Today the Government has announced the laws they plan to pass and the issues they will consult on over the next two years in the Queen’s speech.
The Queen’s speech is taking place in an unusual political context with the Conservative party having failed to secure an overall majority and still in talks with the Democratic Unionist Party over a confidence and supply agreement.
Queen’s speeches normally take place once a year but with the backdrop of Brexit negotiations, there won’t be another one until 2019, so if legislation wasn’t announced today it is now unlikely to be considered over the next two years.
The Conservative manifesto made commitments to get more disabled people into work, reduce the extra costs that disabled people face and reform the broken social care system. The need to tackle disability discrimination was mentioned explicitly in the Queen’s Speech but there was little information on how manifesto commitments will be turned into action.
The future of employment
Last year the Government held a major consultation on the future of employment support for disabled people. Reform is needed to both in and out of work support to enable disabled people to find, stay and progress in work. The consultation proposed a number of important measures, including reform of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), and Government ministers have promised to continue this work.
Yet disability employment was missing completely from the Queen’s speech. If the Government are to meet their manifesto commitment to get a million more disabled people into work then they need to take action to speed up the pace of change in closing the disability employment gap.
At the disability hustings last month Penny Mordaunt, the Minister for Disabled People, spoke again about the need for reform of the WCA, something all political parties agreed on. The manifesto also had a commitment to legislate on specialist employment support for disabled people, so it was disappointing to see neither of these things mentioned today.
There was no mention of social care for disabled people
Social care became a major issue at the election but disabled people were left out of the public debate, despite representing a third of social care users. The system desperately needs reform with over half of disabled people unable to get the support they need to live independently.
The Government has announced a consultation on the future of social care which is a welcome recognition that the system cannot continue as it is. However, there was no mention of the future of social care for disabled people. Disabled people rely on social care to get up, get dressed and go to work and their needs must be considered as part of a commitment to reform.
Disabled people spend an average of £550 a month on extra costs which affects their financial security and resilience. Disabled people face higher bills for energy and insurance so markets need reforming. Again, the Queen’s speech made a commitment to examine markets which aren’t working – but there is action that can and should be taken now – such as requiring regulators across all essential markets to have a common definition of consumers in vulnerable circumstances.
The Prime Minister has promised to create a country that works for everyone but disabled people still face numerous barriers to everyday equality. Consultation cannot be a substitute for action. Commitments and warm words must now lead to legislation to tackle the barriers which stop disabled people participating fully in society.
That should start with a cross-Government disability strategy and action on the promises the Government has already made.