Left Unity Disabled Members Caucus
The decision of Theresa May to call a snap General Election for the 8th June 2017 has caught everyone by surprise. The Left Unity Disabled Members Caucus were in the process of using the Spring Conference to launch a discussion on the type of policies we believe are necessary after successive neoliberal led governments have attacked the basic civil and human rights of disabled people. Our discussion would have taken place within the context of:
- maintaining the resistance against austerity
- defending the NHS
- highlighting not only the crisis within social care but also the dangers and damage that could be done through a wholesale integration of health and social care provision
- situating the development of policies within the methodology that underpins the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People
- taking into account ongoing discussions and positions within disabled people’s organisations
The prospect of a strengthened May government is frightening and for huge numbers of disabled people the memory of a New Labour government’s carrot and stick approach still lingers. Under the present circumstances the Disabled Members Caucus believes we have little choice but to outline the basic policy areas we would want a Labour government to develop during its first term in office. The outline will draw upon the framework offered above plus a critique of existing policy positions put forward in the Labour Party’s mini manifesto of 2015. We acknowledge that over the past twelve months Labour have held a Disability Equality Roadshow led by Debbie Abrahams MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. However this has not gone beyond its consultation phase and therefore there is no clear shift in policy direction as yet. Many disabled activists have expressed concern about the appointment of Maria Rimmer as Shadow Minister for Disabled People because of her perceived lack of awareness around disability politics. Currently, the Labour Party shows little or no understanding of the social approach towards disability and therefore provides no indication of a willingness to break with the traditional deficit approach found in its existing policies.
Improving the lives of disabled people?
In 2015 Labour’s mini manifesto stated:
“[…].Britain will only succeed when everyone has the opportunity to achieve their potential, and where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. We are proud of the progress we made under the last Labour government to remove barriers to equality and to improve the life chances of disabled people.”
This view of the Blair government is in sharp contrast with the assessment of many disabled people. Disabled People Against Cuts had written four years previous to this view:
“Disabled people in Britain had already become a target under the Labour Government’s welfare reform programme and its chief advisor crossed over to the Conservatives shortly before the General Election.”
Like many nondisabled people, large numbers hoped that the election of Corbyn as Labour leader would mark a decisive break with the past and the influence of the American insurance company UNUM on welfare issues would be ended. What can still be adopted and taken forward from this Blair era is the policy document, “Improving Life Chances of Disabled People”, which was written by disabled people. Although dated, it does offer a reasonable framework, and many activists question why the Disability Equality Roadshow hadn’t made more use of it. What is vital over the next month is that Labour can demonstrate to disabled people that they can be trusted; that what they can offer is more than ambiguous rhetoric around equality and removing barriers. The last twenty years has seen disabled people face increased poverty, the loss of independence, and reduction or loss of services and support. As disabled people we are looking to the Labour Party to reverse our fortunes and to engage with us in challenging not just discriminatory practice experienced by individuals but the institutional social restrictions that exist in the labour market, transport, housing, education, etc.
Disabled people expect Labour to tackle inequality and social injustice
So what are some of the key areas of policy Labour need to develop?
Improving Welfare Support:
- There must be an end to the neoliberal assault on the welfare system which includes halting paying private firms massive amounts of public money to carry out degrading assessments which are not fit-for-purpose. It is inadequate for Labour to hold the position that all it needs to do is overhaul the Work Capability Assessment and ensure that sick and disabled people are involved in reviewing its effectiveness. We support disabled people’s demand that the Work Capability Assessment be scrapped and replaced by an assessment process that has both health and social contexts in relation to ill health and impairment. This should include policy recognition that there will always be disabled people who are unable or too ill to work.
- We would expect an immediate end to punitive benefit sanctions which have led to deaths and increasing poverty. Ensure that the detrimental changes to how people within the Work-Related Activity Group are stopped and ensure there is no conditionality of JSA or ESA WRAG on seeking treatments and no linkage with treatment and receipt of benefits.
- We reject completely the continuation of the Personal Independence Payment which was always ideologically driven and inherently oppressive. The methodology of PIP promotes body fascism and is at complete odds with UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled The basic principles behind the Disabled Living Allowance remain valid and should inform the basis of assessing the extra cost incurred while living with significant ill health and/or impairment.
- We call into question the failed policies of countless governments who have wasted public money on scheme after scheme to support disabled people into work. The major benefactors of these schemes are not disabled people, but the voluntary sector, local authorities and charity organisations that run them. Without a fresh appraisal of what constitutes work, the nature of work place environments and identifying the means of supporting disabled people into, and maintaining their place, at work; any new scheme will simply repeat the pattern of past practice which sets disabled people up to fail.
- Left Unity Disabled Members Caucus notes the interest shown by the Labour Party and sections of the disabled communities in discussions around Basic Income and some form of a disabled persons citizens’ income. LUDMC would urge extreme caution in going down either of these routes.
- We fully support a publically funded benefit system and oppose any introduction of insurance schemes.
Independent Living and Self-Determination:
Left Unity supported the campaign by disabled people to stop the closure of the Independent Living Fund. However we recognise that this was only accessed by a minority of disabled people who want support to live in their own communities and have control over their lives. The neoliberal agenda under three governments has changed the meaning of independent living and has locked it into the capitalist market economy.
- We call upon the next Labour government to work with disabled people’s organisations to address the issue of disabled people having the legal right and means to live independent lives. More attention has to be paid to the UNCRDP method of ensuring human rights and the 12 pillars of independent living need to be central goals underpinning new policies on independent living. Labour needs to clarify its understanding of the relationship between independent living and current social care provision and policies. Labour’s current position is unacceptable and is likely to have a detrimental impact on elderly and disabled people who fail to fit into the policy’s outdated thinking.
- There should be a root and branch review of all aspects of social support given the acute crisis within social care. Labour should halt the Sustainable and Transitional Plans (STPs) and bring to an end localism and the current postcode lottery that exists.
- An end to zero hour contracts for home care staff.
- Changes to the system also need to be made in order to provide better support to family carers both financially and practically.
Access to Health and Support Services:
- National Health Service funding must be protected and all forms of privatisation of our NHS should end with immediate effect.
- Funding for mental health services including crisis teams should be protected and where necessary increased to former and safer levels. There should be an end of rationing of primary Mental Health care services and treatment tailored to needs.
- More funding and investment is needed for children’s adolescent mental health services.
- GP and nurse training should include compulsory training on mental health conditions and treatment.
Left Unity Disabled Members Caucus agrees with the position of Disabled People Against Cuts in their 2015 Manifesto that ‘there must be changes made to the Mental Capacity Act which is failing people it is supposed to protect. The Best Interests concept means that substitute decision making has become the default position rather than supporting people who are disabled or have Learning Difficulties to make their own decisions.’ (https://dpac.uk.net/2015/03/manifesto-asks)
In line with the national policy of Left Unity, the Disabled Members Caucus believes a Labour government needs to tackle head on the country wide chronic shortage of social housing and a rise in homelessness and to put an end to landlords and property developers profiting from the housing crisis.
- We call upon Labour to initiate a massive expansion of the publicly owned and democratically controlled housing sector and for social housing in the first instance to be allocated according to need. This strategic and sustained programme of building social housing must be to the standards of universal design and accessibility.
- Labour’s new council or social housing building programmes must be funded by government at very low interest rates.
- Axe the bedroom tax and the Benefit Cap.
- The Disabled Members Caucus is not in a position to express a position regarding the educational needs of disabled children and adults beyond a rejection of an education system which unnecessarily excludes and marginalises them. We believe the Labour Party needs to reverse the harmful policies of both the ConDem Coalition and Conservatives governments which have increased segregation and basic rights to educational choice.
- The Disabled Students’ Allowance needs to be restored to a level where it fulfils its original aim and supports all disabled students who encounter extra cost within learning.
Left Unity Disabled Members Caucus calls upon Labour to break with its patronising and ineffective methods to address the restrictions disabled people face when either seeking or maintaining employment. We acknowledge the view held by DPAC in 2015 that:
- A comprehensive plan of action is developed with disabled people and their organisations to tackle the discrimination and exclusion disabled people face in employment and the labour market.
- Access to Work (AtW) must be extended to include unpaid voluntary positions and the changes that limit and reduce the support provided through AtW should be reversed.
- The policy of charging fees for taking an employer to Employment Tribunal must be repealed.
Access to Justice:
- All legal aid changes must be repealed and disabled people’s rights to access justice must be restored.
- The Disabled Members Caucus believes the issue of Disability Hate Crime remains a major concern and calls upon an incoming Labour government to review the legal definitions associated with Disability Hate Crime as we believe they are too narrow and ignore key aspects of why disabled people become targets of hate.
- A Labour Government should not only reverse the watering down of the Equality Act 2010 since its introduction but look to strengthen it. Key aspects of the UNCRDP need to be brought into UK laws.
- Ensure restoration of funding for advice advocacy services such as Citizens Advice.
This is a broad outline of the key areas Left Unity Disabled Members Caucus will be championing in the run up to the General Election and beyond.