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Philip Hammond is making the disabled a scapegoat for the Tory failure on productivity

The Chancellor's buck passing is lazy and offensive. 

Yesterday, Philip Hammond tried to pass the blame for the Tories’ economic failures onto disabled people. We’ve already been made to bear the brunt of cruel and unnecessary austerity measures and now the Chancellor is trying to blame disabled workers for Britain's low productivity. These comments were lazy and offensive and show a complete lack of understanding of the real issues.

Over the past seven years, the Tories’ economic policies have failed to deliver better living standards. We now have the lowest growth in the G7, average real wages have not increased since 2006 and, in the budget, the target for clearing the deficit was moved back to 2031,16 years later than George Osborne’s original target.

At the root of this is Britain’s productivity crisis. Productivity growth collapsed after the 2008 financial crash and has yet to recover. This means that families across Britain are still struggling to make ends meet. But, instead of trying to tackle this crisis and reverse their failing policies, Philip Hammond decided to scapegoat disabled people for those political failures.

Not only were his comments deeply offensive, but, they also make no economic sense. Productivity started to stagnate in 2008, but, in that period, the disability employment gap - the difference between the proportion of disabled and able-bodied people in work - has barely moved from just over 30 percent. That represents millions of disabled people who, with reasonable adjustments, could be working and fulfilling their potential. According to the charity Scope, if we reduced the disability employment gap to the EU average of 20 per cent, that would grow the economy and contribute an extra £12bn to the Exchequer over the next few years.

The real cause of Britain’s productivity crisis is not people like me working. It’s austerity. The Tories’ ideological obsession with shrinking the state has led to a decade of underinvestment. In fact, we now have the lowest investment rates in the G7. In order to improve productivity, we need new technology, new infrastructure and new ideas. These will only come from a strategic investment plan which creates secure, meaningful and well-paid jobs right across Britain.

What I find particularly troubling about Philip Hammond’s comments is that they show a complete lack of awareness of the issues and barriers disabled people face when we look for work. By spreading this kind of misinformation, he has given legitimacy to one of the founding myths around disability and employment, a myth that stops disabled people from finding employment every single day. Surveys have found that nearly a third of business leaders don’t feel confident about employing a person with hearing loss. For other forms of disability that figure will be much, much higher. Tackling those myths should be the number one priority for a government that claims to want to get more disabled people into work. Philip Hammond’s comments will have made that job immeasurably more difficult.

It was only last week that the government finally published Improving Lives – The Future of Work, Health and Disability. The policy document confirmed that they have quietly dropped their ambition to halve the disability employment gap by 2020. It then went on to praise existing schemes like Disability Confident, despite there being no real evidence that they are working. It offered warm words but no new ideas and no serious policy announcements. Philip Hammond’s comments yesterday revealed why. They’re don’t believe that disabled people like me have anything to contribute to society.

We have a Chancellor who’s in denial about the causes of our productivity crisis and who wants to pass the blame onto disabled people. This is unacceptable. A society that works for all can’t hold disabled people back. If society is organised in a way that allows us to fulfil our potential, then everyone would benefit. We can’t allow this Tory government to get away with scapegoating like this. Philip Hammond should apologise immediately.

Marsha de Cordova is the Labour MP for Battersea.

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People are not prepared to see innovation at any price - we need to take care of our digital health

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

As individuals, we have never been better connected. As a society, we are being driven further apart.

Doteveryone’s People Power and Technology report, released this week, found that half of the 2,500 British people we surveyed said the internet had made life a lot better for people like them - but only 12 per cent saw a very positive impact on society.

These findings won’t be news to most people living in Brexit Britain - or to anyone who’s been involved in a spat on Twitter. The fact that we’re constantly connected to our smartphones has not necessarily improved our communities or our understanding of one other, and the trails of data we’re leaving behind are not turning into closer social bonds.

Many of the positives we experience are for ourselves as individuals.

Lots of consumer tech puts simple self-sufficiency first - one-click to buy, swipe right to date - giving us a feeling of cosy isolation and making one little phone an everywhere. This powerful individualism is a feature of all of the big platforms - and even social networks like Facebook and Twitter, that are meant bring us together, do so in the context of personalised recommendations and algorithmically ordered timelines.

We are all the centre of our own digital worlds. So it is no surprise that when we do look up from our phones, we feel concerned about the impact on society. Our research findings articulate the dilemma we face: do we do the thing that is easiest for us, or the one that is better for society?

For instance, 78 per cent of people see the Internet as helping us to communicate better, but 68 per cent also feel it makes us less likely to speak to each other face-to-face. 69per cent think the internet helps businesses to sell their products and services, while 53 per cent think it forces local shops to compete against larger companies online.

It’s often hard to see the causality in these trade-offs. At what point does my online shopping tip my high street into decline? When do I notice that I’ve joined another WhatsApp group but haven’t said hello to my neighbour?

When given clear choices, the public was clear in its response.  

We asked how they would feel if an online retailer offered free one-day delivery for lower income families, but this resulted in local shops closing down - 69 per cent found this unacceptable. Or if their bank invested more in combating fraud and cyber crime, but closed their local branch - 61 per cent said it was unacceptable. Or if their council made savings by putting services online and cut council tax as a result, but some people would find it hard to access these services - 56 per cent found it unacceptable.

It seems people are not prepared to see innovation at any price - and not at the expense of their local communities. The poorest find these trade offs least acceptable.

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

A clearer regulatory environment would support positive, responsible change that supports our society, not just the ambition of a few corporations.

Some clarity about our relationship with web services would be a good start. 60 per cent of people Doteveryone spoke to believed there should be an independent body they can turn to when things go wrong online; 89 per cent would like terms and conditions to be clearer, and 47% feel they have no choice but to sign up to services, even when they have concerns.

Technology regulation is complicated and fragmentary. Ofcom and the under-resourced Information Commissioner’s Office, provide some answers,but they are not sufficient to regulate the myriad effects of social media, let alone the changes that new technologies like self-driving cars will bring. There needs to be a revolution in government, but at present as consumers and citizens we can’t advocate for that. We need a body that represents us, listens to our concern and gives us a voice.

And the British public also needs to feel empowered, so we can all make better choices - adults and children alike need different kinds of understanding and capability to navigate the digital world. It is not about being able to code: it is about being able to cope.

Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and well-being, and reduce health inequalities. Perhaps we need a digital equivalent, to protect and improve our digital health and well-being, and reduce digital inequalities.

As a society, we should not have to continually respond and adapt to the demands of the big corporations: we should also make demands of them - and we need confidence, a voice, and representation to begin to do that.

Rachel Coldicutt is chief executive of Doteveryone.