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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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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.