The government appears to be set to announce Corby MP Tom Pursglove as the fourth minister for disabled people in just 14 months.
Although the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has not yet announced the portfolios of its latest set of ministers, the department did make it clear that the new disability minister would be a minister of state.
And it was Pursglove (pictured) – who has already been appointed as a DWP minister of state – who answered questions within the disability portfolio at work and pensions questions in the House of Commons on Monday, responding on issues including Access to Work, disability living allowance for children, and uprating disability benefits.
He has also been responding to written questions about disability benefits.
The ministerial role will be crucial, with a disability benefits white paper due before the end of the year.
Pursglove, who was first elected in 2015, has spoken 20 or 30 times on disability-related issues since he became an MP, although he would have been unable to speak in debates or ask questions of ministers after he was appointed to his first government role, as an assistant whip, in July 2019.
He then had a series of Ministry of Justice and Home Office roles from September 2021 until his move to DWP on 27 October, including as immigration minister.
As a backbencher, he spoke several times in support of universal credit, raised concerns about the contaminated blood scandal, and on several occasions asked questions of ministers about the support available to disabled people claiming benefits, while also raising concerns about the personal independence payment assessment process.
Pursglove, a Brexit supporter, spoke briefly in 2017 in support of a private members’ bill put forward by Labour’s Steve Reed to protect service-users from the use of force in mental health units, a bill which later became law.
In 2016, he made supportive comments about a private members’ bill on disability equality training for taxi-drivers, proposed by Labour’s Andrew Gwynne, although the bill did not become law.
Meanwhile, after just 36 days as minister for disabled people, Claire Coutinho has been moved to a junior ministerial role at the Department for Education (DfE).
No announcements had been made by noon today (Thursday) on ministerial responsibilities for special educational needs and disability at DfE, or for accessible transport at the Department for Transport.
But the government has announced that Helen Whately has been reappointed as minister of state with responsibility for adult social care at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
She was finally appointed on 26 October, seven weeks after the previous minister, Gillian Keegan, left the post.
Whately was previously in the social care role through much of the worst of the Covid pandemic, between 13 February 2020 and 16 September 2021.
The government was later accused by MPs of a “reckless and negligent” approach to adult social care at the start of the pandemic.
A report by the Commons public accounts committee in July 2020 contrasted the government’s early actions to protect the NHS with its delayed, inconsistent and at times negligent actions on social care.
The committee’s report concluded: “This pandemic has shown the tragic impact of delaying much needed social care reform, and instead treating the sector as the NHS’s poor relation.”
A key criticism came over the decision to discharge 25,000 NHS patients into care homes without first testing them for coronavirus – in the period up to 15 April – which the committee said was an “appalling error”, although Whately is unlikely to have played a major role in that decision.
As a result, between 9 March and 17 May 2020, around 5,900 care homes, more than a third of the total across England, reported at least one outbreak of coronavirus.
DHSC ministers were also heavily criticised for their lengthy delay in publishing guidance to help disabled people who use direct payments survive the pandemic.
And Whately was challenged by MPs in September 2020 over why her department took five months to produce guidance that aimed to protect disabled people in supported living services during the pandemic.
DHSC has also appointed former nurse Maria Caulfield as minister for mental health.
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