While doing the rounds at last night’s Labour Party disability reception, Ed Miliband greeted guests by asking ‘so what can we do to secure a Labour government?’ On the evidence of his speech, if he’s relying on disabled people’s vote then he’s got his work cut out. 6 months from the General Election and the best he seemed able to offer was ‘we’re not the Conservative Party.’ That will be enough for some, but tumbleweed blows through the ‘retail offer’ from Labour in terms of actual policies to improve the lives of disabled people.
Policy is almost wholly confined to welfare reform, as if Labour’s perspective of disabled people extends little further than the benefits office. Nothing about taking forward independent living and how Labour will end institutionalisation for good, about the importance of the Human Rights Act to disabled people and how Labour will defend it, about education and raising the aspirations and achievements of disabled children and young people, about fixing the gaps in our equality law and ensuring it is properly enforced on the 20th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act next year, or how Labour will ensure effective coordination of government policy and programmes on disability rights.
On benefits, Labour promise to be more efficient at implementing a policy destined to ensure 600000 fewer disabled people received support with the extra costs of living. Regarding the Work Capability Assessment they will co-opt disabled people to help implement improvements, without any substantive changes to the test itself, despite it being founded on deeply flawed logic. They will scrap the ‘bedroom tax’ – a populist decision which has pretty much killed dead any other options for recasting social security spending, despite in reality making very little difference to disabled people.
At the same time they will replace the Work Programme and Work Choice with ‘work support.’ We know little about this idea other than the intention that it is ‘localised,’ a welcome step but we need a lot more detail before offering our support. In particular I would like to know what Labour’s position is on personalising employment support as proposed by Disability Rights UK last year.
Outside of welfare to work there are just two policies – to implement a freestanding law of disability hate crime and to ‘implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.’
On the former I’m unclear what this will really mean for people or whether it will do anything significant to reduce incidence, improve reporting or increase prosecutions. What I am clear of though is the need for a comprehensive, effective strategy to eliminate targeted crime and hostility and the prejudice underlying it. On that front no proposals are forthcoming.
On the latter, well this isn’t a policy at all, but a commitment to honour a pre-existing obligation under international law that the last Labour government accepted in good faith by ratifying – with cross Party support – the UN Disabilities Convention in July 2009. That is to say, the ‘policy’ is to commit to do that which it will be obliged as a government to do, including involving disabled people in policy development and decision making and ensuring policy and legislation is in conformity with the Convention articles (though it will be interesting to see if a Labour government does reinstate in law the duty on public bodies to carry out impact assessments and to involved disabled people, as included in the Disability Equality Duty regulations). However, making such a commitment does throw up another enticing possibility: the UK is a ‘dualist’ State meaning that it implements its international human rights obligations through ensuring compliance of its national laws, policies and programmes, rather than incorporating Treaties directly into domestic law. That is to say, meeting its commitment to implement the UNCRPD demands a cross cutting programme of law, policy and practice reform on disability rights. So this ‘policy’ is actually rather interesting. To assist a Labour government in implementing it I’d strongly recommend emulating the last Labour government who on entering office established a Disability Rights Task Force to recommend how it could implement ‘full civil rights for disabled people.’ The 1997-1998 Disability Rights Task Force (DRTF) led to the Disability Rights Commission, expansion of the DDA to education, coverage of all employers by the DDA, its extension to transport and to the Disability Equality Duty. The new DRTF should be given a mandate to advise the new Labour government on a programme of action to secure full implementation of the UN Disability Convention.
Now that might be worth voting for.