Liam Byrne MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, in a speech on social security for disabled people, said:
Five weeks ago Ed Miliband explained how a One Nation Labour government will reform social security so that once again it works for working people.
And for the Labour Party – the party of work – that starts with jobs.
So, over the past month, I’ve made a series of speeches about how we get our country back to work.
There’s a simple reason why.
As Ed Balls explained: because this government throttled the recovery we left in 2010, we have lower growth and higher unemployment and £270 billion less in tax receipts than was planned.
That means this government is borrowing £245 billion more than it
planned – and to pay for it, we now have an attack on the social security system that holds our country together. That is enough money to fund the entire NHS for over two years.
That’s why we need a different plan for the economy. A new plan to put social security back on an even keel.
A new plan that deals with, not dodges long-term rising costs.
I believe that this means a very different set of reforms at the Department for Work and Pensions.
The Work Programme is failing. It does nothing for nine out of ten people it’s supposed to help. We need to stop fighting unemployment with one hand tied behind our back and create a new alliance between the government, the private sector, the third sector and local authorities – like they do in Germany.
We need to support our older workers – the very people who have either cared the most or paid in the most and yet now face unemployment that stretches on the most – longer than for any other age group.
We need to support working parents who want to go back to work but today don’t get enough support to hold down the average part-time job.
We need to transform the way we support young people back to work because they are going to pay for the future of our pensions and our NHS and right now there’s nearly a million of them out of work – something about which I’ll have a lot more to say later in the summer.
And today, I want to talk about why and crucially how we must revitalise support for disabled people
The challenge of the future
The argument for stronger rights for disabled people starts deep in our party’s past: but its logic is dictated by our country’s future.
Quite simply, we are not going to succeed as a country in the new world fast taking shape today, unless we draw on every ounce of talent we’ve got.
Earlier this year, I wrote a book about how Britain is going to succeed in what some are calling the ‘Asian century’.
I spoke to anyone and everyone who had a view.
I’ve visited places like Tianjin connected to China’s capital by high speed rail where they’re building an aerospace industry, a pharmaceuticals industry and a financial services industry – in other words, all the things that we like to think we’re the best at.
One thing everyone had in common was the idea that there is no way on earth Britain is ever going to win a race to the bottom.
Today, 12 years after the China joined the World Trade Organisation, nearly a decade after we doubled the size of Europe, as we stand on the threshold of talks to open a free trade zone between Britain and America, a country which in turn is part of the North American Free Trade Agreement, unskilled workers in Britain compete with people paid 90 per cent in less developed parts of the world.
We are never going to compete and win with a low pay, low skills, low tech strategy.
And if you want proof, here’s a fact to focus the mind.
Over half of unskilled workers in Britain are out of a job.
The highest level on record.
You’ve probably heard of a great new book by David Sainsbury called Progressive Capitalism. I like it because it’s got a big simple message.
The only way we get to win is in what David calls a race to the top.
Where we compete on innovation. High tech. Brain power. New ideas.
Here’s the lesson for us: What we know about innovative societies is that they draw on every ounce of talent.
In other words, our success in the new world that is coming depends on our resolve to give everyone a chance to contribute.
And yet, today we don’t do that.
Because we have not shattered the link between disability and disconnection.
Between disability and disadvantage.
Today, one in five adults in Britain has a disability of some kind.
That means that unless we give all disabled adults the chance to contribute, we’re only drawing on 80 per cent of our power.
We’re only firing on four out of five cylinders.
Are we so rich and are we so prosperous that we can afford to do that?
I don’t think so.
And that is why social security has got to change so that we make the right to work a reality for disabled people in 21st century Britain.
Ed Miliband has said it loud and clear:
Work for everyone who can work, that is our starting point for reform. That’s how we start to bring welfare spending under control.
But today, disabled citizens are far less likely to win the right to work than anyone else – or go to university, or run our major organisations.
Although disabled people are 20 per cent of the population, disabled people hold just 3.5 per cent of public appointments.
Over half of disabled people are economically inactive.
Disabled people are twice as likely to be out of work than non-disabled people.
Over 40 per cent of disabled people have qualifications below 5 A* – C at GCSE.
Even in work, disabled people experience a pay penalty: median hourly wages are 20 per cent lower for disabled women and 12 per cent lower for disabled men.
The result is bad for the country – and it’s bad for disabled people.
A far higher proportion of disabled people live in poverty than anyone else.
According to latest figures from the House of Commons Library, working age disabled adults are 50 per cent more likely to live in poverty than non disabled adults.
A staggering 2.3 million disabled people live in relative poverty –across the UK.
One third of the households in absolute poverty are home to someone with a disability.
We simply cannot go on like this.
The system is broken.
And it’s got to change.
The proportion of the population who reported a long-standing disability or illness has increased by 50 per cent over the last 40 years.
But in the future, improved diagnosis, reduced stigma in reporting disability, and better survival rates for pre-term infants all mean that the proportion of children and young people who will become disabled adults will not fall, it will rise between now and 2020.
So we’re running out of time.
With these great challenges of the future looming before us, it’s very, very depressing to see the Government’s response.
No plan to reform social security for the long term, just a series of petty political games
An Australian friend of mine was telling me about the Lynton Crosby play-book the other day.
“Watch out”, he said, “for a strategy of distract, detach and divide”.
“The Tories will find any issue they can to distract the media from the economy.”
“They’ll try and detach a block of voters from you and make them their own”.
“And they’ll try and divide you one from each other”.
And that’s all we’ve had on welfare policy. A constant search for dividing lines. A constant attempt to divide and rule.
It might make good headlines. But it makes terrible policy. The welfare revolution we were promised has failed because this government is more interested in pitting neighbour against neighbour than in changing things for the better.
Because let me ask you, when did a country ever achieve greatness with citizens fighting each other?
This country has only ever achieved great things, when we pulled together.
When we resolved not to leave anyone behind.
When we listened to that ethical voice in our head that says actually we do have an obligation to look after each other.
Ever since the advent of ‘Broken Britain’ – remember that? – Tory politicians have served up a diet of stories, arguments, dodgy data devoted to reinforcing a war on disabled people and disability benefits.
The scroungers subtext is never far away or hard to spot. And now we reap a bitter harvest.
A salvo of changes that have created a climate, not of hope but of fear, amongst thousands of disabled people and their families.
It is distraction politics. It is divisive politics
It is in fact an attempt to disguise the basic truth that by the final year of this parliament, the Government is taking 23 per cent more from disabled people and social care than it is off banks.
More than three years into office, this mule-ish government is refusing to learn from experience.
It’s refusing to learn in the light of experience or to make the radical changes that are so clearly needed.
It’s refusing to disperse the climate of fear it has created.
- The goal of equality has been dropped from the Government’s disability strategy.
- The Work Programme is three times worse than doing nothing for disabled people – it’s failing for nearly 95% of new ESA claimants.
- The Benefit’s Uprating Bill, without measures to get people back into work, will push 50,000 into poverty whilst millionaires get a tax cut.
- Changes to DLA that don’t take any account of what they will do to a person’s ability to go out a work.
- The Bedroom Tax will hit 440,000 disabled people even though there are now real concerns it won’t even save any money.
- Disabled former workers have lost benefits they paid in for regardless of whether they’re fit to work or not.
- Families with disabled children will lose up to £1,400 a year when universal credit is introduced even though David Cameron promised to protect them.
- The Care Bill does nothing to address the current care crisis for disabled people. So far the debate on social care funding has been almost exclusively about how the system should respond to the demands of the ageing society and not working age disabled people – and as Andy Burnham has said that needs to change.
- Research for Scope revealed nearly half of disabled people felt that attitudes towards them had got worse over the last year.
- Research for Demos find that disabled people now feel ‘a sense of persecution” and “a perfect storm of mental distress”.
- Frankly George Osborne was lucky to get away with boos at the Paralympics. Most of my disabled friends would propose something a little tougher.
The way forward
The father of the National Health Service, Nye Bevan, only ever wrote one book, ‘In Place of Fear’. An extraordinary poetry. On the penultimate page he said this:
‘Progress is not the elimination of struggle but rather a change in its term’.
Well, the struggle is intensifying for disabled people.
But every generation has to strike a new balance between universal and targeted support.
Today, someone in our country is registered as disabled every 3 minutes.
As Australia’s former prime minister argued last month, the case for reform is very simple:
“Disability can affect any of us and therefore it affects all of us.
The existence of disability in our community cannot always be avoided.
But the consequences of disability—isolation, poverty, loss of dignity, stress, hopelessness and fear of the future—can be avoided.”
So I believe it’s time for a profound change in the way we support disabled people.
If the government refuses to propose fundamental change then we will.
Last year, I talked about what some of these rights might look like.
They are what Amartya Sen calls, the “substantive freedoms” – the capabilities – to choose a life that one has reason to value.
I think they are things like:
- to be skilled and knowledgeable;
- To be able to work if you can;
- to have a roof over your head;
- to live free from fear of attack;
- to be part of a community;
- to be able to get around;
- to have aspirations for the future.
Labour has a proud record of creating new universal institutions that help civilise the labour market. That makes a reality of these kind of rights.
The National Minimum Wage. Tax credits, soon to become universal credit. Universal occupational pensions.
I think the time has now come for us to explore how we add to this list; to learn the lessons from Australia on universal disability insurance.
Benefits and services that are not just a safety net, but a ladder for disabled people and their carers.
No-one plans to become disabled. No-one plans for a loved one to become disabled.
Life deals the cards it deals.
But if the whole idea of national insurance it meant anything at all, was that we all pay in to insure ourselves against the slings and arrows of life.
It’s a system that lets us support each other.
It’s a system that should be there when we need it.
And right now, it’s not.
Today, we support disabled people by putting them in the middle of a labyrinth and telling them to find their way out.
There are assessments for social care. There are assessments for PiP. There are assessments like the Work Capability Assessment.
Of course we need assessments – but at the moment, everyone asks the same question. And hundreds of thousands of the assessments are wrong. Years are wasted in court, where eventually 40 per cent of appeals are won.
It is a monumental waste of money. £74 million according to evidence provided to the Public Accounts Committee by Disability Rights UK.
We spend £900 million on Atos. We’re about to spend £540 million on Atos and Capita. Heaven knows how much we spend on social care assessments.
I think it’s time to end the labyrinth.
It’s time to bring services and benefits together to support disabled people in a new way.
I think it’s time for us to explore lessons from Australia where their model of ‘universal disability insurance’ has seen the integration of back to work support, social care, and disability benefits in a single personal budget, which is being pioneered with cross-party support.
The next Labour government won’t – couldn’t – deliver this over night.
We would not impose solutions on disabled people, we will coproduce our solutions together with disabled people.
The National Health Service wasn’t built in a day. It took six years of planning and creation.
The same will be true for a system of universal disability insurance.
Because of this Government’s economic failure, Labour’s inheritance will be hard.
But I think we can build on the work Anne McGuire and I pushed forward in government when we served as ministers together, pioneering individual budgets and we can develop the concept of ‘whole person care’ that Andy Burnham has laid out with such vision.
Today, I want to set out the five principles that should guide our thoughts.
Principle 1: A personal plan for support, including employment
We should bring support for disabled people together as far as we can – including employment.
Rather than separate services treating different bits of a person, we should provide a single service to meet all of a person’s care needs.
This means health and social care, mental health and employment services working together.
As Scope’s Richard Hawkes put it: “Disabled people don’t only fall between the cracks separating the health and social care system – but they must also navigate the welfare system, employment support and housing”.
At the centre of Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme is a personal plan for each participant.
Coordinators will work with participants to establish goals and support needs, to develop a personalised plan and to connect people to mainstream services and community supports.
In Britain we could build this out of the legislation in the Care Bill aims to enshrine the principles of economic wellbeing in a wider definition of wellbeing for disabled people by introducing a new requirement on Local Authorities to promote “economic well being” and the “participation in work, education and training” for disabled people.
Principle 2: Local partnerships
Second, to achieve this aim, we should create local partnerships between the DWP, specifically the DWP’s Pensions, Disability & Carers’ Service, Social Care, the NHS, Local Enterprise Partnerships, emerging City Deals and disability organisations.
These partnerships could be underpinned by the ‘duty to cooperate’, like for example the children’s trusts we created in 2004.
Children’s trusts transformed the way services worked together to improve the learning, health and happiness of children.
This is what the Care Bill misses out. There is plenty in there about the duties on local authorities. But nothing about the way in which councils, the NHS and the DWP have to work together.
Principle 3: “Tell us once” approach to assessments
Third, a person centred approach would need a radical approach to information sharing.
Everyone agrees that assessments are necessary to make sure people get the help and support they need, but the last thing anyone wants to do is fill out time consuming forms, or take a series of tests unless they are absolutely necessary.
Labour believes it is now time to look again at how we can streamline the process. For example, we will look at introducing assessments which dovetail together to gauge eligibility and need in the quickest and most efficient way possible. This could include assessments for employment, health and social support needs as well as benefit entitlement.
The principle should follow the “Tell Us Once” approach, a cross-government programme pioneered by Labour which allows customers to inform local government of a change in circumstance such as births, deaths and change of addresses only once.
I’m delighted that the former head of Pensions Disability and Carer’s Services Alexis Cleveland has agreed to help us think this through.
Principle 4: Empowering approach to assessments
Fourth assessments should serve to put a team behind disabled people, not a bureaucracy against them.
So Labour will also look at reforming tests so that they identify the help disabled people actually need to achieve economic well-being and independent living, rather than a simple assessment of conditions.
Principle 5: Root and branch review of employment support programmes for disabled people offered though a personal budget
To simplify the employment support system, improve targeting and give disabled people choice over the type of support they receive, we will look at rolling disability employment programmes into one individual budget-based programme.
This could be contracted locally with the budget pooled with other services. This could build on Andy Burnham’s Whole Person Care approach and the Right to Control pilots, and would give individuals greater choice over the support that they most need.
We know the impact work can have for disabled people – and whether or not they live in poverty. Today someone on ESA and DLA will live in poverty – nearly £600 below the poverty line.
Help someone work three hours a week and they will be £400 above the poverty line.
Someone working 30 hours a week will be over £5,000 above the poverty line.
As Ed Miliband’s speech said – if we reform social security in the right way, we free more people to work, lift more people out of poverty, and bring down the benefits bill at the same time.
That’s why I’m determined to make sure if a disabled person can work, we must do anything and everything to help them.
Labour is the party of work.
Last year, from Stephen Hawking’s mesmerising introduction at the opening ceremony to Jonnie Peacock’s blistering sprint, the Paralympics have blasted into the public mind the extraordinary capability and contribution of Britain’s disabled citizens.
The challenge for Britain now – and especially for our government – is to instantly shift focus; from applauding the achievements of our disabled superstars on the world-stage to advancing the ambitions of our disabled citizens in everyday life.
At the Paralympics opening ceremony Stephen Hawking left us with inspirational words that I use with my own kids and school-children in my constituency: “There should be no boundary to human endeavour”.
I want to live in a country where there aren’t boundaries to human endeavour.
And that’s why I believe the system has got to change.