The new Conservative government has described how it plans to fulfil the five major disability policy pledges it included in its general election manifesto.
The details were included in a briefing document published alongside last month’s Queen’s speech by prime minister Boris Johnson (pictured).
They cover social care, a new national disability strategy, hospital parking charges, funding to move disabled people out of long-term hospital settings, and disability benefits.
There are also brief details on the government’s plans for reforming the Mental Health Act.
The new national disability strategy will be published later this year, and the government said it would be “ambitious” and would support disabled people “in all aspects and phases of their life” including housing, transport and education.
There will also be a green paper looking at how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its benefits system “can best help disabled people”.
The briefing document commits the government to a further reduction in the disability employment gap, following the reduction of 5.6 percentage points over the last six years, although it makes no mention of any target.
But it repeats the last Conservative-led government’s pledge to increase the number of disabled people in work by one million between 2017 and 2027.
The briefing document also confirms the manifesto pledge to double the minimum length of a personal independence payment (PIP) award from nine to 18 months – which will cost about £310 million over four years – unless the claimant tells DWP their needs have changed.
This measure should reduce the number of repeat assessments claimants are forced to undergo.
On social care, the government repeats its pledge to provide an extra £1 billion funding in every year of this parliament, and to consult on a two per cent precept that will allow councils to raise another £500 million for adult social care in 2020-21.
It also confirms that it has no plans for long-term reform of the social care system in England other than to “urgently seek a cross-party consensus”.
Although the briefing notes focus on the costs of social care for older people, they also point out that more than half of public spending on adult social care is on service-users under 65.
They also confirm that the government will spend £74 million over three years to provide further capacity in community settings for autistic people and people with learning difficulties who are currently in long-term hospital settings.
Meanwhile, the housing, communities and local government secretary, Robert Jenrick, has announced that the government will continue to pay local authorities the Former ILF Recipient Grant, which was due to end in March.
It will be paid at £160.6 million for 2020-21, the same level as 2019-20.
The four-year grant was agreed in February 2016, with the government agreeing to provide £675 million over four years to local authorities in England.
The announcement of the grant was a significant victory for disabled activists, whose direct action protests had ensured that the plight of former Independent Living Fund (ILF) recipients remained a high-profile issue after the fund’s closure on 30 June 2015.
The recipient grant was not ring-fenced, so councils were not forced to spend it supporting former ILF-users, but it has allowed thousands of disabled people with high support needs to continue to live independently since ILF’s closure.
Disabled activists had raised concerns that the four years of funding were due to end in April, with ministers previously refusing to say if an extension was being considered.
The Queen’s speech also promised to end hospital car parking charges “for those in greatest need”, including disabled people.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said later that, from April, all hospital trusts in England would be expected to provide free parking to groups including holders of blue parking badges, and outpatients who have to attend regular appointments to manage long-term conditions.
Hancock said: “Currently, the situation varies from hospital to hospital.
“Instead, from April, across the country those with the greatest need – such as disabled people, parents staying overnight with sick children in hospital, and NHS staff working nightshifts – will no longer have to pay for parking.”
On mental health, the government says it will produce a white paper early this year, which will respond to the review of the Mental Health Act that reported in December 2018, and will be followed by new legislation “when Parliamentary time allows”.
The review was criticised for falling “significantly short” of recommending full human rights for people in mental distress.
The government says it needs to modernise the act to ensure that people in England and Wales “have greater control over their treatment and receive the dignity and respect they deserve”.
It promises that those subject to the act “will receive better care and have a much greater say in that care”, while it will “reform the process for detention, improve care and treatment whilst someone is detained and give them better support to challenge detention”.
The government also promises to improve the legal treatment of people with learning difficulties and autistic people and make it easier for them to be discharged from hospital.
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