This column appeared in the Friday 8th May 2020 edition of the South London Press.
Earlier this month I joined the shadow work and pensions team as Shadow Minister for Disabled People. The new role feels like a great fit for me and is a big responsibility, especially in the current crisis.
Since lockdown, I have started to discuss my own condition more openly. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis last year and am now on medication which suppresses my immune system. This means that I am on the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ list and currently unable to leave my home.
Like many other people, I was worried about the impact this would have on my ability to do my job. Fortunately, thanks to some fast work by the parliamentary authorities, MPs are now able to take part in virtual questions sessions and debates and hold meetings online. I hope that these changes will have a lasting positive impact on ways of working.
I have spent my first few weeks in the job meeting with as many disability charities and campaign groups as possible and identifying their key concerns.
I know many people are worried about the temporary Care Act ‘easements’ which have been brought in to help local authorities prioritise care and support. These easements have created uncertainty and concern that the quality of care will be compromised during the pandemic. My colleague Liz Kendall (Shadow Minister for Social Care) and I are keeping a close eye on this.
Social care services were already incredibly stretched before the pandemic took hold. It is essential that all workers can access testing and protective equipment to keep them safe, healthy and able to care for the most vulnerable people in our society.
Turning to welfare support, while I welcome the fact that the Government has increased Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits payments, it is unacceptable that there has been no corresponding increase in other benefits for the unemployed, disabled people and carers. My shadow work and pensions colleagues and I are pushing for a) increases in Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment Support Allowance and Carer’s Allowance; b) the suspension of all sanctions and a clear commitment not to impose any new sanctions during the current crisis; c) increases in DWP capacity to cope in the current crisis.
Another key area I have set out to tackle is access to priority supermarket deliveries for ill and disabled people. I know from my casework that some people are still struggling with this, and there are concerns about people who have been left off the list (such as blind and partially-sighted people and those with motor neurone disease).
If you have anything you wish to raise with me, please do get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are one of my Lewisham Deptford constituents, my team and I will be very happy to help.