Labour will transform our social security system

Debbie Abrahams MP

Over the last seven years disabled people have borne the brunt of the cuts inflicted on them by the Conservative government and the coalition before them. These cuts have had a detrimental effect on the lives of disabled people, cutting living standards and undermining their access to education, social care and to justice.

Disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty compared with non-disabled people, in part due to the extra costs associated with their disability. This has not stopped the Conservatives from disproportionately targeting disabled people with their destructive cuts.

According to Scope, the 2012 Welfare Reform Act has cut nearly £28 billion in social security support from 3.7 million disabled people. The 2016 Welfare Act cuts are adding to the real suffering many disabled people are experiencing. And of course this doesn’t include the cuts in social care, or the NHS, or education or transport, all of which have directly affected disabled people.

Increasingly, sick and disabled people are facing poverty and isolation. As my Disability Equality Roadshow which travelled the length and breadth of the country listening to disabled people, their families and carers revealed, many feel like prisoners in their own homes; with dwindling social security support, too many are dying early, and even taking their own lives.

Two years ago the UN convened a committee to investigate state violations of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). Last year the UN published their report and concluded that the Conservative government had committed ‘grave, systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities.’  Just last month they found that this Government’s policies were leading to a ‘human catastrophe’.

This is a damning indictment of the treatment of disabled people by this government, one which shames us as a country.

Our manifesto was developed with and for disabled people, ‘Nothing about you, without you’ stated our commitment to the social model of disability, a society which removes the barriers restricting opportunities and choices for disabled people. As such we will build on the previous Labour government’s commitment to disabled people in 2009 as signatories to the UN CRPD and incorporate the UN CRPD into UK law.

Labour will transform our social security system. In our manifesto we outlined how we will repeal cuts in social security support to disabled people.  In addition, the current assessment process for social security support is simply not fit for purpose. With nearly 2/3 of decisions overturned at tribunal, it’s clear they are not working.  The distress, anguish and torment these assessments cause cannot be underestimated.

Labour will scrap the work capability and personal independence payment assessments and replace them with a personalised, holistic assessment process which provides each individual with a tailored plan, building on their strengths and addressing barriers, whether financial, skills, health, care, transport, or housing-related.

Like the NHS, our social security system is there for all of us in our time of need, providing security and dignity in retirement and the basics in life should we become sick or disabled, or fall on hard times.

We will therefore change the culture of the system, from one that demonises sick and disabled people to one that is supportive and enabling. As a starting point we will scrap the Conservatives’ punitive sanctions regime and change how Job Centre Plus staff are performance managed.

But changing the culture of the social security system alone will not ensure everyday equality for disabled people. There needs to be an attitudinal shift across society and nowhere is this more clear than with employment. Although four million people with disabilities are working already, there are another three million who are available to and want to work, but are currently unemployed. As the vast majority (90 per cent) of disabled people have worked previously this is a waste of their skills, experience and talent.

Labour has already pledged to halve the disability employment gap which stands at 32 per cent. Over the next ten years we want to see a cultural shift in attitudes to people with chronic and fluctuating health conditions and disabilities in work and across society as a whole. To raise awareness of disability and work issues, every year we will require organisations with over 250 people to publish the number of disabled people that they employ.

We will also support employers to retain employees who may have developed a long-term health condition or an impairment. Job Centre Plus will have a new duty to work with local authorities and local employers on recruitment needs and practices and employees with an impairment or chronic condition will have a new right to flexible working.

We will support disabled people to stay in work or get back into work by increasing the numbers of disabled people who will be able to receive Access to Work support. We also want to expand Access to Work support to self-employed disabled people.

We heard in the fringe event that the Fabians and Scope held this week at Labour conference of the very real discrimination disabled people face both when seeking work and when in work. This is unlawful, unacceptable and must stop. It is over 70 years since legislation was first introduced to prohibit employment-related discrimination against disabled people. Labour will lead the charge for a fair deal for disabled people in work and beyond.

I believe in a fair and just Britain, where everyone can get on and no-one is left behind. Labour’s comprehensive set of policies which we are constantly building on and expanding will deliver equality for all.

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