Earlier this week at Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham we held an event with senior Conservative Party parliamentarians to discuss how disabled people can be at the heart of the Prime Minister’s social justice agenda.
Scope attends political party conferences in order to influence decision makers from across the political spectrum and discuss Scope’s work and priorities with them.
This was the first Conservative party conference since Theresa May became Prime Minister so it was an opportunity to understand her, and her new cabinet’s priorities. Theresa May set out her commitment to social justice in her first speech as Prime Minister. She said she would make Britain a country that works for everyone and we are determined to make sure that includes disabled people.
Our event heard from the Chair of the Prime Minister’s Policy Board George Freeman MP, Scope’s Executive Director of Policy and Research Anna Bird, Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee and Ryan Shorthouse, Chief Executive of Bright Blue. We arranged the event in partnership with Bright Blue, a think tank.
We were also joined by MPs with an interest in disability and social justice, including the Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, Maria Miller MP and Heidi Allen MP. Attendees emphasised the importance of Government departments working together in order to improve the lives of disabled people and what more the Government and employers can be doing to support disabled people in work and the progress that is needed to improve attitudes. Recent Scope research found that 85% of disabled people do not think employer attitudes have improved since 2012.
Managing extra costs
Theresa May has said her Government will do more to support those who are “just managing”. Life costs an average of £550 more a month if you are disabled, as a result of the need for specialised equipment or of using more of the basics such as heating and clothing. These extra costs undermine disabled people’s financial security and reduce their ability to save or build any financial resilience, leading many disabled people into debt and poverty and preventing disabled people from living independent lives. Disabled people have an average of £108,000 fewer savings and assets than non-disabled people.
In his speech to conference, Damian Green MP, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions spoke of the need to tackle the barriers that disabled people face when looking for work and announced that the Government will soon be publishing a Green Paper on disability employment. Scope have set out the things we would like to see in the Green Paper including further reform of the Work Capability Assessment, specialist employment support and changes to sick leave.
The Prime Minister’s speech
Of course, one of the biggest moments of the week was Theresa May’s first leader’s speech to conference as Prime Minister. Having given a speech on Brexit earlier in the week, this speech focused mostly on domestic policy. She reiterated her commitment to making Britain a country which works for everyone.
For disabled people this must include halving the disability employment gap, tackling the extra costs they face and ensuring they are able to live independent lives. She highlighted the need for consumers to be protected and represented on company boards. Later this month we’ll be publishing our ‘one year on’ review from the Final Report of the Extra Costs Commission to highlight how more can be done to reduce the extra costs disabled people face.
Over the coming weeks and months we hope that Theresa May will outline in more detail how a country that works for everyone will include disabled people. We will work to make sure the Government prioritise employment, protecting disability benefits and independent living for disabled people.
“I want to make the extraordinary seem ordinary” – Read about our event at the Labour Party conference on disability and employment.