Press release: Work and Pensions Committee urge Ministers to pay disabled benefits during appeals

Sheila Gilmore MP today welcomed a report from the Work and Pensions Select Committee – of which she is a member – that calls on the Government to pay sick and disabled people benefits while they appeal against incorrect ‘Fit for Work’ decisions.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) provides support for people who cannot work due to a health condition or disability. Entitlement is determined by the controversial Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Previously claimants who were declared ‘Fit for Work’ and wished to challenge their decision were paid ESA at a reduced rate throughout the appeal process. However since October 2013 claimants have had to submit an informal appeal – known as a mandatory reconsideration – to a DWP civil servant, and only if they are still refused benefit can they take their case to a judge.

During mandatory reconsideration, a claimant’s only option is to claim Jobseekers Allowance, which entails applying for jobs and attending an interview. As a result many sick and disabled people have been refused JSA or sanctioned, leaving them stuck between benefits and without any income. The DWP Committee have today called on the Government to pay claimants ESA during the mandatory reconsideration process.

In addition current statistics show that, since it replaced Incapacity Benefit in 2008, one in ten ESA claimants who are declared ‘Fit for Work’ successfully appeal this decision and are awarded ESA. However it emerged last year that the proportion of incorrect decisions could be a lot higher, as figures on the outcomes of mandatory reconsiderations were not being published. The DWP Committee have today called on Ministers to publish these statistics.

Sheila Gilmore said:

I regularly meet sick and disabled people who are unable to work but who have been declared fit to do so following a flawed ESA assessment.

Since last year people in this position have been forced to claim Jobseekers Allowance when they initially challenge an incorrect decision. Many are refused or quickly sanctioned, leaving them stuck between benefits for periods of up to ten weeks.

Ministers should implement the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s recommendation that claimants are paid ESA throughout the application process. This shouldn’t cost the Government any money, unless DWP are already factoring in sick and disabled people being unable to claim JSA.

Until recently we thought that the assessment was getting about one in ten fit for work decisions wrong – far too many in most people’s eyes – but since it emerged that the Government were withholding key figures, the reality could be much worse. Again the Government should do as the Select Committee says, and publish this data without delay.

Notes to Editors

  • The key paragraph of the Committee’s report reads: ‘However, DWP needs to set a reasonable timescale for the MR process, rather than this being left open-ended. The current illogical arrangement whereby claimants seeking MR are required to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) instead of ESA should be abolished. Official statistics showing the impact of MR on the number of appeals and on outcomes for claimants should be published as a matter of urgency.’
  • Sheila Gilmore led a debate on mandatory reconsideration statistics in the House of Commons on 9 April 2014 where she summarised the issue as follows: ‘I acknowledge this is quite a hard argument to follow so let’s say, hypothetically, 100 people claim ESA. We are initially told that 50 are awarded benefit and 50 are declared Fit for Work. We are then told that 25 of this latter group successfully appeal their decision, so we can say that the assessment process is getting one in four decisions wrong. What if we then found out that 25 of the 50 who were initially awarded ESA only got benefit following an informal appeal to a civil servant? We would have to say that the assessment process was getting one in two decisions wrong – a level of performance significantly worse than previously thought.’
  • For more information Sheila Gilmore maintains dedicated pages on mandatory reconsiderations and reconsideration statistics on her website.
  • For more information please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 020 7219 7062, 07742 986 513 or matthew.brennan@parliament.uk.
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Jobcentre Plus debate

On 28 January 2014 the Work and Pensions Select Committee – of which I’m a member – published a report on the performance of Jobcentre Plus. On 10 July 2014 I spoke in a House of Commons debate on our report, and I’ve reproduced my speech in full below.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess, and to speak on this very important matter.

One thing that has come out of this report, and has been clear in speeches from across the Chamber, is a recognition that in fact on the whole jobcentres are doing a good job and should be retained for the purposes that they have. A few years ago there was some uncertainty about that. I know that the coming of the Work programme and the change of Government meant that some people—particularly people working in jobcentres—were concerned that the jobcentre’s role could be ended.

Things had already changed substantially in jobcentres. The bad old days—going into a grim office with rows of chairs that were firmly battened down to the ground so that they could not be lifted, to talk through a glass screen to somebody who was behind that glass screen in case someone became extremely angry—had been replaced by an attempt at a more informal atmosphere. People were sitting at a table with their adviser rather than the adviser being on one side and the person using the service on the other, which had felt quite hostile. In some quarters there is concern that taking a heavy approach, through some of the things that I suggest have been happening, could bring that sort of atmosphere back. That would be regrettable. I very much want us not to go back to those days.

Despite some of the remarks that get thrown about in other debates—particularly when we are in the main Chamber—I think we all share the aim of wanting as many people as possible to have the opportunity of employment; we also want to avoid a situation in which people are having long spells of unemployment. It has never been my party’s policy to want people to be unemployed or to think that that is in any way a good thing. Indeed, I have campaigned and argued—and marched, in the past—precisely because we see it as a bad thing. We know it is bad for people’s income, and therefore for their well-being in lots of ways. It is also bad for their mental health and well-being, and their feeling of being a valued part of society. There are a whole host of reasons why we want to see low unemployment.

My party recognises—and again, I hope it might be a shared recognition—that employment is a necessary but not always a sufficient way to get a decent standard of living. That has been one of the differences. It is a simple argument that if people get into employment, all will be well, but, as we have seen of late, that is not necessarily the case with very low-income work and the problems that come with that.

Where we differ sometimes is on the means of achieving the end. That perhaps arises partly from the different perspective there sometimes seems to be about why people are unemployed and their attitude towards employment. Neither the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) nor the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) made this sort of comment, but sometimes there is a feeling that the assumption is that there are plenty of jobs out there—in many areas, there are not—and if only people would get a bit of backbone, which we can give them by whipping them into line, they would no longer be unemployed.

I would argue that that is not the case. An interesting piece of research has been published on universal credit. There was a very early survey of two groups of people: one of people who were about to be claimants of universal credit—it was in its very early days—and one of claimants of jobseeker’s allowance. They were matched for similar areas, ages and experience, and they showed remarkably similar attitudes. There were asked whether it was better to be employed than not employed and so on. I do not think there is a fundamental difference of opinion.

The Select Committee’s report is a serious attempt to find ways of improving performance. In its initial response, the Government seemed to be less than sympathetic to some parts of it, but I hope that as we move forward there may be an opportunity to take such matters into account.

The Chair of the Select Committee spoke at length about what the performance targets should be, and the measure of performance being off benefit. We know and I think the DWP knows that only some of those who leave benefit go into employment. There is a whole host of reasons why people may leave benefit without going into employment. A few retire because they reach retirement age. Some lose their entitlement to benefit but do not necessarily become employed. After 26 weeks on contributory JSA, people cease to be entitled to it if they do not qualify for income-related JSA. Many people will not qualify for income-related JSA because they are living with someone who is in employment, even if it is only part-time employment. If there is a source of income in the household they will cease to be entitled to benefit. They may be off benefit, but they will not necessarily have progressed into work.

It is significant that the unemployment figures produced by the Office for National Statistics and the figures for claimant count are moving quite widely apart. Of those who are unemployed on the unemployment count, 47% are not in receipt of an out-of-work benefit. We are talking about almost 1 million people because the number who are unemployed is still over 2 million—2.1 million people are still unemployed according to the general definition of unemployment.

It is tempting for people to say that the claimant count is down in their area, and for Ministers to say that the claimant count is down in someone else’s area, but there is a serious issue with people who are not being counted. Not only are they not being counted, they are not being helped. We should deal with the serious issue of why the gap is growing. There are other reasons. Some people on employment and support allowance lose that allowance after a year if they are in the work-related activity group. They may be off benefit, but not receiving assistance towards resuming employment.

When ESA was introduced, the previous Government commissioned an ongoing survey of those found fit for work. It looked at a group of people after three months and after a year. The significant finding was that 43% of those who had been found fit for work after a year were neither in employment nor on an out-of-work benefit. I do not know whether things have got better or worse. I do not know where those people are now and whether they eventually got fit and found work, or found themselves back on ESA—I suspect that that was the case for many of them—and DWP does not know either. That research did not go further than that and was not recommissioned. If we do not have such information, we have no way of telling whether policies are helping or working.

As I said during a debate I had on employment and support allowance, I suspect that quite a lot of people are not getting better and their health is not improving, and that they reclaim ESA sooner or later. That may be an explanation for the fact that the total number of those on that benefit has not fallen as much as the fit-for-work decisions. There is a mismatch there.

That ties in with some of the other things we have said here about jobcentres and DWP’s attitude to following through what happens to people, and we should look at that. Even if it becomes easier in future to track people in employment through things such as real-time information and, as the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) said, some of those who now go off benefit stay on benefit with the universal credit, those who come off benefit for other reasons are simply lost in the system.

That brings me to sanctions and pressure on people. It is not necessary to exaggerate the position because this is really happening to people and we all have examples. The fact that so often when people ask for a decision to be reconsidered, especially if they ask through their MP or an advice agency, that decision is often overturned, and overturned quite quickly, suggesting that something was wrong with the initial decision making. That must give pause for concern because if the initial decision making was right, that would not be happening. In the meantime, people are finding themselves without income. Their housing benefit, if they had it, will be suspended at the very least and they will have to contact that department to get it sorted out

What worries me is the people who do not come to us or to an advice agency. What happens to them? Many of them will not be aware of sources of help. I had a constituent who eventually came for help, but he had been sanctioned for six months. He had a learning disability that was not fully acknowledged by his family. He was not a young man—he was in his late 30s or early 40s—and he had just given up. He was not signing on. He would not have been receiving any money anyway, but he was no longer part of the system, and that is a worry. He had family. His pensioner parents were supporting him from their own limited income. He was not destitute or on the streets, so there was not that sort of high drama, but the family were struggling to support him. He had fallen out of the system because of his learning disability. That is why he had not done what he should have done and co-operated. Somehow, that was not picked up. We need to know how many such people there are.

Many people would be concerned that the pressure to get people off benefit also applies to people on ESA. We thought that eligibility for ESA was tested for. We all know about the issues surrounding the work capability assessment, but people who have gone through that, been awarded ESA and been placed in the work-related activity group are not, by definition, fit for work at the present time. They do not need to be hounded back into work because the system has said that they are not ready to go back into work. So why are so many of them being sanctioned?

The number of people on ESA who are being sanctioned is rising. The latest available figures are for December 2012 to December 2013 when there was a fourfold rise in the number of people in that position being sanctioned. The number rose from 1,102 a month to 4,789 a month, but that was not because there had been a similar increase in the number of people in that group, so we cannot just say it is the same number. The number of people in the work-related activity group had gone up by considerably less than that. Many of these people were sanctioned for failing to co-operate with the Work programme, and the number of people on ESA being referred to the Work programme seems to have been going down during the same period in which the number of sanctions have gone up. That is a matter of considerable concern, especially if these people are the least likely to get help and to be able to reinstate their benefit position and will be counted as some kind of success for a jobcentre. They are likely to be people with mental health problems or learning disabilities.

There are what are often regarded as scare stories, in some respects. Yesterday, an article in The Guardian had yet another apparent whistleblower from among Jobcentre Plus employees saying that their performance was indeed measured by the proportion of people they got off benefit, and that included people on ESA. This is not just a JSA matter. It may not be a specific target that is stuck up on a wall, but it is about the performance of that employee, and they are expected to get people off benefit, including people who, by definition and by test—who have already been through the work capability assessment—are not regarded as being fit for work, and I think that is a matter of considerable concern.

I hope that the Minister tells us that the Oakley report will be published shortly. We have been waiting for it now for some time and I understand that it has been completed. It was recognised that that report’s terms of reference were relatively limited, which is why the Select Committee asked for a more far-reaching report to look at such things as whether the sanctions actually work. Are they having the desired effect? If they are not, they become particularly pointless.

It is interesting that a report, called “Smarter Sanctions”, was published earlier this year by the Policy Exchange. The Policy Exchange is not known as a particularly left-wing or radical think-tank—at least in the left-wing sense; it is radical in other senses—and it, too, felt that there were real problems with the sanctioning system. I would not necessarily agree with some of its recommendations and conclusions, but it was clear that too many people were getting low-level sanctions—those might be just for one month, but one month, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams)said, is considerable when someone is on a very low income—and that they were being given inappropriate sanctions and wrong decisions were being made. Despite the fact that we are still waiting for the Government-commissioned report to come through, it is significant that that organisation has given voice to some concerns that people have. I hope that the fact it comes from that source would give it considerable weight.

The Select Committee recommended—and these Select Committee recommendations are unanimous—that the

“DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by benefit sanctions, including by collecting, collating and publishing data on the number of claimants ‘signposted’ to food aid by Jobcentres and the reasons”

for that. The Minister has to give a real explanation why that comparatively modest recommendation was rejected.

If the Government are right that, as they said in their response to our report:

“The use of food banks is not exclusive to benefit claimants”—

which it probably is not—and that it somehow has nothing whatever to do with welfare reform changes or sanctions, surely co-operating with the request to publish that kind of information might answer those points, so I would argue that doing so is in their interests as well.

Earlier speakers spoke about an issue that the Committee thought was important, which was the mismatch of aspiration and ability to deliver. A good proposal will often be made, such as that people, when they are first unemployed, should be given longer with an adviser. We all know that sometimes appointments with advisers are very short and they become routine—it is a matter of ticking the boxes and asking, “Have you done the right number of applications?”, without going into any real depth. Longer meetings sound very good, but there is a severe doubt whether they are feasible. The last speaker touched on that in relation to the arrangements that had been made when people come back from the Work programme. The sort of intensive help that is promised may not be feasible. If people are going to be asked to sign on every day, for example, how does that affect the rest of the jobcentre’s work? Will it be about someone just coming in, signing their name, and then going away again—in which case, how will it help? How will it improve the situation, unless it is intended to make people get fed up and give up? It is all very well to come up with these ideas, but we need to make them work, which may need a greater resource.

It is a sign of the failure of some of what we have been doing to date that so many people are coming off the Work programme and are still very far, it would appear, from employment. I think the employment Minister herself said, during one debate we had on the issue, that there were people in that situation who still had poor rates of literacy and numeracy, and one thing her Department wanted to do was to help those people overcome those obstacles. That is all well and good, but what has the Work programme been doing for two years, and indeed, what may well not have been happening before that?

It is a criticism of the Work programme that it really is not delivering what we were promised it would deliver. The criticisms made by many of my constituents have not necessarily been that they have been hounded. In some cases, it is almost the opposite: that it was very light touch, that they were not given much help and assistance, and that the idea of specialist help—I remember it was said that people would get help with health problems, debt problems, educational problems and skills problems—just is not happening. People are not able to get skills training and they are being told, “There isn’t the money to do that. We can’t afford to put you on that course. We can’t afford to pay for child care to let you go on that course and improve your chances of getting employed.”

The return of so many people, out of the Work programme, apparently still very far from being employable, is a very serious issue. As a Select Committee, we are looking at issues relating to people who have disabilities and long-term conditions and illnesses, and at what other things we could put in place for them. There is a concern that at jobcentre level, there are not enough specialists to help, and that the number of disability advisers is just not sufficient to help people at an early stage and not wait until very much later.

As I said, I hope that we will see further progress on many of the report’s recommendations, because if we share the same end, as I think we do, we have to will the means and the resources to make it happen.

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Press release: MP welcomes commitment to publish key ‘Fit for Work’ test statistics

Edinburgh East MP and Work and Pensions Select Committee member Sheila Gilmore today welcomed a commitment by officials to publish further statistics on the number of incorrect ‘Fit for Work’ test decisions.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) provides support for people who cannot work due to a health condition or disability. Entitlement is determined by the controversial Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Current statistics show that, since it replaced Incapacity Benefit in 2008, one in ten claimants who are declared ‘Fit for Work’ following a WCA successfully appeal this decision and are awarded ESA.

However it emerged last year that the proportion of incorrect decisions could be a lot higher, as figures on the outcomes of ‘informal appeals’ were not being published.

Today Sheila Gilmore made available a letter from the UK Statistics Authority which contains a commitment from a DWP official to publish this data before the end of the year.

Sheila Gilmore said:

I regularly meet sick and disabled people who are unable to work but who have been declared fit to do so following a flawed ESA assessment.

Until recently we thought that the assessment was getting about one in ten fit for work decisions wrong – far too many in most people’s eyes – but since it emerged that the Government were withholding key figures, the reality could be much worse.

Thus far Iain Duncan Smith and his Ministers have resisted calls for radical reform of the test by downplaying its problems.

So I welcome the commitment by DWP officials to publish these statistics by the end of the year. Once we know definitively how many decisions the test is getting wrong, the case for reforming it will be significantly strengthened.

Notes to Editors

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Universal Credit debate

On 7 July 2014 I spoke in a House of Commons debate on Universal Credit, and I’ve reproduced my speech in full below:

Some social security commentators have described a universal credit-type proposal as the holy grail of social security thinking. It is certainly true that the idea is nothing new. It was not invented by the current Government; it has been debated and investigated by previous Governments. In an earlier debate on the subject—I think it was an urgent question —my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) made it quite clear that when he was Secretary of State for Social Security, he looked at the project and concluded that without very significant time and money being invested, it would be too difficult to deliver.

There has obviously been a learning curve to which, for whatever reason, the current Government seem to have decided to pay no attention. If we sometimes seem quite cynical and sceptical about the whole process, it is because of a lot of what we have heard over the past four years. There was total confidence that UC would be the answer to all sorts of questions, and would be relatively easy. I do not think that many people present, except my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), were on the Welfare Reform Bill Committee in 2011. The then Minister of State for Employment, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who responded to most of the debates in Committee, was prone to describing his proposals as an empty bookcase. The Bill was the architecture; a lot of other things would come along later. I think he spoke more truly than he thought he did, because clearly it was a rather empty bookcase; a lot of the issues had not been fully bottomed-out and talked about in the way that they should have been.

One example of that—I will come on to others—is free school meals. We discussed the issue in the Bill Committee in 2011. Various people made written submissions and proposals, and there were discussions, about how that might or might not work as part of the project. We learn now that the Department still does not know how it will deal with free school meals in the further roll-out of universal credit. Three years later, we have not made much progress on something quite important and basic.

Dame Anne Begg: Does my hon. Friend agree that anyone building a bookcase has to know the size of the books that will be displayed on it before they can get the architecture right? Perhaps that was a lesson that the Minister forgot.

Sheila Gilmore: That is a very good analogy for how we have arrived in this position. The trouble is that it is not some sort of blunder: my hon. Friends have referred to some of the other big changes going through the DWP, and the same pattern has been seen with disability living allowance and the personal independence payment. First, a straw man was erected: there was a statement about certain things in the previous system, some of which were not entirely accurate, being really bad and having to be changed. There was then a brief initial consultation period before the Department went ahead with the change, which was not properly piloted. As a result, every new PIP applicant since June 2013 is part of the testing process. That is not a pilot, unless it is a pilot on a gigantic scale. Many people who are anxious and worried while they wait for their PIP payments to come through, are being treated as guinea pigs, after a failure to analyse the problem, implement the scheme or test the proposals. The pattern is not unique to universal credit.

Had we been told from the outset that there would be a slow roll-out because of the need for testing, we might not be standing here now debating whether the glass is half full, but we have been told so often that the glass is full and everything is going well. When the Select Committee prepared a report in November 2012, we concentrated on vulnerable claimants. At that time we were told that all the implementation plans were on track for 2013, which was not the case. By February 2013, the Major Projects Authority told the DWP to reset the entire project—that was an internal, private report of which Members had no knowledge at the time. That information did not come out clearly until July 2013, when the Secretary of State told the Select Committee that there were major changes to the roll-out. The NAO reported in September 2013, and the Secretary of State’s response was, “Oh, I knew about all those problems all along.” Perhaps he did know about the problems all along, but he did not tell many people about them. There were further changes in December 2013.

Some speakers, in trying to support universal credit, suggested that at least we have some people on it. There are 6,000 people on universal credit, and it will be rolled out to more jobcentres, but those are the very simplest cases. In essence, for those claimants universal credit is little different from jobseeker’s allowance. There is little to say that universal credit is a big breakthrough to a different form of benefit, because until now claimants have been single people. Apparently, we are now able to roll out universal credit to some couples, but the claimants so far have been single people. Some 70% of claimants are relatively young. They are new benefit claimants who do not have complications, basically. If universal credit is to bring together various benefits successfully, the difficult cases will be the real test, not the straightforward ones.

One bit of universal credit thinking that has been rolled out is the claimant commitment, which has been rolled out to JSA claimants, not merely those who are technically in receipt of JSA-style universal credit. The Government have rolled out the stick without rolling out the carrot. One of the problems with the claimant commitment is not necessarily getting people to agree what they will do to find work but that minor breaches of that agreement can lead to loss of benefits. The carrot—the bit that is meant to help people not only to find work but to make work pay—has not yet been introduced because the vast majority of people are nowhere near being on universal credit.

Since our original debates on the Welfare Reform Act 2012, we have experienced obfuscation through the use of computerese. MPs, like many lay people, are not IT experts. Initially, concerns were raised about the size of the IT project—various Governments have run into trouble with IT in the past—and people asked, “How do we know this will be different?” Any concerns were simply brushed aside because the Government had a new “agile” way of doing things that meant everything was going to be fine. About 18 months later we learned that that way of doing things had been abandoned, so clearly everything was not fine, but that is what we were told.

Other things that were “fine” included security, establishing people’s identity and the difficulties with online transactions. Those concerns were raised from the outset. I recall an informal briefing at which the Minister, Lord Freud, was asked questions by people who were expert, such as people who had served on housing associations. They asked, “What about the verification of people’s housing claims? How is that actually going to be done?” At the moment, those claims are done fairly intensively with people having to produce information, although housing associations have been allowed to verify that information because they have seen the lease, and so on. Lord Freud simply ignored all that and said, “No, universal credit will have far less fraud and error, and it will all be fine.” But of course it has not been fine, and it is now recognised that the notion that everything could be done online has not only been delayed but will never happen. One reason why that will not happen is that security has been recognised as a major issue. The same Ministers who told us that security was not a problem have now told us that it is a problem. When a Department is paying out substantial sums of money to millions of individuals, doing it fully online is not practical. After Ministers initially enthused about how everything would be straightforward, and after having been told different things at different times—even when the reality was that something else was going on—we are somewhat sceptical.

As other speakers have said, we were told that a certain type of IT is being used for the very small number of current claimants but that, at the same time, the Department was working on what in February 2014 was called the end-state, open-source, web-based solution. [Laughter.] Exactly. I know the meaning of each individual word, but I have never been clear about what the phrase means. We were told that it was a digital solution—it therefore seems to be an important aspect of the whole programme—and that it would be ready to be tested on 100 claimants by November 2014. As the Select Committee report found, the system is still a long way from being viable. There is a huge difference between operating something like that for a small group of 100 claimants and operating it for far more people.

The Select Committee thought that what we were being told about was a different and digital way of doing things, and we specifically asked for more detail. The Government’s response to the Select Committee report evaded the question, and it is all there. First, the response talked about the claimant commitment, which I have already mentioned and did not have anything to do with the digital solution. Secondly, the response talked about a

“more challenging and supportive relationship between claimants and coaches.”

“Coaches” is the new name for jobcentre advisers. Again, that does not really tell us anything about the digital solution. There are concerns about how scalable those intensive relationships will be. Thirdly, we were told that there will be more online services, but many JSA claims are already made online, so again it is unclear whether that has anything to do with the end-state or digital solution.

Therefore, having gone around the houses about the claimant commitment, the things that are already happening online and the more supportive relationship, all that we have been told is that the digital solution is

“a multi-channel service that makes greater use of modern technology”—

I am glad that it makes use of modern technology, rather than ancient technology—

“to ensure the system is as effective, simple and transparent as possible.”

Those are all worthy aims, but they tell us nothing about what the end-state solution actually is, what it does, how much progress has been made towards it, how many people are working on it, what it will cost or what the interface will be between claimants and the system. It is nothing more than an aspiration.

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Press release: Edinburgh East MP on board with Guide Dogs’ Talking Buses campaign

Sheila Gilmore MP showed her support for a campaign led by the charity Guide Dogs to make travelling by bus easier for people with sight loss.

The MP for Edinburgh East went to a reception at the Houses of Parliament on 2 July in support of Guide Dogs’ campaign to make sure all new buses have audio visual (AV) next stop announcements, which are vital for blind and partially sighted bus travellers.

Sheila Gilmore1

The reception, which was addressed by Bus Minister Baroness Kramer, highlighted how announcements enable blind and partially sighted people to understand their location, and prevent them from missing their stops.

AV systems are only fitted to around one fifth of the bus fleet nationally, with the overwhelming majority of these buses operating in London.

Guide Dogs is calling for the Government to require all new buses be fitted with AV, as currently bus operators are under no obligation to include this technology when upgrading their fleet.

Sheila Gilmore MP said:

Lothian Buses has started to introduce audio visual next stop announcements on new buses in Edinburgh, and this technology is also in use on our new tram network. This is making a big difference for blind and partially sighted people in the city, and I’m happy to back Guide Dogs campaign to ensure it is rolled out further.

James White, Guide Dog’s Campaigns Manager, said:

Buses are a lifeline for people who are blind or partially sighted, and we welcome the support of Sheila Gilmore MP for people with sight loss to be able to travel safely and independently.

Without AV, bus travel for people with sight loss can be especially difficult, stressful, and dangerous when stops are missed and they end up in an unfamiliar area.

Safe and accessible bus services give people with sight loss much greater freedom to work, socialise and participate in the community.

Note to Editors

  • Please find a photo of Sheila Gilmore at the Guide Dogs reception here: http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Sheila-Gilmore1-681×1024.jpg
  • About The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association: The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is a British charitable organisation founded in 1934. Guide Dogs provides independence and freedom to thousands of blind and partially sighted people across the UK through the provision of guide dogs, mobility and other rehabilitation services. It also campaigns passionately for the rights of those with visual impairments. Guide Dogs is working towards a society in which blind and partially sighted people enjoy the same freedom of movement as everyone else.
  • For more information about Guide Dogs and its Talking Buses campaign, contact Fiona MacAulay in the press office on 0118 983 8156 or fiona.macaulay@guidedogs.org.uk
  • For more information about Sheila Gilmore MP please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 020 7219 7062, 07742 986 513 or matthew.brennan@parliament.uk.
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