Ed Miliband has given a high-profile speech on welfare. The BBC’s headline is that Labour would cap social security spending. But underneath the soundbite the speech covered a lot of ground. The Scope policy team considers what it might mean for disabled people:
1. Investing in better employment support will bring down benefit expenditure
Successive Governments have recognised that supporting more disabled people into work can bring down social security spending. But too many programmes have had the wrong focus. Scope has long been clear that the Work Capability Assessment doesn’t work; our figures show that only 1,000 disabled people have got a job through the Work Programme. Ed Miliband is right to make this a big issue when it comes to welfare. But he needs to be clear that the reason unemployment is high for disabled people is because there are barriers to the labour market and a lack of appropriate jobs – not because disabled people don’t want to work.
We need to assess what the barriers disabled people face actually are rather than focusing on whether someone is medically able to stand up in the shower.
And we need to make sure those barriers are met through a programme of support that works for disabled people and finds jobs that they actually want, rather than pushing them into low-pay, low-skill jobs that only work in the short term.
2. Spending money on social care can reduce broader public spending
Ed Miliband wants to cap something called Annually Managed Expenditure (AME), public spending that fluctuates with the economy. Welfare spending is the main chunk of this, and this is the basis for the ‘cap welfare’ headlines.
Social care doesn’t come from this budget. But there’s a crucial link here. If disabled people don’t have the right support to get up, dressed and out of the house in the morning, they won’t be able to play a part in their community and the wider economy.
With the right support, disabled people will be able to to contribute more to the economy, creating savings in social security expenditure and generating tax revenues.
Rather than capping Annually Managed Expenditure (AME), Labour should invest in areas like social care that could make real savings across the whole of public services – not just welfare.
3. Some disabled people will always need benefits.
This is really important, because disabled people will be concerned about the impact on their support of combining a shift to a ‘contributory welfare’ system and a cap on AME. Hopefully this means that when it comes to disabled people, Labour’s starting point won’t be “How much money do we have?”, but rather “What kind of support we need to provide?”
And hopefully the result will be plans for making this a better place for disabled people.