Anger as Sunak Scraps Dedicated Minister for Disabled People

Photograph: David Jones/PA

   Rights campaigners have expressed strong disapproval over the decision by Downing Street not to appoint a new dedicated minister of state for disabled people, deeming it an "appalling and retrograde move."

The position had been unfilled since Rishi Sunak's cabinet reshuffle last week, marking the longest period without a minister in the past 30 years, according to disability charity Scope.

James Taylor, the director of strategy at Scope, condemned the move, stating, "What kind of message does this give to Britain's 16 million disabled people? That in the middle of a cost of living crisis, we are now less important?"

Adding to the concern, the previous minister for disabled people, Tom Pursglove, was reassigned as the minister for legal migration earlier this month.

Mims Davies has been named the minister for disabled people, but her position remains that of a parliamentary undersecretary of state, prompting criticism from Labour, who deemed it a "downgrade" of the post.

Vicky Foxcroft, the Labour MP and shadow minister for disabled people, expressed outrage at the government's delay in appointing a minister for disabled people. She remarked, "Disabled people deserve better than this," referring to the perceived demotion of the role from minister of state to parliamentary undersecretary of state.

In response, a government spokesperson stated that Davies would continue to build on the government's support for disabled people, citing accomplishments such as delivering cost-of-living payments and assisting over 1 million more disabled people in employment than initially planned.

The spokesperson emphasized Davies' role in ensuring a robust safety net for the most vulnerable in society and breaking down barriers to enable every disabled person to reach their potential.

Sense, a national disability charity, had earlier called for the prompt appointment of a dedicated minister to represent the interests of disabled people during a time of crisis.

Sarah White, head of policy at the charity, expressed concerns over the impact of social care cuts and the cost of living crisis on disabled individuals, many of whom are grappling with rising prices that have led to increased debt.

Responding to criticisms about the perceived downgrade of the minister for disabled people role, a No 10 spokesperson denied the claim. The spokesperson highlighted the government's commitment by having two ministers responsible for migration and assured that the minister for disabled people would lead vital work with continued strong support.

Noteworthy figures like Claire Coutinho, Esther McVey, and Mark Harper, who currently hold cabinet positions, have previously held the dedicated role for disabled people, established in the 1990s.

Critics, including Vicky Foxcroft, raised concerns about the delay in publishing a disability action plan, expected by year-end. They also criticized what they deemed a "hardline" approach, compelling individuals with disabilities into work without sufficient support.

Last month, charities strongly criticized changes in the autumn statement, where individuals with mobility and mental health issues faced the prospect of working from home or losing benefits. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt framed these changes, part of a £2.5 billion back-to-work plan, as an effort to encourage long-term unemployed individuals and those with health conditions and disabilities to seek employment, emphasizing the untapped potential of over 100,000 people annually on benefits due to sickness or disability.