Charities' anger as government 'downgrades' disabilities minister role

A leading charity had accused the government of 'not taking disability seriously'. Credit: PA

Charities have expressed their anger after the government downgraded its disability minister role during Disability History Month.

The position, left vacant when Tom Pursglove was made legal migration minister last week, will now be held by Mims Davies, who said she is "honoured" to have been given the role.

However, she confirmed she will have a "continued focus on social mobility", after she was appointed minister for social mobility, youth and progression last year.

Criticism from prominent disability charities and campaigners had been growing after the ministerial role was left vacant following Rishi Sunak's mini re-shuffle, which disability charity Scope said was the "longest gap without a minister in post in the last 30 years".

Downing Street denied the move to make two ministers responsible for migration but no-one solely for disabilities amounted to a “downgrading” of the role.

“It’s not right. We will have a minister for disabled people who will lead on that important work,” the prime minister’s official spokesman said on Thursday.

But organisations in the disability sector said it should not be the case that a minister focusing on issues affecting them should also be "juggling other responsibilities", and have called for a dedicated minister of state position to be reinstated.

James Taylor, Scope's executive director of strategy, said: "Disabled people have been waiting a week for an announcement on who will have responsibility for disability in government. And now we're seeing a downgrading of the role. "We'd urge the government to reinstate the dedicated minister of state position, to reflect the need for the UK's 16 million disabled people to be treated as a priority. "We need full-time leadership of disability strategy in government, to make sure policy doesn’t leave disabled people disadvantaged."

Meanwhile, the National Autistic Society said disabled people need more "clarity" on what the downgraded role will entail.

Tim Nicholls, the charity's Head of Influencing and Research, said: "The government needs to be clear about the remit of the role. It needs to be clear about why a more junior ministerial role is sufficient to tackle the inequalities disabled people face. And it needs to be clear that the needs of disabled people are absolutely a priority. "The uncertainty of the last week has caused understandable anger and upset for autistic people and the government will need to act quickly to put that right."

The disabilities minister post was not filled during Rishi Sunak's December 7 Cabinet reshuffle. Credit: PA

Jackie O'Sullivan, acting chief executive at learning disability charity Mencap, said: “It should not have taken a week, and considerable pressure from charities and disabled people, for the prime minister to appoint a new minister for disabled people.

“Given the pressing issues facing people with a learning disability, it is surprising and disappointing that the role has been downgraded to a junior Ministerial position.

"We look forward to working with Mims Davies to find solutions to the inequalities that people with a learning disability face every day.

A government spokesperson said: "Minister Davies will build upon this government’s track record of supporting disabled people, having delivered millions of cost of living payments and helping over one million more disabled people into work five years earlier than planned.

"The minister will help ensure there is always a strong safety net for the most vulnerable in our society, while tearing down barriers so that every disabled person can realise their potential and thrive.”

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