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What will Labour do for people with disabilities?

I have been very fortunate in my life to have had essential help when I have needed it and the opportunity to make a difference to the lives of others. This election is the moment when disabled people can exercise their power and make their voice heard. And today, with the launch of its disability manifesto, Labour is hoping to win their support.

Three weeks ago I stood down as an MP after 28 years in the House of
Commons, and it’s given me cause to reflect on how far disabled people’s rights and issues have come over that time.
Thirty years ago many disabled people were isolated in institutions,
and often expected to do no more than the most menial of work. Today,
we have equality legislation in place, more disabled people in public
life, and living fuller and more independent lives.
I’m proud of the role that the last Labour government played in this change, such as establishing the Disability Rights Taskforce, the dramatic extension of the Disability Discrimination Act and the Disability Rights Commission.
But there is still so much more to do to make this a country where the
voices of disabled people are heard, their contribution is valued, and
their right to live a full and fulfilling life is made a reality. In too many of these areas, David Cameron’s government took us backwards.
Employment among disabled adults is still stuck at around 30% below
the rate of the working age population overall, and fewer than one in
ten disabled people who go through the Work Programme get a job.
The Work Capability Assessment is causing huge stress and anxiety, and delays in processing Personal Independence Payments have left
thousands of disabled people waiting months for support. This has been
particularly the case where assessments have failed to acknowledge
serious mental health conditions, despite rhetoric to the contrary.
On top of this, hundreds of thousands of disabled people, and 60,000
carers, are being hit by the Bedroom Tax, with many falling in to debt
in order to stay in their homes.
Labour will take action to improve the lives of disabled people. We will overhaul the Work Capability Assessment, involving disabled people in reviewing its effectiveness, and introduce a specialist Work Support programme to provide tailored support to disabled people who want to work.
We’ll support disabled people to live independently by giving them an
entitlement to a personal care plan designed with them and shaped
around their needs, the option of personal budgets where appropriate, and a single named person to coordinate care. We will abolish the bedroom tax.
But perhaps most importantly, we’ll toughen up the law on disability
hate crime to give greater security to disabled people, who not only feel stigmatised and even threatened by the Tories’ rhetoric around ‘scroungers, but face a rising tide of abuse. And we’ll make sure that disabled people have a voice at the heart of government, as part of a cross-government committee to develop disability policy.
I believe these policies demonstrate Labour’s commitment to disabled people, promoting self-help supported by mutual help. And with excellent disabled candidates such as Emily Brothers in Sutton and Cheam, Mary Griffiths Clarke in Dwyfor Meirionnydd, and Anne Begg - who has championed disability issues as a Labour MP for the past 18 years, it is to be hoped that disabled people will have a strong voice in our government.
I have been very fortunate in my life to have had essential help when I have needed it and the opportunity to make a difference to the lives of others. This election is the moment when disabled people can exercise their power and make their voice heard. And today, with the launch of its disability manifesto, Labour is hoping to win their support.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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