Originally published JUNE 10, 2014
Author: Jon Cruddas
The launch of ‘Beyond Barriers’ by the Spartacus Network shines a light on the way this Tory-led government has let down disabled people and those living with long-term ill health.
But just as importantly the Spartacus Network’s research – conducted by a group of disabled and chronically ill people across the country – provides an inspiring example of the changes Ed Miliband and I want to make: involving citizens in the running of their services so that nothing about them is done without them.
The coalition’s austerity programme hasn’t take into account of the needs of disabled people. The statistics speak for themselves; an overwhelming two thirds of those affected by the Bedroom Tax are disabled. This means that the government has failed to get the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) changes right. They seem to think that a system can’t be fair while also creating good value for taxpayers. This is patently untrue.
Labour will fight for a reliable and fair system that helps sick and disabled people determined to find work, and supports those who have truly been prevented from working by disability. Because, as the tireless and brilliant disabled rights campaigner Sue Marsh neatly summarises in the report, we believe in: “Work for those who can. Security for those who can’t. Support for all.”
Currently, the government are letting down sick and disabled people with a creakingly inefficient and, too often, unfair welfare system. ‘Beyond Barriers’ revealed that 50% of people who have undergone the government’s work capability assessment process found it highly stressful, even causing fear in claimants. It’s clear that the assessment process is not fit for purpose. Far too many people (30%) of claimants said that they thought the process simply does not work; this isn’t surprising when the official figures show that nearly 40% of assessments are still being overturned on appeal. We must listen to what these people are telling us, and we must take action.
Our long tradition of social security and helping disabled and long-term sick people back to work wherever possible, is one of the things that makes me proud to be British. But government should make changes with people not to them. That’s what’s missing from Iain Duncan Smith’s approach and that’s what the next Labour government is determined to get right.
When it comes to finding out what government assistance would best meet their needs, no one knows better than sick and disabled people themselves. While Labour’s policy review may not adopt all of the points in the Spartacus Network’s report, it’s given us plenty of good details to learn from. Above all, we embrace the idea that true co-production with ordinary people would ensure their voices are at the heart of reform. That is exactly what we mean by “relational welfare”.
That’s why we need a new approach to Work Support. It must be about enabling the long-term sick and disabled to achieve their potential, not about proving their incapacity to a bureaucratic system. What’s more, every contribution is valuable and must be recognised – without carers and volunteers, our society would fall apart.
Taking all of this into account, Kate Green , shadow spokesperson for disabled people, has said that giving disabled people a central role in monitoring how the tests are run will be at the centre of our plans for reform of the Work Capabilities Assessment. We’ve also said that we’ll redesign the assessment so that it links more closely to the support people need to get work. Disabled people will be given a statement of how their disability might affect their ability to take work, which they can use in conversation with those providing back to work support. And finally we’ve said that we need much clearer penalties for poor performance when the assessments are wrong.
As Kate Green recently said: “It’s not enough to just get people into low level entry jobs, we want careers and progression. We need to ask employers ‘How do we invest in disabled employees?’”
Working with people can enable them to overcome barriers – whatever those may be – and get back to work where they are able to do so. The system badly needs reform, Labour will listen to the voices of service users to make sure it works for everyone.
Thanks to Robert Livingstone for the pictures