A key part of my role as the Minister for Disabled People is travelling to visit disability charities & organisations across the country. With the time restraint involved with travel, the switch to online meetings certainly has its advantages. This week technology allowed me to meet with over 100 different disability groups from across the country, all from the comfort (despite the mice) of my Parliamentary office.
With these groups I discussed a range of crucial issues, but most prominent was our forthcoming Green Paper, which is an ambitious plan to reform our services and support provided by the DWP, as well as the National Strategy for Disabled People.
Whilst I look forward to more traditional visits returning again, there is no doubt that technology will now play a more important & positive role in allowing access to Parliament.
Elsewhere, since the start of the COVID outbreak, approximately 15,000 vulnerable people have been housed in hotels and other forms of emergency accommodation through the ‘Everyone in Scheme’.
As we make small steps towards normality, the Government is taking this opportunity to help ensure that the most vulnerable people in our society continue to have a roof over their heads.
As such, the Housing Secretary announced this week the launch of the £266 million ‘Next Steps Accommodation’ Programme. This scheme will provide local councils with funding to cover property costs and support for the 15,000 vulnerable people who were provided with emergency accommodation during the pandemic – thereby preventing as many people as possible returning to rough sleeping.
The Government has also announced the first wave of funding to provide 3,300 additional supported homes this year for those currently housed in emergency accommodation. This first wave of funding, totalling £161 million, has been accelerated from the Rough Sleeping Fund – which ministers have confirmed will be extended from £381 million to £433 million.
I am glad that the Government is building on the important progress we have made on tackling rough sleeping.
I am also pleased that the Government has announced pay rises for nearly 900,000 public sector workers, including our Armed Forces, teachers, police officers, dentists, and doctors. This year’s pay awards reflect the monumental efforts made by our public sector workers during this incredibly difficult time.
NHS nurses, midwifes and certain other NHS staff, who are on a different pay deal to doctors, received their pay rises back in April. Nurses are on a pay deal which sees a minimum 6.5% pay rise over a 3-year period, rising to over 10% for new recruits, which expires next April. After this time a new deal will, of course, be negotiated and further pay rises will be awarded. I am sure we all agree that no one deserves a pay rise more than our amazing nurses.
Finally, as residents will be aware, it will now be compulsory to wear a face covering in shops, which is an important step forward in our efforts to defeat coronavirus. However, I would urge the public and businesses to be mindful of people who are exempt from wearing a face covering – particularly those with disabilities and health conditions. Some disabilities are hidden, and not immediately obvious, so everyone must play their part and act sensitively towards people who may need additional support.