We want to get across two important things to politicians during this conference season. Our first chance came in Glasgow with the Lib Dems. The first was to make sure MPs are prepared for the Care Bill, set to enter Parliament in the near future. The second was to draw attention to the crisis in living standards that is facing disabled people.
One of the Lib Dem’s own themes for their conference (… accidently leaked to journalists) was ‘achievement in Government’, and it would be sensible for them to point in the direction of social care reform as an area that they have made a difference. The Care Minister, Norman Lamb MP, is a Liberal Democrat, as was his predecessor Paul Burstow MP.
Together they have pushed through the first ever single legislative framework for social care in the Care Bill. And for this they have received much praise. But Scope’s big concern with the Bill – and that of the Care and Support Alliance – is that too many disabled people will be locked out of receiving formal care by an eligibility threshold which is too high.
This point was made again and again to Norman Lamb in fringe meetings about social care. I ended up heading to events with the Minister on the panel for five straight hours on Sunday evening. At each and every event he was asked about the new national eligibility criteria and why this must not be set too high – as the Government currently intends.
Encouragingly – by 9pm – he recognised that ‘there is a debate about where the eligibility criteria should be set’, and it was another reminder that we need to keep up the pressure on the Government through the Britain Cares campaign.
It seems like the local pressure is increasing as well, with the Bradford Cares campaign also visible at the conference, most notably at a fringe event from the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors.
The question of ‘living standards’ was also a key theme of the conference. Scope’s research with Demos shows that between 2010 and 2017, 3.7 million disabled people will have lost £28bn in social security. There were thought provoking fringe meetings from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Child Poverty Action Group, Resolution Foundation and Liberal Left.
It seemed to me that the idea that the next election will be one fought on ‘living standards’ is being accepted amongst Lib Dem MPs and members. There was certainly much discussion about what the next Lib Dem manifesto would include to push up living standards.
At one fringe meeting, Frances O’Grady of the TUC said, “it is expensive to be poor”. The same is true for disabled people who are disproportionately likely to be vulnerable from financial shocks. Scope will be making sure that throughout the rest of the conference season, disabled people are front and centre of the living standards debate.