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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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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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