Today Labour launched its ‘mini-manifesto’ on disability. Here, for what it’s worth, are my immediate thoughts:
I really welcome the framing – emphasis on what disabled people contribute and have to contribute, on opportunity and independent living. This about ambition for people, not simply ‘looking after’ them. It has felt as though this vision of disability rights had been parked in 2010. Making this the true test of policy is exactly what’s required to jolt us out of the downward spiral of welfare toughness that has blocked out the light for far too long.
But how far do the proposals go to advance such an agenda?
1. Good to see emphasis on independent living through integrated services, but it worries me that this will be integration into health rather than an integration which accords parity to the range of outcomes described in the Care Act. It also seems limited to health and social care, when what we really need to get back to is the thinking and principles which underpinned the ill-fated Right to Control. Basic point: services may be fragmented, but people’s daily lives are not. Liz Kendal gets this I think and I hope Labour will be brave enough in office to go further with an integration agenda based on the principle of giving people a life, not a service.
2. Obviously positive to see the commitment regarding Assessment and Treatment Units, but really need to see Labour’s plan.
3. I’m sure the commitment on teacher training is welcome, but it would be good to know what the broader position of Labour now is on inclusive education, especially in the new context of free schools and uber parental choice.
4. Scrapping the Work Programme and localising support is welcome (after all, there’s very little Labour could do to make the current system worse!). As per my first point, I’d like to see Labour experiment at least with personalisation in relation to employment support, along the lines of proposals Liz Sayce and I produced in 2013, which would put disabled people seeking work and employers in the driving seat as commissioners of the support they need. I hope Labour doesn’t again bow to the influence and pressure of the big employment support providers, wasting more £millions of public money on block contracts and including the perverse incentives to skim and park of the Freudian payment by results. Perhaps they should be brave enough to scrap DWP altogether and move national leadership for employment support to the department leading on business and skills, linking it to enterprise and growth rather than the dead hand of benefits reform?
5. On hate crime, I feel like a stuck record, but disappointing to see Labour repeat the myth that the incidence of disability hate crime has risen. It has not – the only known rise has been in reporting, which is most likely to be a sign of progress. I don’t know if making it a freestanding offence will make a radical contribution, but it certainly won’t do alone and what is really required is a major initiative to tackle prejudice towards disabled people to prevent hostility before it happens.
6. On the WCA – my own view is that the problem isn’t with its ‘flawed operation’ but with the fact that it is based on flawed logic. But I don’t expect much change here so anything that makes the system fairer and more humane within its existing terms is I guess to be welcomed.
7. On the costs of living, the cancellation of the ‘bedroom tax’ and a freeze on energy bills may benefit some disabled people disproportionately (but nowhere near as many as figures banded about suggest). I can’t see how the proposals for rail operating companies and bus providers shift us from where we already are, but I may be missing something. It’s perhaps telling that the commitments on PIP are in the previous section on social security, with only a commitment to administer assessments more speedily. PIP is a benefit designed to contribute towards the extra costs of disability. Hundreds of thousands of people will lose it (and with it their passport to other benefits such as motability severely limiting people’s life opportunities) while many others who would have received DLA will not received PIP in future. This is a cost of living crisis in the making, about which the manifesto says nothing at all.
8. It’s welcome that Labour will commit to conducting equality impact assessments. It would be more welcome if they committed to restoring impact assessment as an explicit requirement of all public bodies under the Equality Act, as they proposed during the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill debates in Parliament in 2013. It would also be good to see proposals on supporting people to access courts and tribunals when they have experienced discrimination, and proposals to beef up enforcement via the EHRC or alternative mechanisms.
9. It’s also welcome to see Labour’s proposals regarding involvement. It will be useful to see how the detail of the proposal for a Committee distinguishes it from Equality 2025, established by the last Labour government. It would also again be good to see Labour reinstate the specific duty on public bodies to involve disabled people in meeting their obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty.
10. With respect to 8&9 these are largely about restoration of previous policy. Labour has linked these to a commitment to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights concluded in 2012, while both are important they are insufficient alone to bring implementation about. Indeed, a succession of Court cases since 2010 has demonstrated how these ‘process duties’ can allow public bodies to show ‘due regard’ to disability equality while at the same time implementing policies which do huge damage, such as closing down the Independent Living Fund without concrete alternatives to replace it. Hence if Labour are genuinely serious about a ‘better future for disabled people’ they should use the occasion of the UNCRPD Committee’e examination of the UK – expected 2016/17 – to co-produce a national action plan for implementation of the Convention, replacing the vague, un-measureable ‘Fulfilling Potential’ with a set of genuine goals and milestones.
All in all, very welcome framing and rhetoric from Labour, but many of the specific proposals underlying it are modest and mostly about tinkering or some light restoration rather than large scale refurbishment or building anew. Maybe in the closest election fought in my lifetime that’s unsurprising, but on the other hand given the scale of the challenges faced I hoped for a bit more of the vision thing.