Questions to London Mayoral Candidates – Gareth Thomas
1. Why should disabled people vote for a London Labour Mayor and Labour Assembly in 2016?
Labour has always been the party to promote and champion equality and I am proud of our history in fighting for disability rights. In government, we worked to extend rights for disabled people, and remove the barriers they face in all aspects of life, from employment to public services.
I’ve been concerned therefore that under the last Conservative led government, rights for disabled people have been put under threat. The cost-of-living crisis is being felt acutely by disabled people. The unfair bedroom tax hit disabled people hardest and hate crime against disabled people is at worrying levels. And now the Conservative majority government are pushing forward with huge scale cuts to benefits and tax credits, which will hit the disabled hardest.
I know that any Labour party candidate, and a Labour Assembly, would be determined to challenge the rhetoric around disability, celebrate the contribution disabled people make to society (at the same time as championing greater representation of disabled people in certain industries) and fight for all disabled people to be able to access the services and support they need.
2. Economic development: As London’s Mayor what measures will you apply to remove the barriers which stop disabled Londoners getting and keeping jobs?
As London Mayor I would seek to remove the barriers which stop disabled Londoners getting and keeping jobs.
I’m extremely concerned about the changes to the Access to Work Scheme that are due to be introduced in October 2015, and which will limit the amount an individual can be awarded. Given that the Access to Work scheme makes the Government money, for every £1 spent on Access to Work, £1.48 comes back to the Exchequer in tax, national insurance or savings to the benefits bill. As Mayor I would speak out against this cap which I think is a short sighted and punitive measure.
As Mayor I would harness my campaigning power to be a voice for Disability Rights in London and champion the need to improve access to services for the disabled community. And I would also seek to make all forms of transport in London more accessible.
3. Health: As London’s Mayor what would you put in a London Health Plan to promote independence, dignity, choice and rights of disabled people? What is your vision for a 21st century London mental health care system?
As Mayor I want to tackle all health inequalities across the capital, including health inequalities for disabled people.
Research shows that disabled patients are often much less likely to receive some of the expected evidenced based checks and treatments than other patients and that efforts to target their needs specifically are ad hoc. Patients with learning difficulties and mental health problems also may experience ‘diagnostic overshadowing’, that is reports of physical ill health being viewed as part of the mental health problem or learning disability – and so not investigated or treated. These are both serious problems within our health system that must be challenged.
To do this, if I were elected Mayor I would commit to a consultation on how to address these challenges within the Health care system to ensure that disabled people are not let down by a system that should be there to support them.
I also want a more integrated and flexible healthcare system that is better equipped to deal with the needs of local communities and service users. And our mental health services need to be vastly improved too. For example, recent statistics show worrying variations in both referrals and waiting times for talking therapies across England, with one in ten patients waiting over a year between referral and assessment, and two thirds reporting their condition had deteriorated before they had a chance to see a mental health professional.
I believe devolving the NHS budget to the Mayor, and commissioning of NHS services to London boroughs, would be the first step to creating the greater flexibility within the Health and Social Care system that we so desperately need for services to meet the needs of local people, including people with a disability.
4. Crime, Policing and Justice: As Mayor of London what would you do to ensure disabled people get equal access to justice? As London Mayor and Chair of MOPAC what would you do to address the policing of Disability harassment, discrimination, hate crime and domestic violence?
More control over taxes, such as the ability to vary income tax, would significantly improve London’s ability to plan and invest, giving people a real say and stake in the decisions that affect their city. This could, for example give local authority’s greater scope to provide funding to local legal advice services.
I believe that in order to improve the policing of Disability harassment, discrimination, hate crime and domestic violence the Mayor should encourage the Met to work in consultation with disability charities, such as Scope, to gain greater insight into the experience of disabled people who have been subject to harassment or discrimination. And I think all policing staff should receive proper and full training in how to handle disability harassment or discrimination related crime.
I am also concerned that with the Met having lost 4,000 police officers on the ground already, and with the further cuts indicated in the last spending review suggesting that they are due to lose another 5,000, this could pose a real threat to any work that has already begun in the Met to tackle disability harassment and discrimination in London.
5. Housing: What would you do to solve the London housing crisis facing families which include disabled or older people? What would you do to make sure that Lifetime homes standards is implemented throughout all types of housing in London?
London is facing a severe housing crisis, and I know from my casework that due to the severe shortage of housing available I have many constituents, including disabled constituents, who are unable to find suitable housing.
The first step to tackle this is to build more homes.
I would establish a wholly owned Mayoral Housing Company to raise the finance for building new social housing on TFL land.
With additional borrowing powers I would also support Councils investing in new social housing using affordable rental income to offset borrowing costs, and I would issue bonds to enable Londoners to invest in social housing – the better off getting a return from helping other Londoners get a decent home at an affordable rent.
London and Londoners also need more powers so we can begin to fix the broken land market and stop the sell off of valuable council housing. For example, if the Scottish parliament has the power to abolish the right to buy, which they will be doing in August of next year, I want London to have the same power too.
I also believe the Government's Bedroom Tax is an unjust and unworkable policy and that the Government should repeal it. This tax has been shown to be especially punitive when it has affected disabled families, as I have seen first hand in my casework. I voted against it and will continue to work with campaigners to actively campaign against it if elected Mayor.
6. Transport: What would you do as Mayor for London to promote the "Right to Ride" in all modes of transport across London for disabled people? Would you work to extend the Freedom Pass to National Rail services throughout Greater London, in particular where there are no Tube or Overground services? A quarter of London's Tube stations are step free from street to train, what is your plan for extending this to the rest of the underground system?
As Mayor I would seek to open up Transport for London to give Londoners more of a say in its big decisions. I believe commuters should have the right to hold TFL bosses to account for the decisions they take. Involving Londoners in the future of public transport would also give disabled customers a more direct way to hold senior management to account.
As Mayor I would also want to bring national rail services in London under TFL control which would make the freedom pass valid on all of these services. And I would prioritise expanding step-free access from train to street across all TFL tube and rail services as well as working to ensure all London buses are accessible for disabled people.