The vaccine rollout continues to go from strength to strength, with more than 21 million people having now received their first dose of the vaccines.
The rollout has now reached those in the over 50s category. However, it isn’t just about age. Those clinically extremely vulnerable, those with learning disabilities and adult carers are also at the front of the queue for a vaccine.
Last month, I had a very constructive meeting with Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi, where we discussed vaccine priority. I was very keen to highlight the vital role carers play in supporting disabled people, and how important it is that they are healthy and available to provide care for disabled people.
As Minister for Disabled People in the Department for Work and Pensions, my team and I have been working hard to ensure that all carers get their vaccine invitation. Key to this has been sharing information with NHS services in England to create a virtual list of over half a million carers, making it as quick and efficient as possible for them to be invited for their vaccine. We will do the same for the Welsh Government if asked, whereas Scotland has its own system in place.
The pandemic has affected disabled people in many ways, and as Minister for Disabled People, I have been working tirelessly to ensure that any disruption was minimal. We made the decision to suspend face to face assessments and use other methods to carry out assessments – such as via phone and paper-based assessments.
To help carers, we put measures in place to protect their payments should they need to take a temporary break from caring because they, or those they care for, got coronavirus or had to self-isolate because of it. I am pleased to say that this will remain the case until August, by which time everyone should have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
While trying to navigate the challenges caused by Coronavirus, I am also having to look to the future. The National Strategy for Disabled People is the biggest listening exercise on disability policy in recent history. The aim is to understand how we can shape policy and improve the lives of disabled people. This is an extremely exciting project which has included a national survey with over 14,000 responses, as well as working closely with over 200 organisations and stakeholders.
Changing topic, this week the Government announced the launch of the Sustainable Farming Incentive national pilot. The SFI presents the most significant change to farming and land management in 50 years. It is designed to deliver a renewed agricultural sector, producing healthy food for consumption at home and abroad, where farms can be profitable and economically sustainable.
Through the SFI, farmers will be paid for environmentally sustainable actions. For example, we might pay farmers to manage and plant hedgerows to provide year-round food, shelter and breeding cover for birds and insects.
Over the past few years, the importance of sustainability and protecting our environment and wildlife has become increasingly important. I am delighted that the Government is looking at constructive ways to work with farmers and landowners to promote sustainability. This initiative comes as part of the Government’s wider post-Covid commitment to, not only build back better, but also greener.