International Day for Persons with Disabilities

Monday was the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. It is a United Nations-led day, and the theme this year is “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”. 

To mark this occasion, I launched a new stakeholder engagement forum to bring the voices of disabled people closer to Government, especially those living outside London. I also launched a call for new Sector Champions to improve accessibility of services for disabled people. 

I often meet disabled people who tell me about the challenges they face in work, using services, or simply trying to buy goods in a store or online. For retailers, this is a lost opportunity as they are missing out on £249 billion annual spend of disabled people and their families. 

I believe these initiatives will contribute to delivering our vision to create a society that works for everyone, where all can participate fully and be included, and to our progress on implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

The Network will create face to face and online forums for disabled people to share their views and experiences about policies and services that affect disabled people and will complement existing stakeholder relationships across Government. I hope local people will join our regional network. 

To bring about change, my Ministerial Retail Forum was instrumental in supporting the UK’s first ‘Purple Tuesday’ on 13 November 2018. It was funded and organised by the disability organisation Purple. Over 500 organisations signed up to take part, of which 50 were disability organisations. Hundreds of thousands of retail staff engaged in accessibility and inclusivity initiatives, supported by a range of campaign resources to help improve retail awareness of what good customer service means for disabled people. The venture was popular with the public too: it trended on Twitter and was reported by many major news and broadcast networks. 

The new Sector Champions for the countryside and heritage, product design, website accessibility, fashion, technology, food and drink will build on the work of my current 14 Sector Champions who work across diverse sectors – from music to insurance, and from arts and culture to transport.  They use their influential status as leaders to drive improvements to the accessibility and quality of services and facilities in their sector. 

Finally, I was pleased to work with Channel 4 and Purple Space, who have, together with a range of Disability Confident employers, produced a short film entitled “I don’t work properly”.  The film features disabled colleagues from a range of Disability Confident organisations talking about disability employment, along with Last Leg presenter and comedian Adam Hills. Channel 4 has created a destination to accompany the film and act as an information hub for those interested in disability employment challenges. You can also view the film at: 


Delivering improvements to our NHS

Last week I met with local people and representatives of Unison to discuss our local NHS. We all want to see improvements in our local NHS and care services.  

While investing more money into the NHS, and securing Cornwall’s fair share, is essential so is ensuring it is spent wisely. So I was pleased that last week the Government set out plans to enable the NHS to make significant improvements in technology and purchasing.  

These will build on the £20 billion long-term plan to transform health and social care so it can improve treatment and deliver better care for patients. 

A new NHS app will be piloted in 5 areas in England from next month, ahead of a planned national roll-out in December. Patients will be able to download a test version of the app, allowing access to booking GP appointments, ordering repeat prescriptions, access to their medical record, 111 online access for urgent medical queries, data sharing preferences, organ donation preferences and end of life care preferences. 

More than £200 million will also be invested to make a group of NHS trusts into internationally recognised centres for technological and digital innovation. The funding will support new Global Digital Exemplars in acute, mental health, community and ambulance trusts in England to set a gold standard of innovation for other services to follow. 

A new HealthTech Advisory Board, chaired by Dr Ben Goldacre, will highlight where change needs to happen, where best practice isn’t being followed, and be an ideas hub for how to improve patient outcomes and experience and make the lives of NHS staff easier. 

Our hospitals operate dozens of systems each that don’t talk to each other. GPs, social care, pharmacies and community care are on different systems. Systems crashing is a regular occurrence. The social care system is not at all integrated, when its integration is vital. 

The generic technology available outside the NHS is a million times better. Now is the moment to put the failures of the past behind us, and set our sights on the NHS being the most cutting-edge system in the world for the use of technology to improve our health, make our lives easier, and make money go further. 

A modern health service shouldn’t involve 234 separate trusts spending time and money negotiating different contracts and prices for the same thing. An example of this price variation includes the lowest priced 12-pack of rubber gloves costing 35p, while the highest priced cost £16.47. That’s why the Government’s work to centralise how the NHS buys goods and services is crucial. 

By streamlining the process and freeing trusts up from having to do this, we will save staff valuable time, save huge amounts of money and be able to reinvest the savings into patient care and frontline services 

The Department of Health and Social Care anticipates the new supply chain will generate savings of £2.4 billion over a 5-year period, all to be ploughed back into frontline services. 

First published in the West Briton 13/09/18

Making mental health a priority makes good business sense

An estimated 300,000 people lose their job every year because of a mental health problem. Many might have remained in employment had they been given the right support.

Earlier this week I spoke at a CBI event to welcome the launch of Front of Mind, their new good practice guidance which helps employers improve health and wellbeing in the workplace.

People with mental health conditions can make a valuable contribution in the workplace. We need real cultural change in every workplace across the country to prevent valued colleagues leaving a job they love because of mental health problems.

For employers this can feel daunting. Mental health charity Mind found that while employers want to make mental health a priority, a third don’t know where to go for information or guidance.

That’s exactly why practical resources like Front of Mind are so important. Highlighting examples from UK employers that are already leading the way, the guidance shows that successful businesses are taking key three steps: prioritising health and wellbeing from the top, targeting action towards early interventions and embedding good health and wellbeing in workplace culture.

Not only does Front of Mind offer practical tips for employers, it also demonstrates the business case for making progress on workplace mental health.

The impact of mental health issues costs UK employers between £33 billion and £42 billion every year. Clearly, making mental health a priority in your workplace is not just the right thing to do – it also makes good business sense.

We don’t expect employers to do this on their own. Government has an important role to play in supporting people with a mental health condition. We’ve made good progress, with a range of support on offer. Spending on mental health increased to a record £11.86 billion last year, with a further investment of £1 billion by 2020/21.

On employment support, we’re investing £115 million in partnership with the NHS, more than doubling the number of Employment Advisers in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Services. Our new Work and Health Programme is investing £500 million in tailored employment support, helping disabled people and those with health conditions into a job. And our Access to Work scheme has a specialised mental health support service, which has supported over 12,000 people. More than 90% of people who have used the service were still in their job after six months.

I want to encourage senior managers and business leaders to make a real, tangible commitment to improving workplace culture around mental health. This isn’t an issue for other businesses to deal with, or something we can leave HR to worry about. The leaders of any organisation are pivotal in shaping its culture, and exemplary behaviour has to start at the top.

My vision is of a society where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential and no one loses their job because of poor mental health. It’s now time for every leader in every sector to take responsibility for creating an environment in which people feel able to talk about their mental health condition and get the help they need to thrive at work.

First published in Business Voice

Improving Local Mental Health Services

Last October, in this column, I asked local organisations to work together and consider applying to the new Beyond Places of Safety Fund.

Applications had just been opened for a new £15 million fund to improve support for people who experience a range of mental health conditions that put them at risk of an acute mental health crisis.

The Beyond Places of Safety fund is the successor to the original Places of Safety programme which was established, alongside the Crisis Care Concordat, to confront one of the quiet scandals within mental health system – namely the thousands of people left in a police cell following a detention under the Mental Health Act.

The new funding for the Places of Safety Programme, coupled with the ingenuity and partnerships forged between statutory and voluntary organisations under local Crisis Care agreements, has seen the number detained in police custody following a mental health crisis drop by over 80% over the last five years. New regulations have also come into effect to ensure that police custody is only used in exceptional circumstances under careful medical and police supervision. No young person can be held in custody.

Having spent time with Cornwall Resus and Street Pastors in our local towns on a Saturday night, as well as shadowing staff at A&E at Treliske, I am aware of the challenges that our front line public service professionals are facing with people in crisis.

I listened carefully to their opinions which informed my actions when I was Chair of the National Crisis Concordat, a role I held when I was the Home Office Minister responsible for vulnerable people, domestic violence, drug and alcohol strategy, amongst other matters. I have seen at first hand the difference that funding common sense innovations – driven by passionate third sector organisations, working in partnership with the NHS – are making to how people are treated when they become acutely unwell.

I am delighted that Cornwall is benefitting from the new Beyond Places of Safety Fund.  £1.5 million will be invested in the new hub at Treliske which will enable partners, including Addaction, to ensure that local people have the wrapped around care they need.  Support that not only treats the symptoms but also tackles the root cause of their crisis which can include a wide range of issues from sexual abuse, domestic abuse, and substance misuse to homelessness. Treating the whole person rather than just their mental health crisis should lead to better outcomes for the people concerned as well as reducing demand for emergency care at Treliske.

There may be no magic bullet to stem the rising tide of mental ill health – but innovative community initiatives can make a make a real difference to keeping people safe.

Along with plans to train a million people in basic mental health first aid skills – the first country in the world to have this scale of ambition – we will continue to invest in NHS mental health services, training more professionals, and aiming to treat more people than ever before.

First published in the West Briton 31/05/18

In too many workplaces, mental health remains the last taboo – and this needs to change

Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, Virginia Woolf. These are some of history’s greatest names, best-known for their genius and creativity. And rightfully so.

What many people might not know is that they battled with poor mental health at various points in their lives. The taboo of mental ill health kept these struggles from the history books.

I’m heartened to see that in my lifetime we are much more open and willing to talk about mental ill health, with Mental Health Awareness week an opportunity to turn up the volume on these conversations.

But in too many workplaces it remains the last taboo – and this needs to change.

There is a growing body of evidence that good work is good for our health and that being out of work can have a detrimental effect on our health and wellbeing.

The latest employment figures show that there are now 32.3 million people in work – including more than 3.5 million disabled people. There are opportunities for everyone to enjoy the benefits of employment if they are well enough to do so, including those with mental health conditions.

But if we are to feel those benefits, what is equally important is that our workplace provides an environment that supports good mental health.

The theme of this week’s Mental Health Awareness Week is stress. The latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive show that 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety, affecting 526,000 workers.

Failure to address poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year – that’s a cost of between £1,205 and £1,560 per employee. This is something which cannot be ignored, and it’s essential that Government and businesses join forces to tackle this taboo.

Already, we’re taking innovative action across employment and health services to ensure support is joined up around people so they get the best possible chance to succeed in work.

We’re more than doubling the number of employment advisers working in the NHS 2019, enabling greater provision of integrated psychological treatment and employment support. And we’re at the forefront in testing different models to join up health and employment support in a range of healthcare settings, for example in GP surgeries and Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services.

On top of this, our Access to Work scheme provides personalised support for people whose disability or health condition affects them in the workplace and can include assistive technology, interpreters and our Mental Health Support Service. This week we reached a milestone of helping 11,000 people. The support helps provide people with tailored employment support and has an extraordinary success rate with 93% of people who have used the service still in their jobs after six months. We’ve developed an enhanced mental health training programme for Jobcentre Plus work coaches too.

But there is more to do. We know that poor mental health affects people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. It doesn’t discriminate, and affects around one in four across their lifetime. That’s why this Government has put improving mental health at the heart of our plans to improve wellbeing, and that’s why we are working with employers to get the support right.

First published on Politics Home 17/05/18

Integration of Health and Social Care

Thank you to everyone who played their part in helping keep Cornwall warm, well and on the move during the recent very cold weather and storms.

Less noticeable but just as chilling as the recent weather is the further take over of our local Labour Party by the hard left. The resignation of the group leader on Cornwall Council follows others from across the country who describe bullying, intimidation, threats and anti-Semitism against themselves and colleagues who do not agree with the hard left Momentum, Corbyn’s support group within the Labour Party.

As Cornwall Council is led by Liberal Democrats, you may not think this matters too much to us locally. But it does. It is having a chilling effect on the decisions that the leadership of Cornwall Council need to take to improve our vitally important local public services.

Clear evidence of this is the press release snuck out by Cornwall Council last week while the Duchy was dealing with the impact of the severe weather.

The press release announced the decision of the Cabinet not to take significant action to improve our health and care system in Cornwall. They have chosen not to take the common sense step of joining up and integrating our health and care services. They will not support the development of a local Accountable Care System, despite the support of the leaders of our local NHS and care services and despite the success of this type of approach in other parts of the country such as Manchester.

Our whole health and care system in Cornwall is currently in “special measures” receiving additional help from NHS England to make the vital improvements we need to see. The past mistakes of Cornwall Council are well documented, poor social care commissioning, poor relationships with our local NHS and lack of integration of health and care services – all contributing to the current problems.

The Cabinet made one of the most important decisions that will effect every one of us – alone. Why did they not allow all our Councillors a say? Why no debate in public for us all to see? The Scrutiny Panel of the Council has been leading an Inquiry into a proposed Accountable Care System. The Councillors worked really hard with a wide range of health care professionals to inform their recommendations. Why is there work being ignored?

Why? Because the Corbyn led, Momentum controlled Labour Party is running a nation wide scare campaign against the creation of local Accountable Care Systems. They falsely claim this will lead to the privatisation and Americanisation of our NHS. The Inquiry into the Cornwall ACS investigated these claims and found that they were not true. However, our Lib Dem Council is running scared of making the changes that will improve services for local people because they are bowing to this pressure.

The leaders of Cornwall Council have put politics before people. Along with my Conservative Cornwall Councillors I urge them to rethink and enable the whole Council a say.

First published in the West Briton 08/03/18

Supporting disabled people into work

As the trend towards the highest levels of employment in over 40 years continues, it’s important that employers in every sector benefit from recruiting from a wide talent pool.

We know that the retail sector employs over 5 million people in the UK, and this represents a significant opportunity for a range of retail businesses to take meaningful action to increase disability employment, while making the most of the skills and talents disabled people can bring to the workplace.

Disability Confident is about getting employers of all sizes to think differently about disability and to take action to attract, recruit and retain disabled workers, giving businesses the confidence to ensure disabled people will have the support they need to thrive in the workplace.

Of course, each sector faces different challenges and has different needs, and that’s why I recently launched a retail specific campaign to encourage employers in this sector to join more than 5,500 other employers nationwide in sending a powerful message to potential employees.

Retailers of all sizes can gain valuable insight from their disabled employees to improve the customer experience. Employing more disabled people isn’t just the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense. There are an estimated 13 million disabled people in our country that spend an estimated £250 billion each year, the so called ‘purple pound’.

Retailers by nature serve a diverse customer base, so it’s important that customers see this diversity reflected to them in the staff who serve them.

Top supermarket Sainsbury’s is one of our Disability Confident Leaders, and they are encouraging others to sign up to the scheme to promote an inclusive culture.

Andrew works for Sainsbury’s in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire and has a mental health condition. He appreciates working in an environment where disclosing his disability has been welcomed.

What worked for Andrew was the culture of openness that the chain encourages, where at previous workplaces stress was an accepted part of the job.

As an employer, make sure you have a clear signposting process to make it easy for people like Andrew to reach out, or simply start a conversation.

Our retail Sector Champion, Helen Drury, was appointed alongside champions across a range of industries to support the rights of disabled consumers. She has been working with us over the past year to show other businesses the merit of making disabled customers a priority.

I want this retail campaign to build on this great work and mark a turning point in how the sector caters for disabled employees and those with mental health conditions, so that retailers can benefit from this huge untapped pool of talent.

Find out how your business can sign up to the scheme and join the campaign, or share your experiences of disability confidence below. I’d love to hear your stories.

For more information on Disability Confident, visit:

Cornwall is the disability beacon area, led by our LEP and working in partnership to promote inclusive growth here.

First published in the West Briton 29/02/18