband at home.

This digital poverty is hitting society’s most vulnerable the hardest. Millions of people have become completely disconnected from 2020 society, and if we want to kickstart our economy, and start digging our way out of the enormous economic difficulties we’re in, we need every part of our country and economy able to make the most of these enormous opportunities online, rather than leaving millions of people on the other side of the digital divide without internet access or training.

The Conservative Party pledged during the last general election to bring world class gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025. Despite the widespread availability of the so-called “super fast” broadband, many parts of country are experiencing quite the opposite: unreliable connectivity and slow speeds, especially in rural areas.

Many of my constituents in Tatton and across Cheshire have been told that their properties do not qualify for commercial rollout of broadband. Across my constituency, broadband accessibility varies from street to street, and in Tatton, only six per cent of my constituents’ homes and businesses currently have access to full fibre broadband. This postcode lottery is only reinforcing the digital divide and exacerbating digital poverty.

So it was particularly concerning to me that the Chancellor’s Spending Review quietly ditched the commitment for 100 per cent gigabit capability by 2025 and slashed the financial support for it by three quarters from £5 billion to £1.2 billion. Whilst the new £4 billion “levelling up fund” is welcome, rolling out broadband would itself facilitate social mobility, so this seems a wasted opportunity.

So I am calling on the government to do two things, which I will be raising in the House of Commons today as part of the Blue Collar Conservative campaign on fixing the digital divide.

First, we must honour our manifesto commitments to the millions of people across this country who put their trust in our Party, and commit once again to delivering full fibre by 2025. NHS Test and Trace relies on dependable broadband, as do the 1.62 million people (and rising) unemployed who have to use the Universal Credit benefit system, and my constituents’ quality of life is dependent on this internet access.

Second, if we’re going to lock people down again for the next two months, and ask people to work from home and isolate from family and friends, they must get the tools and the training so that they can stay both socially and economically active. We have suggested investment in a new “digital catch up scheme” which is ready to be implemented immediately and could allow everyone, whatever their background, the opportunity to make the most of their potential whilst life has to be spent online.

We were elected last year to “level up” opportunity throughout the country. Blue Collar Conservatives all over the Britain know that there’s as much genius and talent in the north as anywhere else, and our Party’s task is to ensure everyone has the opportunity to break free and make the most of those talents, and not be held back by their background, and not have to move south to fulfil their ambitions.

The levelling up agenda depends upon nation-wide digital inclusivity. If we give up on this manifesto commitment, fail to invest in our digital infrastructure, and refuse to take the urgent action necessary to level up and fix the digital divide, we will be trying to deliver the levelling up agenda with one hand held behind our back.

The Department for Digital, Housing, Communities and Local Government itself said that digital equality “can help mitigate some of the deep social inequalities derived from low incomes, poor health, limited skills or disabilities”.

These repeated lockdowns in 2020 will leave a lasting legacy. But as painful as the year has been, we have seen an unprecedented mass movement online, which has brought with it many innovations which will shape our lives and the way we work forever.

So it is more important than ever that we turn our attention to the number one infrastructure project as we move forward: digital connectivity and digital inclusivity. We must redouble our efforts to roll out full fibre broadband, whilst at the same time fixing the digital divide. Not doing so would betray the very communities this government was elected to deliver for.

Andy Cook: To help reduce mass unemployment, back up Universal Credit with Universal Support

2 Nov

Andy Cook is Chief Executive Officer of the Centre for Social Justice

In politics, as often in life, you seldom get praise for what doesn’t happen.

But when we look back on the recent history of this pandemic, we will recognise Universal Credit as a great success story. Had we still been operating the paper-based system of the Tony Blair/Gordon Brown era, we would have had unemployment queues snaking round city centres. It wouldn’t have needed an England footballer to point this out, it would (quite rightly) have shamed the country.

I remember that time well. Despite massive government spending, I founded a charity to tackle unemployment – because there were generations of kids who were being harmed because they didn’t see the benefits of work in their home life. We musn’t return to those days.

We are now facing the grim prospect of unemployment as high as 13 per cent – that’s around four million people without a job. In July, 5.6 million people were receiving welfare with almost half officially “searching for work.” One of the areas with the highest numbers of new Universal Credit claims is leafy Guildford in Surrey.

Britain faces the very real problem of mass, long-term unemployment. At the beginning of 2020, there were 3.1 million people in Britain who were not working, but wanted a job. This figure could grow by more than two million due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Benefit claimants are increasingly vulnerable, with more complex challenges, meaning that they need more support when navigating our welfare system. Inadequate support for some claimants has resulted in some falling in to a ‘state of crisis’ – increased financial insecurity, food bank usage, evictions, and homelessness as well as worsening mental health.

Unemployment can be disastrous for any individual. Unemployment is not just the loss of an income, but the loss of a sense of purpose, identity, and dignity. Poor health quickly follows.

If we want to get really serious about tackling poverty, we have to get serious about making sure people get into jobs. Financial pressures can lead to debt, housing problems, relationship strains, and in the most extreme cases, violence, homelessness, substance misuse and criminal activity.

This is the true cost of an unemployment crisis. Worklessness has a lasting impact on communities, and children growing up in a workless household are more likely to perform poorly at school, less likely to work themselves, and end up involved in the criminal justice system.

For all the winter eeconomic plans announced by the Chancellor, tackling the human toll of worklessness will be the biggest long term challenge. Long before the pandemic struck, the UK still had a long-term unemployment problem, with particular challenges from disability, and a disability employment gap that had hardly shifted in a decade.

Despite remarkable successes over the last ten years in halving the number of people unemployed for two years or more, the other half still exist, pandemic or no pandemic. The challenge will now be to make sure that our millions of newly unemployed (and their families) don’t join them as long term unemployment ‘stats’.

There are real human lives behind the statistics – which is why the Chancellor must look seriously at Universal Support.

Universal Support gets money to local charities to offer real personal support for jobseekers. Run by local authorities, Universal Support works alongside Universal Credit payments, with the aim of helping welfare claimants tackle the real barriers to sustained work.

Helping people who may be applying for Universal Credit, but who also need help in stabilising their housing situation, advice on dealing with burdensome debt, help in accessing opportunities to develop skills, or getting an appointment for a medical diagnosis – Universal Support commissions local charities who work with people rather than statistics.

A truly compassionate social security system should be about helping to support people fallen on hard times, not just a welfare check in the post. It is self-evidently not enough for programmes to get people work ready if there is no work. So it’s also time to channel our inner Reagan and go for some big tax cuts targeted at the regions to rebalance the UK and encourage the creation of jobs.

The recovery must be driven by the private sector, but the Government should seize the opportunity to direct this in a regionalist way with rebalancing as an explicit goal.

The Centre for Social Justice’s paper “The Future of Work: Regional Revolution” makes the case for enterprise zones in the UK’s most left behind towns and cities: tax breaks and financial incentives would be offered specifically to businesses operating in these regions. State loans to start-ups should have job creation in our poorest areas as an explicit objective.

We can’t just treat unemployment as a problem on a spreadsheet. There are real human lives behind the statistics, which is where Universal Support comes in. We need to see it in every town. Economic measures to rebuild our regional economies need to go alongside welfare support that stops the spiral of unemployment and offers a compassionate helping hand into newly-created jobs.

Philippa Stroud: The Coalition stopped officially measuring poverty – which left its successor unsightedover free schools meals

28 Oct

Philippa Stroud is Chief Executive Officer of the Legatum Institute, and leads the Social Metrics Commission.

Marcus Rashford presents the Conservative Party with a problem. No Conservative believes that any child in this country should ever go hungry, but we also want to build a society in which parents are able to earn enough to support their own children and, where that is not the case, in which there is a welfare state that supports those in need. These are our long-term objectives.

So what happens at a moment of crisis when there is a short-term need, and why has the call for the expansion of holiday provision of food and activities to support an additional 1.1 million children in the short term gathered such momentum?

In 2016, the Government abolished the old measure of poverty as an official measure. This means since that year it has been walking blind. Policy decisions have been made in a vacuum without a tool that shines a spotlight on the needs of the most disadvantaged.

The Government has made some great decisions, but without the certainty that what they are doing is hitting the target. Has poverty gone up? Is it plateauing? Until there is an agreed metric that tracks this, who can say?

That is why I launched the Social Metrics Commission (SMC) in 2016, drawing from left and right, and have proposed a new set of poverty metrics: to end the war on poverty measurement so that we could put our energy into working towards an effective poverty reduction strategy.

By the SMC measure, until the start of Covid-19, Conservatives could rightly declare that work was the best route out of poverty and, with record high levels of employment, this strategy was clearly effective, with 90 per cent of households where both adults work full time being out of poverty.

But during this global pandemic, the SMC measure also tells us it is those in deep poverty who are being most significantly impacted by the virus. Two in three (65 per cent) of those employed and in deep poverty prior to the crisis have seen reduced hours or earnings, been furloughed, and/or lost their job.

Although these numbers are not tracked by the Government, the public instinctively feels this to be the case. Locally, Conservatives know this too and are responding with short-term fixes.

The London borough of Kensington and Chelsea for example has promised £15 food vouchers over half-term for its 3,300 local children eligible for free school meals. Councillor Josh Rendall, the lead member for family and children’s services, said: “This is not a long-term solution but this is an exceptional year and we know it has been a tough one for many families.”

Conservatives have a good story to tell. Number 10 and 11 have worked tirelessly to put the entire resources of Government behind protecting the British people from Covid-19, including in the short term with increased support in the benefit system, the Job Retention (and soon Support) Scheme and, in the long term, through improved services for mental health and education, tackling the costs of housing and driving forward the levelling up agenda.

But in the absence of an effective poverty measure, we are unable to quantify the positive impact of all of these choices, gain credit for a comprehensive strategy on poverty, or identify whether there are short term challenges that still need to be addressed.

We need to be able to say that no child in Britain will go hungry on our watch – but we can’t. And we are allowing others to create a narrative for us, and in the absence of an agreed poverty measure and subsequent strategy, we always will. This does not need to be the case.

Had we had the SMC measure already in place, we would have been monitoring the impact of Covid-19 on the most vulnerable during this time of crisis. Had we adopted the SMC measure, we would have known in May that although the pandemic is hitting everyone, it is hitting those in deepest poverty the most and that short term measures may be required to see the poorest through this time.

It was Will Quince, a Work and Pensions Minister, who first announced that the department was taking forward the SMC measure of poverty and developing Experimental Statistics, back in May 2019. But even now, when accurate and timely data is needed more than ever, the work has stalled.

I know there will be some who will be nervous about a new measure of poverty, even one that has gained consensus across the political spectrum and already won the Government much political capital. But the measure is in effect a framework. It is the best way of capturing the “who” is in poverty – the “who” we need to be concerned about and looking out for. The Government can then decide where it wants to place its effort – so at a time like this it would have focused on those most impacted.

The Government could decide to focus on those who are moving in and out of poverty and close to the labour market (the top seven million). That is in effect what the £20 uplift has done in Universal Credit.

Or, it could decide to focus energy and resources on those in deep poverty – those who are 50 per cent below the poverty line (bottom 4.5 million). This is the most vulnerable group and where I would put my energy and effort at a time of national crisis. This is who many of the public thinks of as being in poverty, which is why they are so concerned now and why Rashford has received so much support.

I know that many Conservatives, like myself, came into politics because we were concerned about the long-term drivers of poverty. We feel deeply concerned about the most vulnerable in the nation. We know that poverty is about money, but that it is also about family, education and skills, debt, housing, sickness and disability, and employment. It is about the support being there when you need it so that you can get up and onto your own two feet again and find your own way out of poverty for you and your family.

This is a moment to take action in the short term – as the Government has been doing and still needs to do – but it is also a moment to get our house in order for the long term: to adopt the SMC poverty measure and build a comprehensive poverty strategy so that now and in the future we can say hand on heart, on our watch: no child went hungry.

Maria Miller: Domestic abuse can stretch on for a lifetime. So why do we stop recording it after the age of 74?

6 Jul

Maria Miller is a former Culture Secretary, and is MP for Basingstoke.

We know that domestic abuse can affect anyone, of any gender, any ethnicity, whether you are disabled or non-disabled, and whatever your socio-economic background. Though we know it impacts some more than others – women, disabled people, or the LGBTQ community – age, especially older age, is rarely a consideration for decision makers working to protect and support victims and survivors.

We can see this in the fact that data collection on domestic abuse in the Crime Survey for England and Wales stops at the age of 74. Domestic abuse doesn’t go away with age, and older people can be especially vulnerable to different kinds of abuse, including abuse by a carer or financial abuse. But without any statistics for domestic abuse later life, there is a real possibility that older victims and survivors are missing out on vital help, support and protection.

Age UK tells us that, in 2019, 280,000 people aged between 60 to 74 experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales. Even more shockingly, this number has risen by 40 per cent in the last two years alone. Without the numbers on those over the age of 74, many more older people will be suffering in silence without the specialist support they need.

I am immensely proud of my Party for championing the Domestic Abuse Bill, a landmark piece of legislation which will benefit so many. But I do urge Ministers to make one simple change – to start recording data of victims and survivors over the age of 74. This will give us a clearer picture of domestic abuse in England and Wales. It will mean resources and support will be properly allocated, and no victim or survivor of domestic abuse will be disadvantaged purely because they are in later life.

This small change would mean that people like Hilda are able to access specialist services to help them out of the desperate situation they find themselves in. Hilda is in her 80s and has complex care needs due to Parkinson’s and diabetes. One of her daughters has recently moved in to care for her. This is admirable and something many of us wouldn’t think twice about.

However, Hilda’s family are wary of her daughter’s history of controlling behaviour, and have become concerned about her wellbeing in recent months: they fear she is being neglected and don’t know what to do. Hilda seems upset, but is unable to communicate this, since the daughter she lives with is restricting her contact with the rest of the family and insist that they are interfering when they try to help.

Hilda’s story highlights how complex domestic abuse can be, especially when there are issues around caring in later life. Her story also shows the significant barriers in the way of older people leaving abusive situations: the years of abuse they may have suffered; the long-term health conditions or disabilities they have; or their reliance on their abuser for their care or money.

Hilda’s family were able to contact the local safeguarding adults’ team at her local council, who were able to give advice. But there will be many more people out there, many more Hildas, older victims who don’t feel protected by the law and don’t have family to help. They are unrecorded and unable to access the right care and support to help them leave abusive situations.

It is a positive step for the country to be tackling domestic abuse head-on, and right for the Government to be providing more resources for victims and survivors. As the Domestic Abuse Bill passes through Parliament, I urge Ministers to make this one simple change: record victims and survivors over the age of 74. Domestic Abuse has no age limit, and neither should our understanding of it.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 999. National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247
Age UK Advice Line: 0800 678 1602

Phillipa Stroud: Coronavirus has hit those in poverty hardest. The Government must support employment, fast.

2 Jul

Baroness Philippa Stroud, Chair of the Social Metrics Commission.

The UK is living through the most significant health, social and economic crisis of modern times. But not everybody is being impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic in the same way. A new report from the Social Metrics Commission (SMC), which I chair, shows that those who were already struggling to make ends meet are being hit hardest.

Research we conducted with YouGov reveals that almost two thirds (65 per cent) of those who were living in deep poverty – that is, more than 50 per cent below the poverty line – and were employed before the virus hit have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or seen their hours and/or wages drop. This compares to just over a third (35 per cent) of those living more than 20 per cent above the poverty line prior to the crisis.

Our analysis shows that, over the last 20 years, rising employment rates for those in poverty were helping families move out of deep poverty, so they were more likely to be able to escape poverty in the future.

Families in poverty where the adults work full-time are less than half as likely to experience deep poverty than those with part-time work or no job. A reversal of this success story could have a profound effect; increasing poverty rates and deepening poverty for those already below the poverty line. So supporting employment, especially for those on the lowest incomes, must remain a key priority for Government as the country emerges from the lockdown restrictions that have caused the economy to contract so severely.

We also need to empower those in or at risk of poverty to increase their financial resilience. The SMC’s analysis shows that, before the crisis hit, nearly three in ten people in poverty lived in families that were behind paying the bills and seven in ten were in families where no-one saves. This means they did not have a buffer available to them when the pandemic struck and are therefore more likely to have fallen further into poverty.

However, it is not all bad news. The SMC’s analysis also shows that, after rising for the last three years, the poverty rate for both children and pensioners had plateaued before the crisis, and that, since the turn of the millennium, poverty levels haves fallen for lone-parent families.

In addition, there has been a drop in the poverty rate for families that include a disabled child over the last 10 years, and across all age groups there has been a fall in the proportion of people in poverty who are also in persistent poverty.

These success stories demonstrate that poverty can be tackled and reduced. But with millions of people still in poverty, we cannot be complacent.

The first step is to ensure that poverty is properly measured. This is essential if action is going to be taken to improve the lives of those currently living in, or at risk of falling into, poverty, and to ensure that those individuals, families, communities, and areas of the UK that have historically been left behind are supported to improve their situation.

After decades of damaging debate that has distracted focus away from the vital action needed to drive better outcomes for the most disadvantaged in society, a new consensus is needed so that policymakers and politicians can track progress and can be held to account.

I am delighted that the Government has committed to creating new experimental national statistics based on the SMC’s approach, as the first step towards adopting it as an official measure.

While it is entirely appropriate that this work was paused during the pandemic so the Government could focus on providing support to those individuals and families whose health and livelihoods have been impacted by the virus, the need to return to it is clear.

The next step is for a full Poverty Commission to be established to develop solutions based on this measurement data. We already know that poverty is more likely to be experienced by some families than others, and that the nature of that experience is incredibly varied.

The causes and implications of the various types of poverty are different, which means that the approach needed to tackle them will be different. As with the SMC, it will be important that the Poverty Commission has support from individuals and organisations across the political spectrum as well as from business, the charity sector, and those who are in poverty.

However, while the Poverty Commission will need to conduct further work to assess what really creates an enabling environment for different people, the existing data clearly shows that work is one of the most effective pathways out of poverty. Therefore, as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, an employment- and skills-based recovery will be vital.

We must enable the smooth transition of those on low incomes who have been furloughed and need to increase their hours, to avoid them falling deeper into poverty. We need to re-open schools so that the education of the poorest is protected and to allow their parents to work the extra hours that could make all the difference.

And we need to ensure that schools are preparing students for the jobs that will be available in the future, equipping them with the skills they will need in a world of artificial intelligence and new digital technologies.

In addition, given half of those in poverty live in a family with a disabled person, we must increase support to help those with disabilities find full-time employment. The inescapable cost of housing, and especially private renting, is also one of the major factors contributing to poverty, so it is also vital that we make housing more affordable.

My hope is that the SMC’s poverty measurement framework can inform the creation of a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy. Where there are obstacles, we need to remove them, and where individuals can build their own pathway out of poverty, we need to ensure that they have the tools and support they need to do so.

This will require a partnership between those in poverty and policymakers, business leaders, and community builders across the UK. Together we can ensure that poverty is less prevalent in the UK after the coronavirus crisis than it was before and that as many people as possible can enjoy a life free of poverty in the future.