Smart employers know there’s a pool of talent to be tapped

Delve deeper into this week’s employment statistics showing there are more people in
work in the UK than ever – 32.6m – and an encouraging picture emerges about
our labour market.

More than half of working age disabled people are now in work. In just five years, their employment rate has risen from 44.2pc to 51.5pc. And what’s more, disabled women have seen an even faster increase, from 42.8pc to 51pc.

We have seen the employment rate gap between disabled and non-disabled people close significantly over this period, but we want to do more. As we continue to make progress, we need to shine a light on the ongoing work the Government and employers
do together to open up opportunities for disabled people.

We are ambitious for disabled people and in 2017 we set out our goal to see one million more disabled people in work over a 10-year period by 2027.

And we are committed to achieving that. Last week, we announced that we are upping the maximum grant disabled people can receive through Access to Work to pay for adjustments to help them do their job to almost £60,000 a year. This is an increase by £2,000 a year in the maximum amount of support that pays for things like workplace adaptations, assistive technology and personal assistants.

Lots of employers are doing the right thing and creating accessible workplaces. More than 10,500 businesses have signed up to the Government’s Disability Confident scheme, which provides support to employers to ensure disabled people are recruited, retained and supported in their careers. Last year we launched a voluntary framework to encourage large businesses to report how many disabled people they employ. The
voluntary framework, created in partnership with employers and disabled people, also obliges business to set out how they are currently supporting their disabled employees.

It’s clear that improving the disability employment rate isn’t just about doing the right thing for the UK’s 7.6m disabled people of working age – there will be long-lasting benefits for everyone.

Disabled people can bring a wealth of skills and talents to an organisation, and smart employers are making sure that they are not missing out on this untapped pool of talent.
Businesses, employers, government and employees must shout louder about this as it makes this journey together to ensure everyone can take up the opportunities being created.

First published in The Daily Telegraph 22/02/19

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EU Withdrawal Bill

Last night a majority of MPs, from across the Conservative, Labour, and DUP parties and two Independents voted for an amended EU Withdrawal Bill. A couple of weeks ago, a majority of MPs voted against the original version of this bill.  

Over the last two weeks a huge amount of work has been done to find the common ground in Parliament. The EU and the PM quite rightly said to Parliament, “we know what you don’t agree upon, so tell us what you do”. The amendment to the EU Withdrawal Agreement is about finding a different way of guaranteeing that we honour the Belfast and Good Friday agreements – the so called “backstop”. Those agreements are about honouring our commitments in securing peace in Ireland and Northern Ireland. 

So what happens next? The PM will spend the next two weeks negotiating with the EU with the aim of bringing back to Parliament a final version of the EU Withdrawal Agreement. 

In the meantime, much good work continues on a wide range of important policies that matter to us all. Last week I held one of my regular meetings with the NFU and local farmers. We discussed the Immigration Bill and the Agriculture Bill that are currently working their way through Parliament.  

On Friday, the government launched an ambitious new strategy to clean up our air – which includes a commitment to support farmers’ efforts to tackle air pollution. 

Agriculture is responsible for 88% of UK emissions of ammonia gas which can travel long distances, be damaging to the environment, and combine with other pollutants to form fine Particulate Matter (PM) pollution, which is harmful to human health. 

The measures set out in the Clean Air Strategy will help cut the costs of air pollution to society by £1.7 billion every year by 2020, rising to £5.3 billion every year from 2030. 

Under the new strategy the government will provide farmers with support to invest in infrastructure and equipment to reduce emissions and will work with industry to encourage low emission, holistic farming techniques. 

Funding has been available through the Countryside Productivity Scheme to help farmers purchase manure management equipment including low-emission spreaders and the scheme is due to run again in 2019.  

Funding is also available through the Countryside Stewardship Scheme for slurry tank and lagoon covers for farmers in priority water catchments. 

In September 2018 the government launched a new £3 million programme through the Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) partnership to fund a team of specialists who work with farmers and landowners in priority areas to provide training events, tailored advice, individual farm visits and support with grant applications. 

Our Agriculture Bill already sets out how future financial support for the farming sector will be focussed on delivering improvements to the environment. We propose that a future environmental land management system should fund targeted action to protect habitats impacted by ammonia. Natural England are already examining options to improve the effectiveness of schemes for mitigating ammonia emissions in protecting these habitats. 

First published in the West Briton 31/01/18

Backing the PM’s deal

The Parliament I returned to on Monday is almost as divided as it was before Christmas. It is still divided into several factions; those who support Mrs May’s EU deal and those who oppose it, those who want a general election and those who want a second referendum. No one has come up with a better deal – including “no deal” – that commands more support than that of the Prime Minister. These same divisions exist across our nation, in our communities and in our homes. 

I have received around one thousand letters and emails from constituents passionately expressing their views one way or another, with each appealing to me to do the ‘right thing’ by representing their position in Parliament. It is my job to listen to the arguments and then carefully draw my own conclusions.  

There is no doubt that the vast majority of people are very supportive of the Prime Minister, and rightly so in my view. I agree that her deal is not perfect, but it does offer a compromise which I can support and I would urge others to do so too. As I have said before, this deal will give us free, no tariff, unlimited quota trade with the EU, minimal or zero frictions at the borders, complete control over immigration and would avoid a “hard border” between North Ireland and Ireland. There will be no payments to the EU and we will be out of the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies and there will be no customs union, so we will be free to strike trade agreements with nations outside the European Union. These key objectives, which are often referred to as the Prime Minister’s ‘red lines’, actually represent the promises made to British voters in the referendum campaign and at the most recent General Election. 

The much debated “backstop” in the EU Withdrawal Agreement, if used at all, would allow us continued, contribution free access to the EU whilst having total control over migration. This is why it is designed to be, and will prove to be temporary; for the first time ever, and contrary to the EU’s oft-repeated position of not splitting the ‘four freedoms’, they have done exactly that. Any suggestion that such an arrangement would, in effect, become permanent would cause an existential crisis within the EU. Their incentive not to use it, or to leave it quickly, would be at least as great as ours. 

If we do not support this deal, then anything could happen. This would have unknown and potentially untold consequences. The vast majority of local employers who have contacted me want certainty and do not want a “no deal” Brexit. 

There might also be a vote of no confidence in the present Government, which could result in a General Election, which Mr. Corbyn might win. For most, I do not need to explain the consequences of this for our economy, on investment and on jobs. 

I think it’s time to come together and support the deal. 

 First published in the West Briton 10/01/18

Improving our local health services

Dame Sally Davis is the independent Chief Medical Officer for England, and her recently published annual report on the NHS provides invaluable insights. I agree with her analysis when she says, that while the NHS is often a source of national pride, but despite this, a narrative of health being a cost to society prevails. As the late Hans Rosling said, “When things are getting better we often don’t hear about them. This gives us a systematically too-negative impression of the world around us, which is very stressful.” 

Dame Sally says her report “offers cause for optimism and I conclude that it is realistic to aspire to better and more equitable health in the next 20 years. As the NHS has developed its long-term plan for the coming ten years, this report looks at the strategic opportunities over the coming two decades for the health of the nation more broadly.” 

Like Dame Sally, I believe we need to reposition health as one of the primary assets of our nation, contributing to both the economy and happiness. We also must measure and track progress in our development of health as a nation and our fairness as a society in delivering improving health outcomes. I support her recommendation that the Government need to develop a composite Health Index that recognises this and is tracked alongside our nation’s GDP and the Measuring National Well-being programme. 

Health is generally used to mean the ‘absence of ill-health’. We often focus on the NHS as an ‘illness service’ rather than acknowledging the complex interactions in society that influence our health as individuals. Healthcare is often spoken of as a cost to the state and society rather than an investment that generates returns for the individual, communities and the nation. The NHS and public health services are not a burden on our finances – they help to build our future. Moreover, the good health of our nation is the bedrock of our happiness and prosperity. 

Health is an asset that we must protect and promote and is affected by the conditions in which we live and work. These conditions can be health-promoting or health-harming, and often governments, industry, and societies are responsible for those conditions, not the individual. We all have some responsibility for our own health, but we are not individually responsible for the house or neighbourhood we are born into, the school we attended, nor the health environment we live in. 

The health system needs to adapt for each individual and ensure both their environment and the care that they receive is helping them achieve ‘good health’. One example is our local social prescribing, which acknowledges our expanded understanding of physical, mental and social health and is an opportunity for the traditional health service to utilise, enhance and amplify existing schemes, including employment. Our local WinterWellness programme is another. One size clearly does not fit all, and this requires different types of care accessed through different places and different ways. 

 

There are still too many areas where disabled people are regularly excluded

Imagine you went to the shops tomorrow and the shutters were down. Now imagine you tried to buy a concert ticket but the website was closed for business. Would you be happy?

Of course you wouldn’t. But for thousands of disabled people in this country getting access to services is a trial of endurance. Spending billions of pounds to boost our economy is a trial of endurance.

That’s why today, International Day for Persons with Disabilities, I’m focused on a top priority – to stop disabled people from being excluded from the everyday activities that many people take for granted, while also helping businesses realise that it’s in their interest to include their disabled customers.

With the spending power of disabled people and their households – the Purple Pound – estimated at almost £250 billion each year, it’s a no brainer.

Our sector champions are tackling the issues facing disabled consumers across every area of their lives, from seeing themselves represented in TV adverts to ensuring stress-free train travel.

Our music champion, Suzanne Bull, has launched a new industry taskforce aimed at improving the experience for deaf and disabled customers when booking tickets for live music events.

Meanwhile, our insurance champion Johnny Timpson is bringing together representatives from the insurance industry, regulatory bodies and charities for the first time to look at how to make the sector more accessible to disabled people. This is a great step forward, and begins to tackle an issue disabled people and my constituents often raise with me, that they are denied insurance or charged a premium that they believe does not reflect the true impact of their condition.

And last month I worked with Mike Adams, CEO of Purple, and our retail champion Samantha Sen to launch Purple Tuesday, the UK’s first ever accessible shopping day. It was a huge success, with hundreds of thousands of retail staff, up and down the country, taking action to demonstrate their commitment to including all of their customers.

But there are still too many areas where disabled people are regularly excluded.

Just last week a Citizens Advice survey found that almost one in three disabled people have missed a home delivery because they were not given enough time to get to the door.

And we know that disabled people are almost ten times as likely to report being limited in taking part in leisure activities compared to non-disabled people.

So today, I have announced that I want to appoint six new champions to build on the successes we’ve seen so far.

The new champions will cover the technology, food and drink, website accessibility, fashion, countryside and heritage and product design sectors.

By showing other businesses the importance of making disabled customers a priority, our new champions will ensure disabled people aren’t missing out on the experiences and services that form an integral part of our everyday lives, whether that’s socialising with friends or keeping up with the latest trends.

Access is inextricably linked to opportunity, and it’s important that everyone plays their part in ensuring disabled consumers can spend their money wherever and whenever they want to – just like everyone else.

First published in Politics Home 03/12/18

Supporting Music in Local Schools

When Parliament is sitting it does so Monday to Thursday and some Fridays. As a result, my time at home is usually restricted to Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Consequently, I inevitably prioritise urgent issues that need my immediate attention.  

When Parliament is not sitting and is in Recess, I have much more time to meet with local people, listening to what they want to tell me and working together to improve the quality of our lives here. 

I also have the opportunity to join a wide range of community events.  

I love music so very much enjoyed the 30th Anniversary concert of the Nankersey Choir at the Methodist Church in Falmouth. Joined by the Mousehouse Choir we raised the roof with the combined voices singing Trelawney. The choir gives its talent and time freely and raises significant sums for local good causes. 

On Saturday evening I joined a service at Truro cathedral, commemorating the life of David Frost, composer, conductor of the Cornwall Youth orchestra, music teacher and much more. He touched the lives of many local musicians of all ages and made a terrific contribution to the musical life of our community, including working with the Duchy Ballet and Duchy Opera. The event was both a great tribute to this special person and highlighted the amazing talent and rich musical culture and heritage we enjoy here. I certainly will never forget the Bolster procession! 

I want to do everything that I can to enable children to have the opportunity of music making at school, so I was pleased to meet with the leaders of the Cornwall Music Service Trust recently. The Trust employs more than 1000 music teachers and enables many local children to learn a musical instrument, sing and participate in all sorts of ensembles, groups and bands. I thoroughly enjoyed their annual concert last year. While they receive a significant sum from the £800,000 public funds that Cornwall Council receive for music education, they also fundraise to enable more young people to enjoy the benefits of music making. As our economy grows, I want to ensure that we invest more funding into music making in schools. I will be raising this with the relevant Minister next week. 

As regular readers will know, since being elected in 2010 I have campaigned for more funding for our local schools. While funding is increasing, I know there is more to do to ensure that our children, young people and teachers have the resources needed for a balanced and well-rounded curriculum. Thanks to the hard work of our local teachers and young people, supported by parents, standards are rising in our schools and the recent good exam results show this.  

Last week I was pleased that the Schools Minister responded to my request to visit Cornwall to meet with school and college leaders to listen to their concerns and good ideas. He has visited several times and we had a constructive, robust discussion on a wide range of issues. 

 First published in the West Briton 04/10/18

Keeping our homes warm over the winter

It’s that time of the year when our thoughts turn to keeping our homes warm over the winter. Especially with forecasts of a four month return of “the Beast from the East”. I’ve just switched energy suppliers to a 100% carbon free tariff and saved money. While I found it a straight forward process I very much appreciate that not everyone feels able to access the savings and help available to keep themselves warm this winter.
Truro based Community Energy Plus has been awarded £318,000 by the Big Lottery Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. The money has enabled Community Energy Plus to recruit three case workers to provide in-depth advice and support to help vulnerable households escape from the misery, anxiety and ill-health caused by fuel poverty.
The three year project, which is called Energy Wise, provides advice in the home as well as over the phone, aiming to reach 4,000 vulnerable householders who need face-to-face advice, advocacy support and access to grants for energy related issues.
It is expected that more than 800 clients supported by the project will receive in-depth support, which can extend across several months, to improve their situations.
The Energy Wise project got underway in January and has already provided home visits and telephone energy advice to over 700 Cornish householders.  Much of the early support provided by the team has involved helping householders’ access grants for heating systems and insulation, assisting with switching tariffs, resolving billing issues with energy suppliers and dealing with energy debt.  The project also strives to improve access to local services and support and is providing referrals and signposting to multiple organisations to improve the health, wellbeing and finances of clients.
To deliver long-lasting outcomes beyond the three year project, home visits are focused on helping vulnerable people gain improved life skills on how to manage their energy use and bills while maintaining healthy heating levels. Condensation and mould are common in cold homes. Advice on simple behaviour changes to reduce damp, save energy and money are core elements of the coaching provided by the Energy Wise case workers.
Mrs D, a retired social housing tenant from Bodmin, has already benefited from the help from the Energy Wise team. Her granddaughter called Community Energy Plus because the pensioner had multiple heath conditions and was struggling to pay £70 a week during the winter to keep warm. During the home visit the caseworker noticed that the Economy 7 electric meter was incorrectly programmed and her night rate was being billed at the same price as her more expensive day rate. After speaking to the client’s energy supplier, Mrs D was given a refund of £750 and going forward will be able to use her heating with less worry about the cost.
Please don’t suffer in silence. For help from the Energy Wise team call Freephone 0800 954 1956, email advice@cep.org.uk or direct message through Facebook.com/CommunityEnergyPlus