Lord Freud's remarks about disabled people are the least of this coalition's worries. Photo: Flickr/Policy Exchange
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Lord Freud's slip is the least of this government's appalling attitude to disabled people

The welfare minister's remarks about people not being "worth" the minimum wage is a small example of this government's persistently appalling attitude towards the disabled.

During today's bout of PMQs, the Labour leader criticised David Cameron for his welfare minister Lord Freud's comments about disabled people and the minimum wage.

At a fringe event during Conservative party conference, Freud was recorded in an audio file passed on to the website PoliticsHome making some controversial remarks about how disabled people are "not worth the full wage".

Here's the quote, in response to a question asked by a Tory councillor:

 . . . You make a really good point about the disabled. Now I had not thought through, and we have not got a system for, you know, kind of going below the Minimum Wage.

But we do have . . . You know, Universal Credit is really useful for people with the fluctuating conditions who can do some work - go up and down - because they can earn and get . . . and get, you know, bolstered through Universal Credit, and they can move that amount up and down.

Now, there is a small . . . there is a group, and I know exactly who you mean, where actually as you say they’re not worth the full wage and actually I’m going to go and think about that particular issue, whether there is something we can do nationally, and without distorting the whole thing, which actually if someone wants to work for £2 an hour, and it’s working can we actually . . . 

Ed Miliband appeared to call for the DWP minister to stand down, telling the PM: "Surely someone holding those views can't possibly stay in his [Cameron's] government?"

Clearly ruffled by this emerging story he hadn't been fully briefed about, Cameron insisted "those are not the views of the government". He then fell back on the approach he used when referring to the NHS in his conference speech, citing his own experience caring for a disabled child, his late son Ivan. He said he wouldn't take lectures "from anyone about looking after disabled people".

Watch the exchange here:

Video: LabourList

However, this Freudian slip is just a minute example of how generally appalling this government's attitude has been towards disabled people. The most prominent examples are: 

Sadly, Freud's comments revealed today should come as no surprise.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.