Philip Hammond’s comments are deeply upsetting, but make me even more determined to fight injustice

Yesterday the Chancellor Philip Hammond suggested that a higher number of disabled people in the workforce has played a part in the “sluggish productivity in Britain’s economy”.

Helpline Facebook Live homepageDebbie, from Scope’s helpline, who works with thousands of disabled people and their families every year, has this to say about his comments:

I first saw Philip Hammond’s comments yesterday, after spending the day doing training with the Samaritans on how to deal with suicidal callers.

This training has become necessary for our helpline.

We deal with calls and queries from sick and disabled people in deep distress every day.

Many times, we’ve exercised our duty of care by alerting the authorities of serious welfare concerns.

We’ve called the police, we’ve called ambulances, and had many conversations with safeguarding teams at local authorities across the country.

To see such derogatory comments made in this day and age sparked an anger inside me and many of my Scope colleagues.

I’ve worked in front-line advice for 10 years, and the past four years has been the most challenging and difficult time I’ve ever known.

For me, these comments are a new and massive blow to disabled people.

Disabled people who have already ‘failed’ at being sick and/or disabled according to ESA (Employment Support Allowance) and PIP (Personal Independence Payments) assessments now stand accused of failing the economy too.

These are the same sick and disabled people who have been punished for the financial crisis through brutal cuts to social care and welfare benefits.

As a helpline, we’ve fielded queries from thousands of sick and disabled people affected by welfare reform, including some forced into work when they’re clearly not well enough or able to. Many have been forced into destitution and an uncertain future.

This is only going to get worse with Universal Credit, and we’re already seeing an increase in these types of queries.

I’ve spoken to many disabled workers who have gone through the DLA (Disability Living Allowance) to PIP transition, and have lost out.

It’s incredibly hard to be a productive employee when you’re going through the stress of appealing a benefits decision. But disabled people do it every day.

They turn up to work and are the best that they can be under extremely difficult circumstances.

Like the stress of losing your Motability car and being unable to get to work safely.

Or the stress you feel if you can’t pay your rent, or don’t have enough money to eat.

The in-work support available to disabled people, such as Access to Work, has also been cut and is very difficult to get.

Going through these horribly complex processes consumes you, exhausts you and affects every part of your life and your relationships with others.

The detriment to disabled people’s mental and physical well-being has been evident to us, and is far too common in our work.

I am human, my colleagues are human, we hurt and we feel. Some of us are parents to disabled children, or are disabled ourselves, and it’s sickening to hear such nastiness.

Despite the anger and devastation I feel about these comments, I’m even more determined to continue fighting for Everyday Equality. I know that my colleagues feel the same.

We’ve had blow after blow in recent years, and this for me was the final straw.

We will rise up and we will continue challenging all of the injustices, and we will do this together until there is Everyday Equality for disabled people and their families.

We want to hear how these comments have affected you too. Tell us, tell your local MP, tell anyone who will listen.

Enough is enough.

Scope has written to the Prime Minister asking her to clarify her position and called on the Chancellor to withdraw his comments. We’ve also explained why his comments are damaging and inaccurate.

Why the Chancellor’s comments on disabled people and productivity are damaging and inaccurate

Yesterday the Chancellor made comments which suggested that a higher number of disabled people in the workforce has had a part to play in the ‘sluggish productivity in Britain’s economy’.

To say we are disappointed in these comments would be a huge understatement. Even more so, as they come a week after the Government announced a new plan to support more disabled people to enter and stay in work.

We have been campaigning hard over the last four years to tackle the barriers disabled people face both in and out of work. And pushing hard to tackle outdated negative attitudes towards disabled people, whether in the workplace or in wider society. It’s vital that Government and employers recognise disabled people’s potential and the value they bring to the workplace.

Statistically and historically the correlation between increases in productivity and disability employment have gone hand-in-hand. It has never been the case that increasing the number of disabled people in work has had a harmful effect on productivity levels.

Graph showing correlation between disabled employees and productivity
Graph: Productivity against proportion of employees who are disabled

Our analysis of the ONS (Office of National Statistics) National Accounts and Labour Force Survey shows the rate of productivity in the UK has been unaffected by an increase of the proportion of disabled people in work. For instance, between 1998 and 2007 productivity increased by 22 percent, while the proportion of the workforce who are disabled increased from 7.6 percent to 10.4 percent.

It is therefore unacceptable that the Chancellor decided to attribute productivity challenges to disabled people so publicly in this way.

Just last week the Prime Minister committed to getting a million more disabled people into work, a move we welcome. And the Government’s own Industrial Strategy published last month, highlights that businesses with inclusive workplaces bring improved productivity.

Shifting attitudes doesn’t happen overnight. It can take years to shift perceptions. Yet it is this hard work that is essential for social change, and essential if we are to live in a country where disabled people can have everyday equality. However, it can take seconds to reinforce lazy, outdated and harmful stereotypes and undo all this hard work.

We have written to the Prime Minister to clarify her position and have called on the Chancellor to withdraw his comments.

What are your thoughts on the Chancellor’s comments. Share what you think on Twitter or Facebook using the #EverydayEquality