Scope’s political conference season concluded in a decidedly wintry Glasgow this week with the Liberal Democrat Party Conference. As at the Labour and the Conservative conferences, we were seeking to once again highlight the need to drive improvements in the lives of disabled people to the key influencers within the Party, specifically in the areas of extra costs, employment and social care.
On Sunday night the Care and Support Alliance (CSA) hosted the final of three conference fringe events. The debate was this time chaired by Emma Stone, Director of Policy and Research at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, with Helena Herklots, CEO at Carers UK, Joe Twyman, the Head of Political and Social Research at YouGov and the Care Minister Norman Lamb MP completing the panel. In front of another large audience, the debate stressed the importance of social care support in empowering people to realise their aspirations, and amidst some tough questioning from the floor, it was encouraging to hear the Minister acknowledging the need for more resource in the system, alongside the potential benefits of improved integration with the health care system.
There were a number of fringe events on social care throughout the conference, and the CSA polling was quoted time and against throughout the week. This reflected a key narrative of the conference, with the Party keen to emphasise that having the Liberal Democrats in Government is the only way to build a stronger economy and a fairer society. On several occasions, including his speech as Party leader, Nick Clegg explicitly highlighted that safeguarding the social care system was an issue of key importance. It is extremely encouraging that the Party recognises this, and Scope will continue to push for this to become a political priority.
As part of our work on improving social care for disabled people, we also met with Paul Burstow MP, the former Care Minister. With important regulations on the Care Act set to be published within the next month, it is particularly important that we keep working closely with all Parliamentarians on this issue.
Glasgow also marked the third and final appearance of the spectacular CSA conference stand – for this autumn at least – and it proved to be as popular as ever with a range of Ministers, MPs and conference delegates visiting across the four days. This included the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, the Cabinet Minister, David Laws and Norman Lamb. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to speak to these senior figures about the importance of social care, and a great example of the unique levels of access that only conferences can provide.
On Tuesday, Scope co-hosted the final event of the Centre for Social Justice’s (CSJ) conference programme. This time the Minister for Pensions, Steve Webb MP, joined Richard Hawkes on the panel alongside Alex Burghart, the Director of Policy at the CSJ.
The event again underlined the importance of improving employment support for disabled people, stressing the importance of positively changing employer attitudes and the necessity of building disabled people’s confidence when engaging with the workplace.
Richard used the debate to highlight the welcome understanding the Liberal Democrats have demonstrated in their time in Government in relation to the importance of flexible working. He also set out Scope’s recommendation for a new form of flexible adjustment leave that would significantly benefit disabled people in employment, calling for this to be included in the final Liberal Democrat manifesto for 2015.
Scope also attended a range of fringe events and private roundtable meetings with Norman Lamb and Paul Burstow, discussing the importance of person-centred care and how the integration of the health and social care systems could be used to benefit the lives of disabled people. Scope also met with Polly Mackenzie, the Senior Policy and Strategy Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, to discuss the policy recommendations that we’d like to see included in the Party’s manifesto.
It was another busy few days that wrapped up what has been an extremely successful conference season for Scope and the Care and Support Alliance.