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Demotion of disability minister a blow for diversity, say charities

Disability charities have protested the demotion of the government’s minister for disabled people, calling it a retrogade step for disabled workers.

The previous minister for disabled people, health and work, Tom Pursglove, was replaced in his post by Mims Davies. 

Davies holds a more junior rank as undersecretary of state and was given the disability minister brief on top of other responsibilities. 

Read more: Government plans to push disabled workers into employment condemned

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of the Business Disability Forum, told HR magazine: “Downgrading the role of disability minister to an under-secretary post that will be carried out as a second job alongside the postholder’s existing portfolio is a retrograde step.”

Davies holds the same title as her predecessor but is also responsible for social mobility policies, such as support for disadvantaged groups, the government’s youth offer, the military covenant, and government equalities lead for the menopause.

Lightfoot pressed for more senior representation of disabled people in government.

She said: “The government said in its latest autumn statement it wants to get more disabled people into employment. 

“To do that, we need someone at cabinet level who understands the barriers that disabled people experience not only in accessing work opportunities but also once in the workplace, and in wider society.”

The reshuffle had already caused concern among disability groups after leaving the role open for seven days, the longest gap without a minister in the post for 30 years, according to disability charity Scope.

Zofia Bajorek, senior research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), said the delay in appointing a new minister and eventual lower-ranking official casts doubt on the government's commitment to people with disabilities.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: "They are rejecting their responsibility for people living with disabilities. 

"With an employment gap of 30% and a pay gap of 15%, they need an advocate more than ever – yet the government is really not thinking about that representation. It shows that the government is perhaps not fully committed."

The government's autumn statement was "worrying" for disabled people, Bajorek argued.

Policies designed to get more disabled people into work, revealed in September and highlighted in the autumn statement, have been condemned widely by disability charities for their threat to remove peoples' benefits if they do not find work.

Bajorek added: "People with disabilities are not shying away from work. What concerns me is that while we know that work is good for health, that is only the case if it is good quality work."

A government spokesperson said that Davies, who has four years’ experience at the Department for Work and Pensions, would help disabled people realise their potential at work.

They 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.”