Wednesday 13 October 2021

Hopes and Dreams

(Content warning: Mentions of domestic abuse and suicide)

During his Tory party conference speech last week, Rishi Sunak, while justifying slashing Universal Credit, asked his audience “is the answer to their hopes and dreams just to increase their benefits?”

The thing is, for many people; the answer is a simple “yes;” an increase in benefits could be an answer to their hopes and dreams.

* If a parent’s dream is for their kids to have a better life than them, and increased benefits mean they’ll be able to work only one job rather than the three they have now, giving them time to help their children with homework, which will enable their children to achieve more later in life: Yes, increased benefits can answer their hopes and dreams.

* If a terminally ill person’s dream is to go on an exciting adventure before they die: Yes, increasing their benefits can be the answer to their hopes and dreams.

* If a person with a mobility impairment dreams of a really good wheelchair that’ll change their life, but the NHS won’t prescribe what they need and they’re not popular enough to crowdfund it: Yes, increasing their benefits can answer their hopes and dreams.

* If a disabled person wants to move into a more accessible property, which will dramatically improve their health, but they can’t find one within the local housing allowance budget: Yes, increasing their benefits can answer their hopes and dreams.

* If a disabled person was saving up for something special, but they blew their savings on the extra costs of being disabled/shielding in a pandemic: Yes, increasing their benefits can answer their hopes and dreams.

PIP is supposed to cover the extra costs of being disabled, but despite the fact that so many of us saw our extra costs soar during the pandemic - from having to have everything delivered costing more than being able to go to the shops while shielding, to having to turn to more expensive things like robot vacuums and having to get takeaway every day when social care was withdrawn - we got no extra PIP payments to cover those extra costs. I calculated that my extra costs related to shielding from March 2020 to March 2021 came to £5,000. I won’t say I could “afford” that, because it’s not true; but I did have access to that amount thanks to family, while not all disabled people did. At least one disabled person starved to death during the first lockdown because he couldn’t access food while many other disabled people will have gone cold, hungry, or without connectivity due to not being able to afford phone credit because their extra costs were not met. There were no campaigns to get a one-off payment to PIP claimants to cover our pandemic extra costs, because no political party actually cares enough to fight for us; and the major disability charities aren’t any better, because they didn’t demand that PIP meet our pandemic-related extra costs either.

And if you have more than £16k in the bank, you’re not eligible for any income based benefits, you can only claim £74.70/£114.10 weekly contributions based ESA (as long as you’ve been paying your National Insurance contributions in the last couple of years), plus PIP. I’ve a good friend who got an inheritance a month before the pandemic. Not huge, but enough to buy a crap house in some of the most deprived areas of the north. But her income based benefits were cut because she did the right thing and told the DWP she’d gotten the inheritance, so during the pandemic she’s had to live off that inheritance because she was paying £107 rent a week out of £114 ESA; leaving her with £7 a week to live off, plus PIP to cover some of her extra costs of being disabled. Obviously £7 a week for all bills is not survivable, so she’s had to dip into the inheritance; and now it looks like she’ll be renting for the rest of her life between the inheritance she blew on surviving while shielding, and the soar in house prices caused by the stamp duty cut. Her only hope to buy a crap house in a deprived area in the north now is if there’s a housing crash this winter.

Most political parties at various points in time bang on and on about how the system should look after those who’ve ‘done the right thing’ and worked hard and paid their National Insurance. But they don’t at all. Having £7 a week to live on after you’ve paid your rent is not “looked after”. Those who’ve paid their NI but aren’t eligible for income based benefits because they’ve got a partner in work, or got more than £16k from an inheritance or old savings from when they were fit for work, are treated like shit. And because of that, the benefits system will pay more in the end. My friend won’t be able to buy a house now, so she’ll deplete the small inheritance, and then will soon be back on income based benefits again and the state will need to pay her rent again. If contributions based benefits were fair, she wouldn’t have blown out her inheritance while shielding, she’d be able to buy a cheap house once she’s had her third jab and finished shielding, and the state would never need to help her with rent ever again.

She - like claimants of all legacy benefits like JobSeekers Allowance, Carer’s Allowance, and all types of ESA (both contributions and income based) - didn’t even get the extra £20 a week that UC claimants got. When you’re left with £7 a week after paying rent, that extra £20 would triple the amount available to spend before having to buy food out of the money she was hoping to buy a future with. The #20MoreForAll campaign was pretty pitiful to be honest because it had no mainstream support; the main political parties barely made a peep - Labour just had the very occasional tweet from the Shadow Work & Pensions Secretary - and the charities that are supposed to represent us barely made a fuss either. I suppose at least they did more for that than they did for trying to get a one-off PIP payment to cover our pandemic extra costs; with the amount of effort there being absolute zero, they’ve never mentioned it at all.

(Friend consented to being written about anonymously)

* If a parent is worried about their children being at risk of getting involved in a gang, and dreams of moving to a new city to give their kids a fresh start, but they can’t afford a moving van, a deposit on a new private rented flat, or even to pass the financial check landlords carry out: Yes, increasing their benefits can answer their hopes and dreams.

* If a person with limited mobility simply dreams of surviving this winter without dying of hypothermia, and wishes they could afford to put the heating on: Yes, increasing their benefits can answer their hopes and dreams.

Disabled people born after 26th September 1955 aren’t eligible for the non-means tested Winter Fuel Payments and despite the fact that fuel bills are higher than ever, disabled people are having to spend more time at home than ever before because many of us are still at least semi-shielding, and most importantly; many of us can’t move around to keep warm like non-disabled people who can do star jumps to warm up: There’s no campaign to introduce WFPs for disabled people in this most expensive winter ever. Again, neither politicians, nor charities that supposedly represent us, care about us going cold this winter. The WFP ranges from £100-£300 depending on age and circumstances. I’d say that £150 for those getting the low rate mobility component of DLA/PIP (who have some limitations with their ability to move around), and £300 for those getting the high rate mobility component of DLA/PIP (who have severe limitations with their ability to move around), would be suitable rates. But no-one cares if we fucking freeze, especially not those supposed to be representing us.

* If a person who recently became disabled can no longer do their old job, and they need money to pay the course fees to retrain do something different: Yes, increasing their benefits can answer their hopes and dreams.

While you can get some qualifications funded by the JobCentre if you meet certain conditions; there will always be people who want/need to train on a course that isn’t funded, or they don’t meet the criteria for funding.

* If a homeowner is off work sick long term with Long Covid, and they dream of keeping the family home, perhaps the home where their children grew up, maybe the house where their spouse died, but they can’t afford the mortgage on ESA or Universal Credit: Yes, increasing their benefits can answer their hopes and dreams.

* If someone permanently too ill to work dreams of being a homeowner: Yes, increasing their benefits can answer their hopes and dreams.

You can claim housing benefits to pay your landlord’s mortgage, but not your own. The only help for homeowners with housing costs is Support for Mortgage Interest; and even that’s a loan nowadays. So you’d have to find the money for your mortgage, and all the other expenses in life, out of your £74.70/£114.10 weekly contributions based ESA, or £324.84-£668.47 monthly Universal Credit. (Some people are still getting income based ESA, although you haven't been able to put in a new claim for ibESA since long before SARS-CoV2 made the jump to humans, so that won't apply to anyone newly claiming benefits due to long covid.)

* If a disabled person on income based benefits dreams of living with their partner, but can’t afford it because their benefits will be stopped completely leaving them wholly dependent on their other half: Yes, increasing their benefits can answer their hopes and dreams.

* If a disabled person dreams of leaving their abusive partner, then an increase to benefits that are paid directly to them - specifically PIP or contributions-based ESA, as distinct from Universal Credit which will be paid to the head of the household - could enable them to afford transport and a temporary place to stay in order to be able to leave; answering their hopes and dreams.

Disabled people are nearly three times as likely to experience domestic abuse as non-disabled people so needing to save up money that comes to you personally in order to leave is not a hypothetical risk for thousands. It's also why many disabled people daren't move in with a partner they'd be wholly dependent on because it would put them at such high risk of financial abuse, and potentially other kinds too. You never know what the wonderful, kind, gentle person you love right now will turn into when you're completely dependent on them just to buy tampons.

* If a disabled person simply dreams of not having to count every penny, of being able to spontaneously buy a new dress, of being able to get takeaway now and then, of being able to put the heating on more than 3 hours a day: Yes, increasing their benefits can answer their dreams.

* If a new computer could make someone employable, if they’re only well enough to work from home and a new PC could completely change their life, but they just can’t afford one: Yes, increasing their benefits can answer their hopes and dreams.

I don’t know if you noticed, but in several of these examples - the person who needs a new wheelchair, the person who needs a more accessible home, the person who needs to retrain, and the person who needs a new computer - an increase in benefits would ultimately make them more employable. The government thinks slashing benefits is the answer to getting disabled people back to work; but in reality the opposite is true. If you need a wheelchair to physically get yourself to work, but you can’t afford one, the NHS won’t issue a suitable one, you’re not eligible for Motability because you got turned down for high rate mobility PIP, and you’re not popular enough to crowdfund one: You literally cannot physically go into a job interview to try and get hired.

First Labour, then Tories and Lib Dems, then Tories on their own, then Tories and the DUP, and most recently Tories on their own again, have spent the last 13 years cutting disabled people’s benefits to try to get seriously ill and severely disabled people to get off their "lazy" sick and disabled arses, and into work. Never mind the fact that DLA was not an out of work benefit and plenty of claimants needed it to stay in employment; they still created PIP to try and cut the case load by 20%, spouting utter bollocks about getting disabled people into work.

But when you cut someone’s benefits, you drive them further from the workplace. If someone has a job that can’t be done from home, but their PIP is stopped so the Motability scheme takes back their leased wheelchair: Suddenly they cannot go into work, maybe cannot even get out of bed. They’ll at the very least need to take a sabbatical from work until they get a new wheelchair, they may even lose their job entirely.

You also drive them further from the workplace because poverty damages health, and we’re talking about people who are already sick. If someone has cancer but is hoping that claiming benefits is a short term thing because they’re hoping they’ll recover quickly; until they discover how little they’ll have to live on. You cannot recover from a serious illness like cancer if you’re malnourished from poor quality food, and borderline hypothermic because you can’t move much and you can’t afford to put the heat on, while the stress of poverty can also affect physical healing. A cannabis prescription may help with many facets of cancer with THC being an antiemetic, a painkiller, and an appetite stimulant, but cannabis prescriptions are pretty much only available privately; and you definitely won’t be able to afford private healthcare on £74.70 a week ESA (the amount you’ll get if you’re expected to be able to return to work in the not too distant future). Such claimants would have the chance to recover quicker and get back to work quicker if their benefits were enough that they could eat well, keep warm in winter and cool in summer, avoid having their physical healing slowed by the psychological stress caused by poverty, and afford a bit of private healthcare; whether a physio to help them get movement back after an op, or, yes; a doctor who issues private prescriptions for medical marijuana.

The stress of poverty affects even those who were the most mentally sound previously. So if you’re claiming benefits for a mental health condition, the chances you’ll be able to get off benefits is slim. But if our benefits system lifted ill and impaired people out of poverty, it would give people a real shot at recovering from a mental illness, instead of our social security system making people sicker. Especially if people could afford to pay for mental healthcare in a timely manner rather than waiting at least months, commonly years, often for the wrong therapy on the NHS.

If you just yank the social security rug out from under the feet of people claiming benefits due to severe mental illness, obviously they’re not well enough just get a job, so they end up dying like Errol Graham and Mark Wood who both starved to death because they couldn’t afford food, or they’ll die by suicide like Philippa Day, Paul Reekie, and far too many others to list. Reekie died only a month after Iain Duncan Smith succeeded Yvette Cooper as Work & Pensions secretary, so his death was as a result of the benefit cuts instituted by the last Labour government; before the Tories had the chance to make the system even worse. It's worth noting that in Australia, during the pandemic when social security payments temporarily rose and lifted people briefly out of poverty, suicides went down.

The government created the non-means tested furlough scheme to keep people's finances sound while they weren't in work, because they know full well that plunging people into poverty drives them further away from work by damaging their mental and physical health, and leaves them unable to afford the essentials to get back into work like a computer and smart clothing. But they don't apply the same logic to sick and disabled people. Somehow we're a magic mirror image of the non-disableds, and forcing us deeper into poverty will supernaturally drive us closer to work. Even though the list of DWP-related deaths tells a different story.

Yet despite all these obvious examples of how increased benefits could not only answer our hopes and dreams (and in some cases save our lives), but also achieve the government’s goal of making us more employable; Thérèse Coffey said at the Tory conference that she wants to cut even more people’s benefits “to get us into work” when, of course, all it’ll do is make people iller - therefore further from work, less able to afford to get healthy, and less able to buy the tools they need to find work like wheelchairs and computers - and will ultimately lead to even more preventable deaths at the hands of the DWP.

The main reason for planning more cuts, of course, is just because the Tories love levelling down, despite all the "levelling up" bollocks that riddled Johnson's conference speech. At the exact same time that the Universal Credit cut went into effect, plunging families into poverty, increasing hunger and suffering across the country; Thérèse Coffey was making sure everybody knew that she was loving it; she was having the time of her life.

Tuesday 6 June 2017

Labour’s Disability Manifesto: A Positive Step, But Just How Good is It?

I couldn’t face reviewing all of the Party Manifestos this time around*, but when Labour released a mini manifesto specifically on disability policy, that called for a closer look.

Nothing About You, Without You: A Manifesto With And For Disabled People.

What I’m going to do is a headline summary for each of the policy areas (italicised to keep the boundaries clear) and then look at whether they’re good, bad, or missing essential points. Please check the manifesto itself for further details.

Title Page

Nothing About You, Without You: A Manifesto With And For Disabled People.

It’s snappy, and clever, but I did feel this was slightly appropriating our “Nothing for us, Without Us” for party political purposes. On the other hand, I thoroughly approve of manifestos being written “with and for” us.


Summarises what the last seven years have been like for disabled people. The UN criticism. Promises to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into UK law. Commits Labour to ‘a social model of disability’ and promises to keep working with disabled people. It is signed by Jeremy Corbyn, Debbie Abrahams (Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions), and Marie Rimmer (Shadow Minister for Disabled People). 

Positives are the promises to work with us, which we’ve seen continually eroded under the Tories, and to incorporate UNCRPD into UK law. Technically we’re already subject to it as a signatory and as the ECHR uses it as a guiding principle in applying human rights law, but incorporating it into UK law will make it more readily accessible to ordinary disabled people. No real negatives, but I would have been more reassured if Marie Rimmer had known what the Social Model is two months ago, and if they had said ‘the Social Model’ rather than ‘a social model’. What they are committing themselves to may not be what disabled people imagine when we hear ‘Social Model’. Equally the seven months to put Rimmer in place after Abrahams was promoted is deeply worrying as to how much of a priority disability is to Corbyn.


More introductory background on Tory cuts. Background on the Disability Equality Roadshows they held, another commitment to ‘a social model of disability’, promises to replace the WCA and reverse the changes to PIP that are denying it from 160,000 disabled people, sanctions to be axed, 30% WRAG cut to be reversed. Disability issues to be incorporated into every government department. UNCRPD to be law. Social Security Bill to repeal cuts within first year in office. Social Security system to stop demonising disabled people.

This is the good stuff: WCA gone, sanctions gone, WRAG cut gone, PIP to revert to more like DLA, all within the first year in office. A description of their ‘a social model’ says “People may have a condition or an impairment but are disabled by society. We need to remove the barriers in society that restrict opportunities and choices for disabled people.“ Which is reassuring, but I’d still prefer ‘the Social Model’ to be sure we’re on the same page and not dealing with another Atos/Tory BioPsychoSocialModel. The deliberate disablism and demonisation of disabled people within DWP is recognised and will be stopped. Along with sanctions going, we’re promised that the way JCP staff are performance managed will be changed, hopefully meaning they are no longer judged on the number of disabled people they’ve managed to victimise this week.

We could have done without the statement that “Work should always pay more than social security”. If someone is disabled and unable to work, why should they automatically earn less than their non-disabled peers? Especially when disability comes with higher costs. That statement seems to be there more for the Daily Mail than for disabled people. It is at least paired with an acknowledgement that needing to rely on social security should not leave disabled people feeling ‘worthless and abandoned’.

Somewhat confusing is page 7 referring to 160,000 people being denied PIP, while page 9 references Coalition Government figures, saying 600,000 fewer people will receive PIP in 2018 than received DLA. That second figure needs to be updated with a current projection, and using two different but related figures is a mistake 

If you know the background to Labour’s multi-year search for a disability policy, then the absence of any mention of Sir Bert Massie and the team of prominent disabled people who wrote a set of disability policies for Labour, at Labour’s request, back in 2014, only to have their report dropped at the last moment and replaced a whole new set of Disability Roadshows, is a wee bit obvious.

Cuts to be repealed by Social Security Bill in year one, Bedroom Tax included. Sanctions to go. PIP and WCA assessments to be replaced by “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.” Assessment to be via local voluntary/public sector organisations. Culture changes in JCP.

This is the headline stuff. It covers the axing of not just WCA, but the ESA WRAG cut, the PIP changes, and the Bedroom Tax as well. Make no mistake, these are hugely significant changes. However, there’s significantly too much space spent attacking the Tories and SNP, which just doesn’t tell us anything about how Labour will fix stuff and makes us, as disabled people, look like a stick being used to beat Labour’s political opponents with.

I do have some concerns over the proposed new assessment regime. It almost has to be better than WCA, but the proposed system seems to suggest a single assessment for PIP and ESA. There are some reasons why that might be a good thing, i.e. fewer assessments, and some reasons it might be not be, i.e. ESA being work related where PIP isn’t. There does need to be a different focus between the two. Equally people tend not to apply for the two benefits at the same time.

The proposal to shift assessment over to public/voluntary bodies is equally mixed, taking the profit motive out of rejecting us is an undoubted plus, but one core problem with WCA has been unqualified staff who didn’t know what particular disabilities were, or had a cliched view of them. Sourcing qualified assessors with positive attitudes to disability will be a major issue.

Cultural changes at JCP are also desperately needed, but this may be akin to Hercules cleaning the Augean stables. There must ultimately be a willingness to sack staff who are irredeemably disablist.


Disability Employment Gap to be halved. JCP to work with local employers on recruitment practises. Any employer with 250+ staff to report annually on disabled staff employed. Review to explore expanding Access to Work. Review of ‘specialist employment services’ and look at support for disabled people transitioning into work and who may need sheltered employment.

This is an area I am active in, and there is a lot of good sense here on halving the 31% / 3 million disabled people Disability Employment Gap. However, it falls short of where I’d prefer in talking about the significant barrier of employer/recruiter discrimination. It does actually mention that disabled people say they encounter this, but that is subtly different from saying that Labour agrees it exists. That’s still a major step forward on the Tories’ Disability Confident, which insists the only problem with employers is that they are ‘embarrassed’.

Demanding staff demographics from every company with 250+ employees is a start, but given 1 in 5 of us is disabled within the definition of the Equality Act, that number should be far lower. I’d like to see it reduced to 50 at most, and I think there is an argument for 20. Intersectionality means this reporting will be meaningless without similar reporting for all minorities. Nor are staff demographics alone sufficient, the data also needs to cover wage and seniority levels to determine whether disabled staff are being systematically disadvantaged.

Expanding AtW is clearly needed, Tory ideological cuts (it made a profit, only the Tories would cut a benefit that made a profit) mean it is barely helping as many disabled people as it was seven years ago and for some disability communities, notably the d/Deaf, it is far worse than it was. Expanding AtW coverage for self-employed disabled people is also mentioned, but without any details. And calling for a review simply pushes any change into the future.

With respect to ‘specialist employment services’, it isn’t entirely clear who is being addressed. The Tories shut down the Remploy factories, and privatised the disability employment advice part of Remploy, which is now owned by Maximus, the Atos replacement on the WCA. There are also various charities who offer support for disabled people JCP don’t feel able to handle (I found them singularly useless, but they do help some people), and of course there are JCP’s infamous DEAs (such as the one who told me to apply for minimum wage jobs, even though I was a specialist aerospace engineer). There’s a case for tossing the lot of them and starting again with a professional service of specialist disability-trained employment advisors, but pushing it out into the long grass with another review isn’t going to fix it in the short term.

Turning to sheltered employment, the Remploy model was clearly flawed, with able-bodied management more interested in feathering their own nests, and a government not interested in ensuring their factories had the capital investment to compete. And in the end Remploy’s reputation was so bad it was damaging to disabled people as a whole. But it’s also clear that the shut-down left unsupported a cohort of disabled people who are unable to compete in the mainstream jobs market, and that there likely is a role for some form of sheltered workshop scheme that can offer work to people who won’t be able to find mainstream work. That work needs to be meaningful, not a patronizing token, and it also needs to be subsidized in such a way that it isn’t trying and failing to compete with mainstream companies as Remploy did. There’s no detail here on how Labour would address this, but at least they’re recognising the problem exists.


Discrimination in accessing education to be addressed, including with Free Schools and Academies. Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCs) to be replaced, to prevent them being used to block access to support. Resourcing to be addressed. Inclusivity strategy for children with Special Educational Needs and Development (SEND), SEND to be embedded more fundamentally into teacher training, and training of support stafff. Ensure Modern Apprenticeship scheme is open to all, more disabled trainees. Higher Education to be under a duty to support disabled students, tuition fees to go.   

There have been issues with academies being unwilling to take on disabled kids, and the national statistics seem to show systematic discrimination against disabled kids by the Tories’ favoured grammar schools, so addressing discrimination in school entry is a necessary step, but there are no details as to how this is to be achieved.

The new EHCs (replacements for the old Statements) were rushed in by the Tories, and some councils appear to have been using them to try to slash the number of kids getting needed support, but rushing in a replacement risks the same thing happening, so this needs to be done carefully. (And maybe Labour could take the time to revise the terminology – there’s nothing ‘special’ about disabled kids' educational needs).

Deeply embedding disability into teacher and other staff training is a good idea, an essential idea – doubly so as a survey found 90% of heads felt current training was inadequate. If we train teachers to have positive views of disability, then they should pass that on to the pupils they teach. Equally essential is adequate funding to support disabled pupils, 80% of schools said theirs was inadequate.

Modern Apprenticeships are known to have a problem with numbers of disabled people entering them, at times as low as 0.3% in some areas, so attention is timely, but again no details.

For Higher Education, particularly universities, the axing of tuition fees is clearly a major step towards opening up access. But when you say that cutting Disabled Student’s Allowance and making universities responsible for support instead has been a problem, proposing to fix it by making universities responsible for support seems a bit counter-intuitive. Universities already have a legal duty under the Equality Act to support their students, if they aren’t meeting that then a new legal duty to define their support isn’t going to help unless it is backed with both teeth and resourcing.


Environments to allow disabled people to live independently within the community. More accessible new homes. No expansion of driver only trains. Restored funding for station accessibility.

The devil is in the details. This talks about Labour pledging to build 100,000 more homes, and to build more accessible homes, but nowhere does it say how many of the 100,000 will be accessible. If you can pledge a figure for overall numbers, you can pledge a figure for accessible numbers. I’m not impressed by that omission, it suggests something that’s been thrown together without buy-in from the general policy makers.

Equally the pledge on driver-only trains is only to prevent expansion of the scheme, not to roll it back on the lines where it has already been implemented. As a wheelchair-using train passenger, I have to rely on the guard getting the ramp out on about 50% of my journeys, and that’s with pre-booked passenger assistance from platform staff. I’ve had to physically block the door from closing with my leg to prevent a late-night driver-only service hijacking me to Milton Keynes when I was trying to get home to Kent. If single crew operation is going to restrict disabled passengers travelling, then it clearly falls under the Equality Act and needs to be addressed. In fact, an unpublished report commissioned by the Train Operating Companies in 2015 admits that this falls under the Equality Act and is likely to be considered discriminatory. Either roll it back completely, or allow it, the proposal here doesn’t make sense.

Restoring funding to the Access For All scheme to make railway stations accessible is clearly essential, I can only access the platform at my local station by rolling down a dangerously steep access road after buying my ticket at a booking hall with no disabled parking, and other stations are worse. But when Access to All was cut in 2014, only 452 out of 2533 UK stations were accessible, despite almost £400m having been spent since 2006. Restoring the funding would only increase it from £25m/yr to £43m/yr. And that doesn’t address the two smaller schemes (‘mid-tier’ and ‘small’) which were axed at the same time, and which amounted to another £40m. Restoring Access to All funding only addresses part of the issue and we need an overall scheme to ensure access, and assistance, at all stations at all hours they are in operation.


Create a network of local ‘independent living hubs’ to access services. Invest extra £37Bn in NHS. Invest £8Bn in care, lay the foundation for a ‘National Care Service’. Increase status and career opportunities of care workers. Homes excluded from care means testing. Increase Carer’s Allowance to £73/wk.

A whole 50% of the text here is devoted to attacking the Tories and the SNP, and not telling us about the details of policies. Undoubtedly adequately funding the NHS is huge, and essential, but some of the other ideas are just not clearly explained. The proposal is that these ‘independent living hubs’ would be run by disabled people and support access to other services, but how this would be superior to addressing existing access issues to these services isn’t clear. It’s also impossible to tell whether the extra £8Bn on care is all targeted at the elderly, rather than at disabled people.

I’m all for increasing the status and career opportunities of domiciliary care workers (i.e. those who work in the home), many disabled people depend on their care workers, but there are absolutely no details, nor anything to indicate that Labour recognises the difference between agency and directly employed staff. Most disabled people who directly employ care staff don’t have the means to provide pay increases and fund training courses, so these will need to come from national or local government.

And saying something must be done about the perception of care work as low paid, while promising to increase Carer’s Allowance for ‘Britain’s Unsung Heroes’ to a whole £73 a week seems almost like spitting in carers’ faces. Carer’s Allowance requires you to be devoting 35 hours or more to caring for someone, so that’s a princely £2.08/hr being promised (at a maximum), versus a national living wage of £7.50/hr.

A complete omission is any mention of the Independent Living Fund. It looks like Labour has no interest in reversing that particular Tory cut, no matter how hard disability groups fought to prevent it.

Access to Justice

Labour to ensure disabled people have same access to justice as non-disabled people. National action plans on disability hate crime, and hate crime against disabled women, with associated reporting of statistics.
This whole section is murky and unclear. Half the text is spent describing Conservative cuts to legal aid, plans to do away with face to face tribunals and tribunal fees, but then all it says in terms of addressing them is: Labour will ensure disabled people have the same access to justice as non-disabled people. There’s no promise to actually restore legal aid or axe tribunal fees. There is a promise to strengthen the disability provisions of the Equality Act, by both reinstating the Public Sector Equality Duty and ‘seeking’ to extend it to the private sector. I think most disabled people would far prefer to see government take up the burden of enforcing the Equality Act and not leave it to individual disabled people to sue when organisations discriminate or otherwise refuse to act on their obligations. There is a promise to increase the independence and role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, but still only to support disabled people in taking action.

There is a promise, in accordance with the Istanbul Convention, to introduce “annual reporting of the levels of disability hate crimes and violence against disabled women”. The proposal for releasing stats on violence against disabled women is completely appropriate, intersectional violence against women is a particular problem. But we already have multiple national reports on the levels of disability hate crime, and general disability hate crime is not subject to the Istanbul Convention, which addresses only violence against women. This is utterly confused. On the other hand, the promise of a national disability hate crime action plan is a needed one. The last Home Office hate crime action plan essentially forgot about disability hate crime, which got one sentence in the entire document, and that clearly added at the last minute. Extra training is promised for the police, but a considerable percentage of the problems with disability hate crime prosecutions actually arise with the judiciary, rather than the police or CPS, with judges refusing to implement the hate crime uplifts and instead sidetracking cases into the lesser sentences for crimes again 'vulnerable people'.

A gaping absence is any promise to raise disability hate crime to the same status as race and religious hate crime, an acknowledged weakness in the law that disability groups (and LGBT groups who face the same issues) have been demanding parties should address in their manifestos.


As a party Labour will have accessible selection processes at all levels. Labour will review access to sports, art and leisure venues.

The party stuff only commits Labour to meeting its legal commitments under the Equality Act, I’m really not sure ‘we’ll provide reasonable adjustments’ should be in their political manifesto when it’s the law of the land! Completely missing is any promise to reinstate the Access to Elected Office Fund, which existed to help all disabled candidates with their additional campaigning costs. Why on earth is Labour proposing to address this internally, but not to reinstate it at a national level?

The promised review on access to sport, art and leisure venues, illustrated with the failure of the Premier League clubs to meet access requirements, seems strange when you realise that the EHRC is already on the verge of launching a formal investigation of the Premier League given its failure to carry through on previous access pledges. Why promise to make the EHRC fully independent in one section, and then undercut it in the next? The logical approach here would have been to ask the EHRC to extend its investigation.

A promise is also made to promote the use of BSL and to give it legal status, something the British Deaf Association has been campaigning on for over 30 years. 

And that's the last item in the manifesto.


Points deducted for the initial release, the only link to the document that I and other activists I know could initially find was buried under one of those interminably long auto-generated document names, from a link on the DisabilityLabour site. That just looked amateur when you linked directly to it; but a better link does now exist on Labour’s main site.

And serious points deductions for failure to provide accessible formats. These exist for the main manifesto, but if they exist for the disability manifesto then they have been well hidden. Seriously, Labour must have known they would be criticised for this. Producing a manifesto specifically for disabled people, but without accessible formats, is pretty much unforgivable.


The absolutely vital stuff, axing WCA and rolling back the cuts, is all there (well, except for the ILF), but on the merely very important things start to look a bit less uniformly good, and there are a few absolutely unforgivable omissions, noticeably the failure to reinstate the ILF and not raising disability (and LGBT) hate crime to the same status as race and religious hate crime.

Of course it’s far better than what we would face from a Tory government.

Undoubtedly this is a step forward, and some of it is really good; but Labour need to win on Thursday for any of this to be put into force. And, of course, manifesto promises can be fleeting things that never again see the light of day. We’ll see.

* However there is an Easy Read review of the disability related policies within the party manifestos here and which also looks at accessible versions:
Tories: Easy Read, Braille, Large Print, BSL, Audio
Labour: Easy Read, Braille, Large Print, BSL, Sign-supported English, and Audio.
Lib Dems: Easy Read, Audio, BSL and braille
Greens: Easy Read, Audio, BSL and braille

To which we can add
Labour, Disability Manifesto: None, zip, nada, zilch.

Thursday 16 February 2017

Piercing the Smokescreen

The submission phase of the DWP consultation on the Work and Health Green Paper closes tomorrow, 17th February at 11:45pm (!?!). Submissions can still be made at via an online form. That only the online form is available for submission is probably a hint as to just how attention the Green Paper shows to the actual needs of disabled people.

The Spartacus Network has just released a comprehensive (237 page) response to the Work and Health Green Paper with clinically dissects it to reveal it for what it is, a smokescreen. I’m listed as a co-author to the report, because it incorporates my ‘Ticked Off’ analysis of the critical weaknesses of the Disability Confident scheme that was originally published here on Where’s the Benefit?, but that’s a tiny fraction of the full report and the real credit goes to Caroline Richardson and Stef Benstead as the two principle authors.

The Spartacus report brands the Green Paper a smokescreen because it is supposed to address the government’s pledge to halve the Disability Employment Gap, which sees disabled employment running at nearly half the rate of non-disabled employment. As any disabled person can tell you, the gap exists because of society’s attitude towards disabled people in general, and because of blatant disability discrimination in recruitment and the workplace in particular. But this is a Tory government and god forbid an employer might ever do anything wrong. So if the problem can’t be with the employers or society, then obviously the problem must be with us. 

In order to erect that smokescreen the Green Paper spends a great deal of time implying disability isn’t actually that much of a barrier to work and proposes to step up a gear in trying to compel disabled people to find a job. Beyond the already announced 30% cut in ESA, because clearly it’ll be easier to find a job if you can’t heat your house or feed yourself, Work and Health proposes forcing people in the ESA Support Group, even those who are terminally ill, to undertake at least some work-related activity. Bizarrely it aims to reduce the funding available to the Work Programme subcontractors on a per person basis, while proposing that unqualified ‘work coaches’ be able to overrule GPs on patient’s health and treatment, and insisting that GPs should recognise that good health can only be achieved through work. One wonders how they explain the country’s 16 million pensioners?

When it comes to addressing the reality that the problem lies with employers, and society, the green paper mentions the word discrimination precisely twice, and one of those references is in relation to a non-governmental scheme. How can you seriously discuss halving the Disability Employment Gap and not address the universally recognised problem of widespread discrimination?

To quote a senior recruitment industry professional of many years’ experience on my career prospects as a highly skilled engineer: “You need to understand that with your disability no private sector company will consider employing you, and precious few public sector employers either”. If even the recruitment industry admits they have a problem with disability discrimination, why won’t ministers?

The consultation might equally be branded a smokescreen, as even before the submission phase has closed DWP have announced that London and Manchester will be acting as DWP’s proxies to implement the Green Paper’s plans, which shows a real readiness to listen when disabled people tell them why those plans won’t work. The Mayor of London has welcomed the opportunity to get involved, but he probably hasn’t realised that DWP are likely hoping to spread the blame when Work and Health crashes and burns. And, of course, that 30% cut to ESA is bearing down on us like a ton of uncaring Tory bricks.

The floggings will continue until disability employment improves.