Major bills on welfare reform and training – both of which will have a substantial impact on the lives of disabled people – have cleared their final parliamentary hurdles.
The Welfare Reform Act and the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act were among 13 bills receiving royal assent in the final week of the parliamentary session.
The disability charity RADAR said it had major concerns about the Welfare Reform Act, which will introduce benefits sanctions for many claimants who do not try to find work.
Caroline Ellis, RADAR’s joint deputy chief executive, said much of the bill was “very worrying” and would see a benefits regime that was “draconian, disabling, disempowering and inappropriate”, although the government had provided concessions to some lone parents with disabled children.
She said the “new deal” the government had previously offered disabled people had “turned sour”.
Ellis said the new act was “all responsibilities and no rights”, while thousands of disabled people are being “utterly inappropriately” denied the new employment and support allowance and shifted instead onto jobseeker’s allowance “where they risk being pushed into poverty and left without effective support”.
She added: “There is nothing in the bill to break down the barriers to work, nothing to create new jobs.”
But she said RADAR “strongly” supported parts of the act which will test out a new “right to control” for disabled adults.
This will put state funds from programmes such as access to work, the independent living funds and council care services into personal budgets – single pots of money – for disabled people to use as they wish.
Meanwhile, campaigners say the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act should make it easier for disabled young people to undergo apprenticeships.
Simone Aspis, campaigns and policy coordinator for The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), said: “We are absolutely delighted that disabled young people will have a much stronger entitlement to participate in apprenticeships.”
But she warned that “the hard work begins now”, because the regulations that will flesh out the new act – and describe exactly what rights disabled young people will have in practice – have yet to be written.
The government has also pledged to look at funding issues around disabled young people’s access to mainstream education courses.
Skill, the disabled students’ charity, also welcomed the new act and the government’s commitment that disabled learners will receive the support they need, whether on an apprenticeship or in further education, and however it is funded.
ALLFIE, Skill and other disability organisations will now embark on several months of intense lobbying in a bid to shape the regulations and commissioning framework for local authorities, and secure the strongest possible opportunities and support for disabled students.
18 November 2009