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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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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear