The new minister for disabled people has refused to explain why she apparently failed to attend or organise any events – or even post a message of support on social media – on the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD).
While disabled campaigners and organisations and even government departments were demonstrating their support for the day, which promotes the “rights and wellbeing” of disabled people and their contribution to society, Newton failed to make a public statement on Sunday (3 December).
Newton (pictured) also apparently failed to organise or attend any events on Sunday to mark the international day, which was recognised around the world.
Her opposite number in parliament, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, posted both a picture of herself and fellow MP Kate Osamor holding a banner supporting the day, and a video message on Twitter.
In the message, de Cordova said the government policies that led to the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities finding the UK guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of the UN disability convention were “a political choice”.
She said: “It’s a political choice to build a social security system that makes life impossible for people with disabilities or a transport network that’s too often inaccessible.”
She also called on the government to provide guarantees on the rights currently enforced by the European Union, and added: “We can’t allow the rights of disabled people to be sacrificed as ‘unnecessary red tape’ as we move towards Brexit.”
Newton’s Twitter profile was silent on 3 December, as was her Facebook page, and she also failed to mention IDPD on 4 December.
Her chief of staff declined to answer questions about her activities on 3 December, and referred those questions to DWP.
A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman refused to explain why Newton failed to attend any IDPD events on 3 December, or to mention the occasion on social media.
She said Newton had attended an event hosted by the BOND group of UK international development organisations three days earlier, on 30 November, which had been held to mark IDPD.
During the event, the former minister for disabled people, Penny Mordaunt, now the international development secretary, announced that the government would be hosting a global disability summit next year, although the press release issued by Mordaunt’s department on 30 November made no mention of IDPD.
When asked by Disability News Service if Newton had just forgotten about IDPD taking place on 3 December, the DWP spokeswoman declined to comment further.
In contrast, many organisations marked IDPD by joining the #PurpleLightUp campaign organised by the disabled people’s networking and professional development social business Purple Space.
Public bodies including Stockton Council, the National Assembly for Wales, the National Theatre, the University of South Wales, and the Health and Safety Executive (for which Newton is responsible) turned their buildings purple on Sunday to mark the day.
The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) also turned its sites in Cheltenham, Bude and Scarborough purple.
GCHQ’s disability champion and director general of technology said: “GCHQ is at the heart of the nation’s security and our mission is to keep the UK safe – we couldn’t do that without the fantastic contribution of our disabled colleagues.
“We are celebrating their impact but equally recognise we still have more to do.
“As the threat we face diversifies, so too must the workforce that tackles it. Very often it is our disabled community that leads the cutting-edge work we do.”
Companies including Fujitsu, Barclays, KPMG and E.ON also marked IDPD and the Purple Light Up campaign, by hosting events, encouraging staff to wear purple, or – like ITV – turning their social media logo purple for the day.
Newton took on the ministerial post last month, after Mordaunt’s promotion.
The former junior Home Office minister has already faced criticism over her voting record on disability issues from disAbility Cornwall & Isles of Scilly (DCIS), a disabled people’s organisation that provides support for disabled people in her constituency.
There has also been nothing posted about IDPD on the website of Newton’s Office for Disability Issues this week.
But when DWP sent a message via Twitter highlighting IDPD, it was met with a barrage of criticism.
One referenced the ongoing inquiry into disability benefit assessments, being carried out by the Commons work and pensions committee, pointing out that the investigation had “received about 3,000 submissions of evidence into the DWP’s poor treatment of disabled [people] whereas the normal number of submissions of evidence for a committee is around 100”.
Another said: “How dare you have the audacity to tweet this. My fight for PIP because of a chronic neurological condition has caused me nothing but huge distress.
“90 per cent of the time I can’t walk down the street let alone venture [onto] public transport but DWP can’t seem to grasp that. You’re the worst.”
A third said: “A car crash of a tweet when you have impoverished thousands of disabled ppl. Where is your basic common decency?”
Others were even more critical, accusing DWP of being responsible for the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.
One added: “How DARE you celebrate #InternationalDisabilityDay when you make disabled ppls lives an absolute misery. Hang your heads in shame!”