Yesterday I blogged about Labour’s ‘mini manifesto’ aimed at disabled people. The Tories haven’t to the best of my knowledge produced an equivalent so the comments below are based on those elements of their manifesto that appear most immediately relevant, namely employment, social security, health and social care, human rights and equality and the Paralympic legacy.
1. Starting on the positives, I think the ambition here is really welcome: ‘we will aim to halve the disability employment gap: we will transform policy, practice and public attitudes, so that hundreds of thousands more disabled people who can and want to be in work find employment.’ Of course people will be worried about how this plays into welfare reform (see below) but I’m personally pleased to see closing the employment gap so visibly back on the agenda and I welcome the emphasis on policy, practice and attitudes. But the Tories need a better plan than CSR-lite Disability Confident to bring this about. Ensuring that the plan to create 3 million new apprenticeships is inclusive will be critical. Restoring easy access to employment tribunals for those who have experience discrimination would be a way for the Tories to celebrate their own legacy in having introduced the Disability Discrimination Act 20 years ago this year. Expanding rather than contracting the Access to Work scheme is central to making this work.
2. On welfare, well what can one really say without any of the detail other than £12 Billion more cuts will be devastating and undermine pretty much every other objective – employment, health, social care.
3. On social care, the proposals are entirely focused on older people and as with Labour the Tories propose integration with health, as well as devolution to City Regions. And as I commented with respect to Labour proposals, my concern is of social care becoming a subset of the heath system, ignoring the role social care places within a wider framework of promoting independent living. While the Care Act includes a set of well being outcomes which do situate social care within such a framework, the devolution and integration of health and social care indicates that they may not get much of a look in in future, especially in the light of the ageing population. Moreover the big figures quoted come nowhere near addressing the social care funding gap.
4. On education it is appalling to see the Tories celebrate creating ‘2,200 more special schools places through our free schools programme’, confirming my fears that the political shibboleth of parental choice is going to undermine further progress on inclusive education – a key building block of an inclusive society.
5. Talking of inclusive societies it is curious that the commitment to build on ‘our Olympic and Paralympic legacy’ includes no proposals regarding disability sport or anything concerning disabled people at all. Odd as I thought that had been a big focus of the Office for Disability Issues in recent years.
6. Finally – and critically – The Tories propose to scrap the Human Rights Act in order to ‘break the formal link’ between British Courts and the European Court of Human Rights. Hence in future British Courts would not be required to take account of the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, which in recent years has made groundbreaking judgments affecting disabled people – jurisprudence that is increasingly taking account of the UN Disability Rights Convention – such as in relation to hate crime, institutionalisation and independent living. Would our own Courts be as prepared to push the boundaries for disabled people’s human rights? I don’t think so and disabled people should be very concerned about these proposals.
All in all, good ambition on employment and like the framing of an inclusive economy, but most of the policies in here will undermine the opportunities of many disabled people to take advantage of economic growth, as well as generally leading to a further depreciation in people’s well being and their enjoyment of basic human rights.