As expected, a Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill was announced, reflecting both the Government’s ambition of supporting more people into the workplace and plans to reform and find further savings in the welfare budget.
The bill will place a legal duty on the Government to report on its progress towards achieving full employment. The gap between the employment rate for disabled people and the rest of the population has remained static for over a decade. The Government recognised in its Manifesto that to achieve full employment, we need to halve the disability employment gap. Whilst the details of how progress towards this goal will be measured are not yet clear, for Scope it’s essential that disabled people are central to this conversation and are better supported to access the jobs of the future.
The bill will also set out measures to freeze the majority of working age benefits from 2015 to 16 onwards. The Chancellor has consistently stated that the Government plans to find £12bn of savings in the welfare budget in this Parliament. However, the Queen’s Speech also reiterated that benefits relating to the additional costs of disability will be excluded from the freeze, which is certainly welcome.
DLA (Disability Living Allowance) and PIP (Personal Independence Payment) have a vital role to play in supporting disabled people to meet the extra costs of their disability. The Prime Minister recognised this before the election and indicated that he planned to ‘safeguard’ and ‘enhance’ PIP. Scope will now be looking to the emergency Budget on 8 July for additional detail about where savings in the welfare budget are likely to be made and for detail on how the value of extra costs payments will be protected in the new Parliament.
Social care plays a vital role in supporting disabled people to live independently, and on Wednesday there was further confirmation that the Government will continue its commitment to integrating the health and social care systems.
Whilst this continued prioritisation of integrated care is welcome, Scope is concerned that despite increasing numbers of people needing care support, fewer people are getting it. Investing in the health system must be matched by an investment in social care. Working age disabled people make up one third of social care users and just under half of social care expenditure. As such, they must be seen as a priority in the development of the integrated care system, and initiatives such as the Better Care Fund must be made to work for disabled people.
A big talking point ahead of the Queen’s Speech was the Government’s plan to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. However on Wednesday it was announced that these proposals will not be put forward in the first year of the new Parliament. The Human Rights Act provides critical protection for disabled people and we will be closely monitoring any developments in this area.
Elsewhere, a new Charities Bill will make it easier for the voluntary sector to undertake social investment as well as protecting charities from abuse and strengthening the powers of the Charity Commission.
The Government also gave further details of how powers will be devolved to cities and regions across England. This move towards decentralisation has the potential to offer improved support for disabled people in a number of areas, including employment and care support. It’s important that disabled people are seen as a priority group in the individual growth deals moving forwards.
The overarching theme of yesterday’s Queen’s Speech was delivering a ‘one nation’ agenda, and the Prime Minister repeatedly expressed his desire to “bring our country together”. The July Budget and subsequent Comprehensive Spending Review will go a long way towards setting out the detail of how he plans to achieve this. One thing is clear – if he is to realise his ambition, disabled people must be front and centre of his legislative programme.