JULY 16, 2014 in Left Foot Forward
This weekend, members of my party will be meeting to shape the policy programme that Labour will take into government.
At the heart of those discussions will be a determination to deliver the vision of One Nation Britain that Ed Miliband has committed us to. Nowhere will that commitment matter more than in relation to our policies for the equality, inclusion and participation of disabled people.
Today, we can see that, under the coalition government, that ambition is way off track.
Last week, an analysis by Just Fair, a consortium which campaigns for a fairer and more just society, demonstrated just how damaging the government’s policies have been for disabled people. Just Fair argue that the UK risks breaching our international obligations to the rights and equality of disabled people as a result of the government’s policies.
Labour is determined that our approach will be to ensure that all our policies advance the equality, dignity and participation of disabled people. Last week, in Scotland, Rachel Reeves announced a set of early commitments for a Labour government that demonstrate our seriousness about that.
Our first priority will be to secure disabled people’s right to fair and decent employment, in two important ways:
We will reform the discredited work capability assessment to ensure it’s fit for purpose. Under our plans, everyone who’s assessed will receive a personal statement of how their condition or impairment impacts on their ability to work, as a gateway to defining and assembling the package of support they’d need if they are able to do so.
We’ll also introduce penalties on assessors for wrong assessments, and we will continue with the independent review process, with a formal role for disabled people to advise and inform the way the assessment works.
The work programme has been a disaster for disabled people, getting only around one in 20 into sustained work. It’s clear that a top down, centrally driven programme can’t deliver the right support for disabled people.
So we will push commissioning of employment programmes down to local level, enabling commissioners who know and understand the local labour market and the support and advice that’s available in the community to design and procure the services that will work for disabled people and ensure they share in our economic success.
One of the most pernicious examples of the government’s failure to secure the rights of disabled people is that they are twice as likely to live in poverty as non disabled people, and this year we have seen an extra 400,000 disabled families facing absolute poverty.
Earlier this year, the independent taskforce on poverty and disability, chaired by Sir Bert Massie, recommended a number of measures to break this disgraceful link. Key among them was scrapping the hated bedroom tax, which has pushed more disabled people and their carers into poverty, and undermined their right to live independently.
It will be Labour’s priority in government to abolish this unworkable and vicious tax.
We will also sort out the chaos that characterises the personal independence payment, working with disabled people to ensure PIP protects them from the risk of poverty, as well as exploring the ideas in the Massie report to address the higher living costs that disabled people face.
These early measures are important in and of themselves to improve the position of disabled people and address the disadvantage they experience.
But they are also emblematic of our overarching commitment to making rights a reality for disabled people, as our international obligations require. Engaging disabled people directly in the design and review of the policies that affect them, and devolving decision-making to local level, will ensure disabled people take a central role in the management of their own lives.
They sit on all fours with the principles of reducing poverty, securing the right to work for those who are able to do so, and protecting the right of disabled people to live independently where and with whom they choose.
They go to the heart of our determination to achieve greater equality, to respect the human rights of disabled people, and to create a One Nation Britain in which every disabled person can realise their potential and live their life to the full.