Ministers have given the transport industry permission to use inaccessible vehicles for rail replacement services for another three months.
In December, it emerged that the government was allowing the industry to continue to use older buses and coaches that do not comply with the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 2000 until the end of January, a month past the legal deadline of 31 December 2019.
Accessible transport experts had criticised the industry for failing to prepare for the deadline, despite having 20 years to do so.
Now transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris has offered train operating companies an extension of three more months, which will run until 30 April 2020, because they still cannot source enough accessible vehicles for their rail replacement services.
The Department for Work and Pensions has announced that the rollout of universal credit (UC) will be extended by another nine months, in the latest setback to the government’s much-delayed new social security system.
The rollout of the system, which combines six existing working-age benefits into one monthly payment, was due to end in 2023 but will now continue for a further nine months into 2024, adding an estimated £500 million to the cost.
The delay was revealed by the BBC as part of publicity for its controversial new fly-on-the-wall documentary series about UC, which began on Tuesday.
It came after ministers revealed last week that a pilot scheme in Harrogate – which is testing how to move claimants of legacy benefits such as employment and support allowance and jobseeker’s allowance onto UC through what is known as “managed migration” – has so far seen just 13 claimants move onto the new system.
New government figures show that one of the government’s benefit assessment contractors is still failing to meet a key target for the quality of its assessment reports.
The figures show Atos made only a marginal improvement in the proportion of its reports that were found to be significantly flawed, between 2018 and 2019.
The figures, secured by SNP MP Marion Fellows, show the proportion of Atos personal independence payment assessment reports that were found to be of an unacceptable quality following a government audit was 3.9 per cent in 2019, an improvement on 4.6 per cent in 2018 but still outside the government’s three per cent target.
In all, the proportion of audited assessment reports found to be significantly flawed – those that were unacceptable, acceptable but needing to amended, and acceptable but still requiring feedback to the assessor about those flaws – fell only slightly from 36.2 per cent in 2018 to 35.7 per cent in 2019.
The British Deaf Association (BDA) has welcomed the decision of the House of Commons to launch a trial of British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation of prime minister’s questions (PMQs).
The trial began yesterday (Wednesday) with a video stream of a BSL interpretation of the proceedings on the www.parliamentlive.tv website and parliament’s YouTube channel, while it was also made available to broadcasters.
PMQs take place every Wednesday while parliament is in session, with the prime minister answering questions from cross-party MPs, including the leader of the opposition.
Damian Barry, BDA’s executive director, said: “This is a significant breakthrough for equality and for access to information for Deaf people.
“The BDA welcome this pilot scheme which will enable BSL users to follow prime minister’s questions in the language they use and understand.”
Disability Rights UK (DR UK) is to partner with BT on a research programme that aims to develop a new format of disability football for those who cannot play with their bodies but could potentially “play with their minds”.
BT said it would work on the project with the technology innovation hub Plexal, DR UK and other experts from the accessibility and sport communities.
Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s chief executive, said: “For many disabled people the barriers we experience limit or exclude us from taking part in sport.
“We are excited to be partnering with BT to see how technology can remove these barriers and help us to find ways to participate in sport with our peers and communities, and to be active in a way that works for us.”
BT also announced plans to invest in documentaries and films about para sport, to be broadcast on its BT Sport subscription channel.
The announcements were part of a new football partnership strategy between BT and the football associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, which are aimed at “boosting support for men’s, women’s, para and disability football from grassroots to elite levels”.
A disabled Tory peer has introduced a private members’ bill that would for the first time force all employers with at least 250 employees to publish information about how the pay of their disabled staff compares with that of other employees.
The bill would extend existing mandatory reporting on gender pay gaps to other protected characteristics, including race, sexual orientation and disability.
A TUC report in November revealed that the average disabled worker receives about £1.65 an hour, or 15 per cent, less than the average non-disabled worker. Disabled women face an even higher pay gap than disabled men.
Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin’s workforce information bill, which had its first reading in the House of Lords on Monday (3 February), would cover England, Scotland and Wales.
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