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Justin Tomlinson replaced by Chloe Smith as Minister for Disabled People

17 September 2021

Justin Tomlinson, has been replaced as Minister for Disabled People. Chloe Smith takes up the role with immediate effect.

The MP for North Swindon since 2010, was appointed to the role by three different conservative Prime Ministers: first in 2015 under David Cameron, then Theresa May, and now more recently by Boris Johnson in 2019.

During his most recent stint, he presided over a number of significant policy changes, including ending the special rules for terminal illness (SRTI) six-month rule policy. The controversial rule had determined that terminally ill people entitled to special government benefits could only get it if they were expected to die within six months.

Campaigners pushed back against the rule as they feel it discriminated against those with unpredictable conditions like motor-neurone disease. The government recently decided to abolish the rule from next year.

Following his departure, Mr Tomlinson tweeted: “Thank you to the three PMs who have given me the opportunity to serve as the Minister for Disabled People. I am exceptionally proud to have delivered the National Disability Strategy, record disability employment and scrapping the SRTI six-month rule.”

Chloe Smith, MP for North Norwich, will now replace the outgoing Tomlinson, and is tasked with implementing the Government’s heavily criticised National Strategy for Disabled People. Announced in July 2021, the strategy which has been widely panned by groups including Disability Rights UK for containing insufficient concrete measures to address the current inequalities that Disabled people experience in living standards and life chances.

Prior to her appointment, Chloe Smith was elected MP for Norwich North in July 2009. She was Economic Secretary to the Treasury in October 2011 and from September 2012 to October 2013 she served as Parliamentary Secretary for the Cabinet Office.

A headshot of Chloe Smith MP, she is pictured with a short bob and rounded brown glasses
In 2016, the MP “spoke up” for Disabled people during a session of DWP Questions, calling for better cooperation between the Department for Work and Pensions and the health service to support Disabled people who wanted to enter work.

She commented later:  “As founder and chair of the Norwich for Jobs project, my work to support young people with physical and mental health problems takes place in both Norwich and in Westminster where I raise the issues affecting young Norwich people directly where change that can benefit them can happen”

“I urge any business who could employ someone with a physical or mental health problem to get in touch and find out what help is available to them. My challenge to Norwich businesses is to offer work experience to an individual with a disability and health problem and discover just how rewarding this can be both for the young person and for the business.”

She has not expressed concerns about the government's decision to end the £20 Universal Credit uplift. She said:

“I do think it has been clear all along that it was temporary, and it was sensible as an emergency response. I also think it is right now to look ahead at what is needed after the pandemic, and to plan for the future.”

Reflecting on the news of Chloe Smith MP’s appointment Fazilet Hadi, Head of Policy for Disability Rights UK, said:

“Justin Tomlinson MP’s time as Minister for Disabled people left Disabled people at the back of the priority and spending queue. There’s  been little recognition of the scale of the barriers that Disabled people face across society and the recent Disability Strategy has failed to put forward a radical agenda for change.

“We welcome Chloe Smith to the role and hope to see improved engagement with organisations led by Disabled people to shape and implement strategies to transform the lives of Disabled people.

Gillian Keegan also replaces Helen Whately as the Minister for Health and Social Care.

And it has been announced that Labour’s Shadow Equalities Secretary Marsha de Cordova has quit. Her replacement has yet to be announced.

Read the Disability Rights UK response to the National Disability Strategy.