Signs of hope for job-sharing MPs campaign

Activists who want disabled people to be able to become job-sharing MPs are pushing the deputy prime minister to reopen a parliamentary inquiry, so that it can discuss the idea again.

Campaigners want parliament to introduce new laws that would allow two people from the same political party to stand together for election to represent a parliamentary constituency.

They believe such laws would open parliament up to disabled people who might not be able to work full-time for impairment-related reasons.

The historic Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation reported three years ago on how to increase the number of disabled, female and minority ethnic MPs.

Many of its recommendations have since been introduced, but the committee steered clear of recommending job-sharing.

Now Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, a group of disabled activists campaigning to change the law to allow job-sharing MPs, is pushing the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, to reopen the Speaker’s Conference.

She has already raised the issue with him on his weekly call-in show on London’s LBC radio station.

He told her then that “any creative ideas about getting more people with disabilities into politics has got to be a good thing”, although he warned that it would be “tricky” to “work out exactly how it would work”.

Clegg promised to examine legal advice from a leading human rights barrister, commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which suggested that the Electoral Commission could be breaching both the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act by refusing to provide guidance permitting job-share MPs.

The Liberal Democrats are set to discuss the idea of job-sharing MPs at their spring conference in Brighton next month, with a vote on it becoming official party policy likely to take place at the party’s annual conference in September.

The Liberal Democrat MP Tessa Munt, who job-shared when she was working in social services, before she became an MP, said: “My view is why on earth not! You get the value of two heads instead of one. You would have different sets of skills.

“It would be a great opportunity to reflect a wider section of the population.”

King, who has set up a petition to call for a change in the law, helped shape a job-sharing bill introduced by the Labour MP John McDonnell, which should receive its second reading in the Commons on 1 March.

She has also raised the issue on Labour’s Your Britain website, which calls on the public to provide suggestions for new party policies.

King said she believed the Electoral Commission had been in breach of the law. And she said that introducing job-sharing for MPs in the UK could lead to other countries such as the US, Canada and Australia following its lead.

Among those MPs backing McDonnell’s representation of the people (members’ job share) bill are the disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, who was vice-chair of the speaker’s conference; the Green MP Caroline Lucas; Tim Farron, president of the Liberal Democrats; Conservative MPs Robert Halfon, who is himself disabled, and Dr Sarah Wollaston, who job-shared as a GP; and Jon Cruddas, the influential MP who is heading Labour’s policy review.

A spokeswoman for the Electoral Commission said it had considered the legal advice commissioned by the EHRC and had “concluded that the Cabinet Office should be the body considering the matter in the first instance”.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said Clegg had made it clear that changes to the law were “off the table during this parliament, but in the future anything that would help disabled people get into politics should be approached with an open mind”.

When asked if Clegg would ask for the Speaker’s Conference to be reopened, he said: “The government is committed to widening the base of who can be elected to parliament.

“The Cabinet Office is aware of the views provided to the EHRC on job-sharing. The government receives legal opinions regularly on a wide range of issues, all of which are carefully considered in the normal process of formulating policy and legislation.”

He said the EHRC’s legal advice was still being considered.

21 February 2013

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Liberal Democrat conference: New scheme should see more disabled MPs

A new programme aims to help the Liberal Democrats increase the number of disabled people – and other under-represented groups – elected to represent their party as MPs.

The Liberal Democrat leadership programme was launched by the party’s leader, Nick Clegg. The first eight candidates have already been selected.

The programme is designed to support about 50 future parliamentary candidates through training, mentoring, and shadowing existing elected officials.

At least two candidates from the programme will be shortlisted to fight each priority seat, if enough of them apply. Ten per cent of the places on the scheme will be reserved for disabled people.

Greg Judge, a disabled activist from Coventry, was among the first eight party members selected for the leadership programme.

Judge, an executive member of the Liberal Democrat Disability Association, said he believed the programme would lead eventually to more disabled Liberal Democrat MPs.

And he said that other parties could be watching the success of the new programme closely.

He said: “It gives us the assured knowledge that we will at least be put in front of a panel and have a consideration of what we have to offer local parties.

“It gives us the leg-up we need in order to overcome the limited representation that diverse demographics currently have in the UK.”

Last week, the government announced that – following a consultation – it had decided to go ahead with five of six proposals aimed at supporting more disabled people to become local councillors and MPs.

Most of the £1 million-a-year package will go towards setting up a fund to help disabled people with the impairment-related costs of running for office, and providing them with training and development opportunities.

But the government will also work with political parties, the Local Government Association and disability organisations to raise awareness, and work with parties to promote their legal obligations under the Equality Act and analyse their existing access policies.

The government said that the sixth proposal – to set up a network of disabled MPs and councillors to act as role models –would not go ahead, because of the comparative lack of support for it during the consultation and the level of funding required.

The Government Equalities Office is to work with other organisations to develop the five proposals.

The announcement came more than 18 months after the cross-party speaker’s conference on parliamentary representation reported on ways to increase the number of disabled, female and minority ethnic MPs.

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Outdated system and underfunding are key barriers to personalisation

Disabled people are routinely having their human and civil rights undermined because of years of underfunding and an outdated care system, according to one of the authors of a groundbreaking new book on personalised support.

Supporting People: Towards A Person-Centred Approach has been written by service-users and those who work closely with them.

The book builds on evidence from the Standards We Expect project, the largest independent study so far of person-centred support, which was also published this week.

Professor Peter Beresford, one of the authors of the book, said that more and more people who needed social care support were not having their needs met or their rights respected.

He told an event held to launch the book and the study that service-users and others on the frontline of social care had told researchers that person-centred care should ensure the “power is with the person, not the organisation”, but the experiences of many of them had been “very different”.

Beresford, who chairs Shaping Our Lives, the national service-user and disabled people’s network, said the barriers in the way of proper person-centred support included the institutionalisation of long-term service-users, “tokenistic” and “ineffective” service-user involvement, the poor wages and other terms and conditions of care workers, and an over-reliance on unpaid carers.

Although there were “many examples of good practice” at local level, he said, the fundamental barriers preventing real personalisation were “many years of underfunding” and an “outdated” culture of means- and needs-testing of service-users.

He also warned that social care-users were increasingly being stigmatised as “dependant and scrounging”.

The Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, the chief parliamentary and political adviser to Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, welcomed the report.

He said there was a need to “radically move away” from social care’s traditional “paternalistic approach”.

But he warned that the move towards personalisation was “being undermined by a shortage of funds”, while he was “very concerned” about the way that some local authorities had responded to public sector funding cuts.

He said that some disabled people in his home county of Norfolk had been transferred onto personal budgets while at the same time having their funding cut.

Among its findings, the study – which was led by service-users and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – found there had been too much discussion of the methods and techniques of personalisation, and not enough on how to achieve person-centred outcomes.

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Government to scale back vetting and barring scheme

Millions of people working or volunteering with “vulnerable adults” and children will no longer need to have their criminal records checked, under new government proposals.

The government said it wanted to “scale back” the Labour government’s plans for the vetting and barring scheme (VBS) – which was to cover England, Wales and Northern Ireland – to “common sense levels”.

Last June, the government announced that the planned implementation of the VBS was to be halted, pending a “thorough review”.

Now the government has published its review and has concluded that more of the responsibility for “safeguarding” should be placed on individuals and employers, rather than the state.

Changes to the VBS will be introduced as part of the government’s protection of freedoms bill, which had its first reading on 11 February.

As part of the changes, there will be a merger between the Criminal Records Bureau – the public body that checks people’s criminal records – and the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), which decides whether someone is a risk to “vulnerable groups” and should be barred from working or volunteering with them.

Checks will in future be restricted to those working “most closely and regularly” with “vulnerable adults” – defined as those who need support or healthcare services – and children.

Those working or volunteering with “vulnerable groups” will also no longer have to register with the VBS and be continuously monitored by the ISA.

People will also be able to take their checks with them between jobs, through a system allowing for continuous updating of criminal records disclosures that will “cut down on needless bureaucracy”.

Deborah Kitson, director of the Ann Craft Trust, which works to protect people with learning difficulties at risk of abuse, said it “made sense” to reduce the numbers needing checks but that she had concerns about “how far this may be taken”.

She raised concerns about the “portable” CRB checks, and said she would “need to be convinced that the CRB updates referred to are efficient and prompt and so do not leave people at risk”.

Kitson said she welcomed “a balance of responsibility for safeguarding to be shared by the state and the employer” so employers also have to be “diligent in their recruitment and safeguarding strategies”.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said: “We inherited a messy criminal records regime that developed piecemeal and defied common sense.

“Our reviews concluded that the systems were not proportionate and needed to be less bureaucratic.

“They will now be scaled back to sensible levels whilst at the same time protecting vulnerable people.”

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Liberal Democrat conference: Disabled members could quit party over DLA

Disabled Liberal Democrats are threatening to quit the party over the huge cuts to spending on disability living allowance (DLA) announced by the coalition government.

The chancellor announced in his emergency budget in June that he would cut spending on DLA by 20 per cent by 2016.

Party member Shana Witcomb said she was “really worried” about the announcement, and the government’s plans for a new DLA assessment.

Although she said she was not worried that she would lose her own DLA entitlement, she said: “I am reserving judgement. I will be very, very angry if I see the people I care about get iller and iller as a direct result of any cuts that are made.”

Asked whether she would leave the party if that happened, she said: “Absolutely.”

Witcomb, who has ms, said: “I am very, very concerned that the criteria is going to favour physical disability and physical impairment and that they are not going to take on board all of those things like fatigue, fluctuating visual problems and use of your hands.”

She added: “I haven’t heard enough this conference about what they are doing to support those most in need.”

Gemma Roulston, membership secretary of the Liberal Democrat Disability Association, but speaking as an individual party member, said she did not believe that Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg or chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander understood DLA.

She added: “Nick doesn’t know what he is talking about.”

She said there was a “very great concern” from fellow disabled members about the planned cuts to DLA.

She would lose £1,000 a month if she lost DLA for herself and her two disabled children and her carer’s allowance. She added: “That money helps people live but it also means they have got some independence.”

Roulston said that cutting DLA would simply increase the pressure on family carers and local authorities.

She said: “If this goes through [if she lost her DLA] I cannot be a member of a party that is going to affect me in such a massive way. I don’t know how I could be a member of a party that doesn’t really care for disabled people.”

Another disabled delegate, Fred Dunford, said he was not on the breadline himself, but was concerned that the DLA cuts “would cause severe problems for a lot of people” and could end up costing the government more money.

He added: “I am angry on other people’s behalf.”

But Richard Whelan, a fellow disabled party member, said: “I think people who need DLA will still get DLA.”

He said he would reserve judgement until he saw how the government was planning to cut DLA spending.

He added: “Let’s just see in the spending review. It’s better to wait.”

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Clegg says disabled children will be task force priority

The deputy prime minister has promised that supporting disabled children and their families will be one of the priorities of a new cross-government task force on childhood and families.

In a speech at an event organised by the charity Barnardo’s in London, Nick Clegg said the task force would be led by the prime minister, David Cameron, and would include senior ministers from across the government.

The group will aim to “identify and prioritise” a small number of policies that would make “the biggest difference to children and families”.

Clegg said the task force would “look at how we can provide greater support to disabled children”, although the policies he mentioned focused on services for parents of disabled children.

He said the government had already announced it would use direct payments for carers and “better community-based care” to give families “more support”, and invest an extra £20 million a year in respite care with money saved by ending the government’s contribution to child trust funds.

Clegg said: “While our towering deficit means we can no longer afford these payments across the board…it is right that we make special provision for children with disabilities. For them and their families, respite care can be a lifeline.”

But he failed to mention issues such as inclusion for disabled children in mainstream services, discrimination, bullying and the need for accessible leisure activities.

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