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Minister commits to disability reforms by 2024 – but no benefits changes before next election  

New policies to improve accessibility and integration for disabled people, as well as making it easier to get into work, will be brought forward by 2024, a Government minister has pledged.

The Government last week launched a 12-week consultation for its Disability Action Plan which included a raft of proposals to promote inclusivity.

Suggestions included the introduction of mandatory training for taxi drivers, bringing in a new British Sign Language (BSL) GCSE qualification, improving access to elected office for disabled people, and making playgrounds more accessible.

In an interview with i, Disabilities Minister Tom Pursglove committed to introducing these policies as early as next year, subject to the public consultation.

“The Disability Action Plan is very much a shorter term piece of work that concentrates on what can be delivered towards the end of 2023. We will have a final plan to share and then during the course of 2024 to get on and deliver on the promise of that,” he said.

“I am really clear and officials and I talk about this regularly – very much the focus of Disability Action Plan will be to deliver in 2024.”

The Disability Action Plan comes off the back of a host of other reforms announced relating to those living with a disability.

This includes planned overhauls of the benefit system, which will not happen before the next election, and the National Disability Strategy of long-term proposals to boost accessibility and inclusion, which has – until recently – been paused due to legal appeals.

Earlier this month the Court of Appeal overturned a previous ruling that concluded the National Disability Strategy was “unlawful” due to the way the related consultation had been run.

The strategy aims to bring together cross-departmental plans on a yearly basis to create a list of long-term policies aimed at improving disabled people’s lives.

The Government now intends to push ahead with the strategy, the minister said, and he pledged to update Parliament on its next steps after summer recess, in September.

“It is fair to say that there have been quite a lot of frustration and disappointment amongst stakeholders about various actions that we’ve not been able to take forward,” Mr Pursglove said. “Being able to move that forward now, however, is a really big opportunity.”

The changes to disability benefits, which includes scrapping Work Capability Assessments for people out of work, requires new laws to be introduced and will not happen before the next parliament.

But Mr Pursglove said improve support for disabled people seeking work and reducing the burden of benefit assessments would come in sooner.

Giving examples of such changes, he said: “The commitments we made around matching expert assessors with people’s primary health condition or disability; in the severe disability group, trying to reduce that reassessment burden on people; better taking account of fluctuating conditions and supporting people – they are the sorts of initiatives that we can move forward with sooner.”

Disability equality charity Scope suggested that the new action plan did not bring any really new proposals to the table and, instead, “disappointingly tinkers at the edges and does little to address the major issues currently impacting the lives of disabled people”.

But Mr Pursglove rejected this assessment and said the consultation, taken as part of a wider policy package, indicated “really considerable reform”.

“I think that there is a lot of action going on across government to really shift the dial and to take action to deliver on priority areas that disabled people are telling us a report,” he said. “We are ambitious, and we want to deliver on those issues so I think this is an important step that we’re taking.

“We’re approaching this in a very open minded way. If there are suggestions that any organisation has or any charity has, disabled people have, we want to hear from them as part of this process.”

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