Category Archives: News and politics

I’m a disabled person and I’ve contributed to the economy for 43 years – the Chancellor’s comments feel personal

Graham is Scope’s Engagement and Participation Manager. As a disabled person himself, with three disabled children, he had a strong reaction to Philip Hammond’s comments about productivity and disabled people. In this blog, “after a full day to calm down and sleep on it”, he responds and shares some other reactions.

It’s not based on any evidence

Firstly, as Scope colleagues and many others have said on social media, this statement hugely undermines the Government’s commitment to getting one million disabled people into work.

This wasn’t an off-the-cuff remark by Mr Hammond during an after-dinner speech – it was made in a formal Parliamentary committee meeting and broadcast to the world. So, apart from the slap in the face to working disabled people, he is contradicting Government policy.

His statement is not based on any evidence that anyone knows of. I’m extremely pleased that Scope has called out both the Chancellor and the Prime Minister on this slight.

I’ve contributed to the UK economy for over 43 years

Secondly, it feels quite personal. I’ve had my impairment since I was  a child and have worked continuously (apart from study breaks) since age 17 when I joined a press agency in London as a trainee journalist.

I’ve since worked as mental health support worker, probation officer, supported housing officer, bookseller, policy wonk and project manager. During this time I haven’t avoided paying my income tax and have contributed to the UK’s economy for over 43 years. So being labelled as a problem for  productivity would be a joke if it wasn’t so serious.

I worry for the next generation of disabled people, including my son

Thirdly, I worry for the next generation of disabled people. My youngest son is leaving university in a year or so, and my daughter has worked and has paid taxes for several years.

Despite my professional and personal campaigning on the inclusion of disabled people for 20 years or more, it is very clear we have a whole lot more to do if senior politicians still see us as drains on the economy and uninvestable. We need to be seen as active, empowered citizens.

And in addition to this novel stance – being seen as non-productive – the framing of disabled people as inherently “vulnerable” is another barrier that needs dismantling. I’m confident that Scope will continue to challenge received and dated ideas that diminish disabled people, and really promote everyday equality in all its senses.

It’s not just me who’s outraged, here’s what other people have told Scope

Laura via email:Laura walking with her guide dog

“I am disgusted that a man in his position could say such a thing. We have enough issues to face daily without comments like that.

Every day I make a contribution to society along with so many others. These were very hurtful comments to read as I was getting up, getting ready and travelling to work!

I am pleased to see disabled people and organisations have pulled together today.”

 

Liam via Twitter:

“I just felt disappointed and confused, to be honest.Liam wearing radio headset, smiling at the camera

Aside from being derogatory, it was also a bizarre statement to make when the disability employment gap remains stagnant.”

 

 

Shona via Twitter:

“It’s just reinforcing what we already know, this government thinks disabled people are a problem.Shona in her wheelchair in front of a fence and a park

What is even scarier is the government knows they can get away with saying things like that because they’ve created a society that sees disabled people as lesser.”

 

If you want to read more reactions to the Chancellor’s damaging and inaccurate comments, check out Scope’s Twitter moment. 

Scope storytellers also shared their views in the media:

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.

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

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

What does the Government’s plan to tackle disability employment mean for disabled people?

Today the Government set out its plan to support more disabled people to enter and stay in work, with a laudable ambition of getting a million more disabled people into work over the next ten years. The Prime Minister said she is “committed to tackling the injustices facing disabled people who want to work, so that everyone can go as far as their talents will take them.”

This follows on from a government consultation last year which looked at ways to improve support for disabled people both in and out of work.

We’ve taken a closer look at the Government’s plan published today and what it could mean for disabled people.

At Scope, we know that there are one million disabled people who can and want to work. Yet too many face barriers to entering, staying and progressing in work.

This is a huge waste of disabled people’s talent and potential, which is why we’ve been campaigning over the last four years to convince the Government to address the challenges faced by disabled job-seekers and employees.

Illustration of a CV with a tick next to it. Text: one million disabled people can and want to work
One million disabled can and want to work

The Government today has announced a series of measures to increase disability employment and change the workplace for disabled people. These include trials that will look at ways to support disabled people to move into employment and proposals to support disabled people to stay in work. There is also a greater focus on the role of employers in supporting disabled people in the workplace.

Last year we gathered many of your views and experiences of work and the workplace. It’s positive to see the Government’s ambition, but it’s vital this plan leads to swift and meaningful action if they are to meet their pledge to get one million more disabled people into employment over the next ten years.

Work Capability Assessment

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is the gateway to a higher rate of benefit for disabled people whilst out of work. We’ve long been calling for the Government to replace the WCA with a new assessment which more accurately recognises the barriers disabled people face to entering and staying in work.

The Government has said it will be exploring ways to improve disabled people’s experiences of the assessment process and provide more personalised support.

Whilst this is a step in the right direction, this does not go far enough. We need to see a complete overhaul of the assessment that accurately identifies the back-to-work support disabled people need. It is important that any assessment for financial support is separate from any conversations about support to move into work.

Employment support

The Government have set out a series of proposals for testing new ways of offering support to disabled people to take up employment.

This includes exploring the idea of personal budgets for employment support and testing out an offer of voluntary employment support for people in the support group of Employment and Support Allowance.

We think these ideas have the potential to help disabled people get the tailored support they need to get into work. However, it’s vital that any engagement with employment support is voluntary and has no impact on the financial support an individual receives.

Employers Driving Change

The Government has also announced a range of measures to improve the workplace and highlight the role employers play in tackling disability unemployment. This includes a focus on getting large employers to voluntary publish information on their disabled employees, as well as a greater focus on providing employers with information and advice

We think this is positive news. Our research shows that 48 per cent of disabled people have worried about sharing information about their impairment or condition with an employer, demonstrating that we need to do more to create inclusive workplaces for disabled people.

A graphic showing statistics from Scope research. It reads "48 percent of disabled people have worried about sharing information about their impairment or condition with an employer"
48 percent of disabled people have worried about sharing information about their impairment or condition with an employer

 

This change will help to give employers a better sense of areas where they’re doing well at recruiting and retraining disabled staff, and areas they need to look at where disabled people are underrepresented.

Access to Work

There are also a range of measures to improve the Access to Work scheme. This provides essential resources and support that disabled people need to do their jobs.

It can make a huge difference to working disabled people, but we know that disabled people can sometimes face issues with the scheme, such as delays in getting support, or loss of their package of support if they change role within the same organisation.

This can make it harder for disabled people to stay in their jobs. We know that for every 100 disabled people moving into work, 114 leave, meaning its critical disabled people have the right support once in employment.

The Government has proposed changes to improve the delivery of the scheme, which include investing in its Mental Health Support Service and making it easier for disabled people to take their awards with them when they change jobs. However, it is crucial the Government invests in Access to Work so that a greater number of disabled people can benefit from the scheme to help them stay in work.

Statutory Sick Pay

There is also a commitment to consult on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). This is money paid by an employer to their employee while they are off sick, either instead of, or after, occupational sick pay.

The Government’s proposal would help to increase disabled people’s income during a phased return to work after a period of sickness absence. However, we want to see the Government go further and reform SSP so that disabled people have greater flexibility in managing fluctuations in their condition whilst at work.

What next?

Today’s publication includes a range of measures that could help tackle the disability employment gap and improve the workplace for disabled people. It’s critical that disabled people’s experiences are at the heart of any changes.

The Government now needs to build on this plan and ensure that it quickly leads to real change for disabled people.

Scope will be continuing to campaign on disability employment so that more disabled people can enter, stay and progress in work.

As part of this, Scope has launched its Work With Me campaign with Virgin Media to get government, employers and the public to tackle the issues faced by disabled job-seekers and employees.    

Find out more about our campaign and how you can get involved.

Budget 2017 – so near and yet so far

The Chancellor today has announced the second Budget of this year and the first since the General Election. It was a deliberately low-key affair after a turbulent few months for the Government.

In this blog, we take a look at the impact that this will have on disabled people’s lives.

There was a much-needed announcement to Universal Credit which is a step in the right direction for disabled people. The seven-day initial waiting period for processing claims has been scrapped and the repayment period for advance payments has been extended from six months to twelve. Claimants will also be able to get a 100 percent advance now, rather than 50 percent.

However, as our helpline calls demonstrate, we remain concerned there are still fundamental problems with Universal Credit that were not addressed today.

The Government is failing to collect data on the number of disabled people claiming Universal Credit and their experiences. We know from our helpline that many disabled people are worried about what the shift to Universal Credit means for them and the loss of disability premiums means many disabled people will be financially worse off. With disabled people already paying extra costs of £550 a month related to their disability and less likely to have savings we oppose the loss of these premiums.

We need to see urgent reform

The Government has promised to get one million more disabled people into work by 2027. In order for that to happen, we need to see urgent reform to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) so that it better identifies the barriers disabled people face to finding work.

With the Government expected to publish their response to the Improving Lives Green Paper shortly, we need to see ambitious reforms to support disabled people to find and stay in work. As well as reforming the WCA the Government need to look at what more employers can be doing to support their disabled employees and make sure schemes such as Access to Work are available to everyone who needs them.

Disappointingly the Chancellor did not take the opportunity to confirm that there will be no further cuts to disability benefits in this Parliament. We’d like to see the Government commit to protecting the value of vital payments such as Employment and Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payments.

A missed opportunity

While the announcement of more funding for the NHS was welcome, the Government has failed to act on social care again. The social care system is increasingly under pressure and while the Government has set out plans to consult on social care for older people it’s not clear what they’ll be doing to support the 278,000 disabled people who rely on social care for basic support.

Overall this Budget looks like another missed opportunity to improve the lives of the UK’s 13.3 million disabled people. With action needed to tackle the barriers disabled people face at work, at home and in their communities, we’d like to have seen the Chancellor be bolder.

If you have any questions or concerns about the changes made to your support, please call Scope’s Helpline on 0808 800 3333. 

Visit our website for more information on disability benefits.

Why businesses need to think about disabled consumers

Will Pike is a games developer from London whose parody of Channel 4’s Superhumans advert went viral last year. Tens of thousands of people have signed his petition for better access. In this blog, he talks about how this affects disabled consumers, and what needs to change in media representation.

Back in September 2016, I made a short film to highlight the poor disabled access found up and down our high streets. As a wheelchair user, I wanted to demonstrate how frustrating these obstructions are from my everyday perspective. I also wanted to demonstrate that establishments are missing out. By not being accessible, they’re losing multiple paying customers. Regardless of the fact that I can’t walk or overcome a set of stairs without assistance, I still have money in pocket to spend.

The ‘Purple Pound’ is worth in the region of £240 billion. This spending power is exactly why society should be a more opportune place for everyone. Why are so many businesses unable to recognise this?

We need to see more disabled people in mainstream media

Whilst accessibility is fundamental, it’s no good just making a bunch of logistical improvements if attitudes to disability don’t change. I’m not simply talking about seeing disabled people as an untapped purple cash-cow. I want society to see the purple person behind the purple pound. It’s so important that disabled people are given a more prominent place in mainstream media, where they can contribute to reversing poor public perception and ignorance.

Will in his wheelchair outside a restaurant where there's a step
Man in a wheelchair unable to access a restaurant

Fundamentally, this is the reason why diversity is so important. If we only have a monosyllabic representation of society displayed upon our TV screens, then we’ll continue to limit the prospects of anybody who doesn’t conform to a notion of the perceived norm. We must challenge this. It obviously goes beyond disability to include race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation and age. It also means evolving our perceptions of beauty and happiness. For instance, in the film ‘Me Before You’, the main character is a quadriplegic chap called Will, who ultimately concedes that life with a disability, even with love and financial stability, is so miserable that he must end it all. What kind of message does this send out to the world? For those with a disability it’s insulting and heartless. While for those without a disability it simply reaffirms the (misplaced) need for pity.

Change is happening, but we need more

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Change is happening, but society needs to do more than the bare minimum. We need to see more disabled people on telly, while ensuring that the inclusion of disability isn’t a token gesture toward equality. There also needs to be a comprehensive strategy to improve the quality of life for all disabled people, positioning us as simply part of the normal spectrum of human experience. Only then will society truly benefit from the Purple Pound.

At present only 2.5% of all characters on TV screens are disabled. It’s hardly surprising then that 81% of the 13 million disabled people in the UK do not feel they are well-represented on TV and in the media. This has to change. It’s time for businesses to recognise the value of the purple pound and put more disabled people at the heart of their campaigns.

Will supports Scope with our mission to drive everyday equality, so that disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. Visit our website to find out more about our work and how you can support us.

Read more blogs on the power of disabled consumers.

It makes good business sense to be accessible

Cerrie Burnell is a children’s author and actress changing attitudes towards disability through raising the profile of diversity. In this blog, she talks about why we need better representation of disabled people in the media, marketing campaigns and the public eye.

The household spend of disabled people amounts to more than £240 billion a year.

I’m not a person with a keen mathematical mind. 240 billion is a number I find almost unfathomable, like gazing at a clear night sky and trying to count stars, whilst simultaneously sipping wine – where would it end. But it’s not a fathomless figure, it’s a very real amount, and yet every year like stars at dawn, this amount of money slips away almost unnoticed by the marketing industry.

Why? Because the spending power of the disabled community has not been fully recognised. And more importantly positive representation has not been maximised. At all. The Pink pound, and The Grey pound are becoming part of our everyday life, and have landed firmly on the radar of marketers and boardroom bosses. Now, we have started to hear more about the Purple pound.

The purple pound

Purple. It’s the colour of mischief and regal gowns, and whilst it makes me think of the velvet curtains of grand theatres about to unleash drama on the world, it also holds a sense of rebellion. It’s not a colour that’s easily forgotten. I’m not entirely convinced that colour coding society by potential for spending is healthy, but it’s necessary for a brand to know who their customer is and as a member of the disabled community I have as much right to be that customer as anyone else. If labelling our money as purple achieves this, so be it. Money like people has the same value regardless of colour.

Britain’s 13 million disabled people have recently been recognised for their spending power, and now accessible products and services are being developed each day by big brands. But the disabled community aren’t solely interested in seeking out accessible products, we’re already spending money on regular products from well established brands. A wheel chair user may still want to wear stilettos. A person who is hearing impaired may want to buy headphones. Someone who is visually impaired might only wear Chanel Lipstick because it’s the shade their Grandmother wore. We are not separate from the rest of society, we are part of society, we are within the fold. Yet that’s not how we’re portrayed.

So, whilst it’s positive to see businesses starting to recognise the disposable income, that previously untapped consumers spend on retail, leisure, travel and in my case Malibu, Havaianas and ridiculously over-priced yoga leggings. What’s needed is more diversity to promote products (and services) as we also look to challenge attitudes around disability.

Getting representation in the media

Thankfully over the last few years we’ve seen brands like Smirnoff and Maltesers lead the way and feature disabled talent in their advertising. This is like a huge gasp of fresh air to me. And I’m delighted that following their campaign during last year’s Paralympics, Mars, the owner of Maltesers, has achieved much more beyond ticking the diversity box.

The adverts – a series of three commercials featuring awesome disabled talent, which I thought were both coy and hilarious – received so much positive feedback that Maltesers are now looking to extend the campaign to other markets. The largest of which being the United States and Canada. Which is great news and is exactly what we need to see more of! Bring it on.

But, more importantly for disabled people, this isn’t just about profit margins and big business. This is about us getting the representation we truly deserve. The fastest way to tackle negativity, discrimination, fear or even just insecurity is through genuinely inclusive media. Featuring underrepresented groups on our TV screens, telling diverse stories in books, newspapers and magazines is key to changing attitudes more widely.

Most disabled people still don’t feel they are well-represented in the media

At present, only 2.5% of all characters on TV screens are disabled. Eight in ten (81%) disabled people do not feel they are well-represented on TV. Shocker! That’s because we’re not, but this can very easily change. With the massive value of the purple pound looming like a spell of spending joy, big brands can promote disability whilst benefiting financially. Nobody is going to do it because it’s simply the right thing to do, it must be good business sense – and thanks to our spending power it is. Watch out world. The futures bright, the futures purple.

Cerrie supports Scope and with our mission to achieve everyday equality, so that disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else.

Visit our website to find out more about our work and how you can support us.

“We all want to be a part of society don’t we?” Addressing loneliness in disabled people

Yesterday we attended the launch of Sense’s report for the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. Their research found that over half of disabled people (53 per cent) say they feel lonely, which rises to 77 per cent for young disabled people. In this blog Scope storyteller and autism advocate, Carly Jones, shares her experiences and ideas for change.

I was really honoured to be invited by Scope to come to this event. As Jo Cox so eloquently put it when she was alive, you think of loneliness and you think of older people, we don’t think of children and young adults. But I know from my personal experience, and the autistic community as a whole, that we are extremely isolated.

My experiences of loneliness

I didn’t get my autism diagnosis until I was 32. You can read more about it in my last blog for Scope. I remember feeling very different at school. I was really anxious. I started realising that I never got invited to birthday parties. I was pretty aware by the time I was in my late 20s that I was autistic, but without a diagnosis it was like being in “no man’s land”.

When I finally got my diagnosis, I filmed it with the help of the National Autistic Society so that no-one else would have to go through this alone, because I felt so alone.

Getting my diagnosis changed things for the better because I could start going to autistic events without feeling like a fraud.  My advocacy work has really helped me find people who understand disability or other autistic people who just get it because they’re autistic too, and you can become friends. So my advocacy work has actually been my social life line. People say “Oh you’re so selfless” and I’m like “No, doing this helps me get out of the house and meet people too!”

Carly smiling with Mel and Juliet from Scope
Carly Jones with Scope staff

Three ideas to address loneliness in disabled people

Better representation in the media: If there’s an autistic person on TV usually it’s a boy who’s about 8-years-old and into trains! It’s really not helping. It’s isolating the thousands of autistic women and girls in the UK who are struggling to have their needs met in everyday society. We need a autistic girl in a big show like Eastenders, who has challenges but strong and sassy.

The education system needs to improve:  Schools need to be more holistic in their approach to difference and really nurture talent. You get awards for being good at maths but what about the artists, the philosophers, the big thinkers, the social entrepreneurs?

I had a really difficult time at school because I struggled with the environment, but teachers just thought I was being naughty. When your needs are not being met it can lead to mental health problems and vulnerability. A lot of the children who come to the events are home educated because they’re not “autistic enough” for a Special Educational Needs (SEN) school but they can’t get the support they need in mainstream school. That can be incredibly isolating too.

More social opportunities: I run a bi-weekly group for young autistic people.  The stereotype is that we never get invited to things so, with the events that I put on, we go to some really cool places and they can invite whoever they like – autistic, disabled, non-disabled. Hopefully their friends will then grow up not seeing autism as this stigmatised thing but thinking “I had an autistic friend in school and we did some really cool things”.

Adults need better groups too. Sometimes you’ll see events for autistic adults and it’s just basically what you would have for a child but for an older audience. You know, we are cool, quite cool and we are adults in our own right and we are responsible people. I think if there were more clubs – which are affordable – there would be more opportunities to meet people.

woman standing in front of a poster holding a magazine
Carly Jones, Autism Advocate

We all want to be a part of society don’t we?

It was fantastic to be at this event. I’ve already got so many emails in my mind that I want to send! Everybody genuinely wanted to hear other people’s stories. The fact that it’s cross party, cross charity, working together, is really fantastic. We all want to be a part of society don’t we? As someone said, it’s not a 10 year solution, it’s more like 40 year solution, but I’m hopeful that we’ll get there.

From 10 July to 13 August, Sense will be leading a coalition of disability organisations, including Scope, to shine a spotlight on the issue of loneliness for disabled people and the steps that we can all take to help tackle it. Head to the website to find out how you can get involved.

If you have a story you would like to share, get in touch with Scope’s stories team. 

Making social justice a reality for disabled people – panel event

Anna Bird, our Executive Director of Policy and Research, recently spoke at an event on the Government’s social justice reforms, organised by the Spectator and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

What social justice means for us

We believe that a key social justice aim is to make sure that disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else.

It is therefore crucial that the debate on social justice and social reform include a focus on disability and the barriers disabled people face. Too many disabled people feel the financial penalty of disability. Disabled people are twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people, even though many are pushing hard to get jobs. And many are facing additional costs related to their impairment or condition.

Disabled people tell us that they worry about the cost of living and struggle to make ends meet in their day to day lives. This has resulted in an additional 275,000 families where someone is disabled, falling into poverty over the last two years.

If the Government wants to create social justice, it must understand the barriers disabled people face. And make disability a priority for social reform.

The Conservative manifesto made a commitment to get more disabled people into work, reduce the extra costs that disabled people face and reform the broken social care system.

But as our recent blog post on the Queen’s Speech set out, the Government has not provided much detail on how these commitments will be turned into concrete policy proposals that will make positive changes for disabled people.

What next for social reform?

After the election, Theresa May committed Parliament to work to make this a fairer and stronger country, where injustice is tackled and opportunity and aspiration is created for all.

Now is the time to make this reality, by ensuring that disabled people’s voices are part of the discussion around social justice.

The Government should take action in three areas to make social justice for disabled people a reality:

Firstly, urgent action is needed to close the disability employment gap  (the gap between the employment rate of disabled people and non-disabled people) which has remained at 30 percentage points for over a decade . The Conservative manifesto committed to getting one million more disabled people into employment over the next 10 years and to legislate to give disabled people personalised and tailored employment support. But the Queen’s Speech did not mention employment support for disabled people at all. This is a missed opportunity – Scope research shows that a ten-percentage point in the employment rate among disabled adults would result in a £12 billion gain to the Exchequer and a £45 billion increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Secondly, disabled people face a range of extra costs related to their disability. Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) play a vital role in helping disabled people meet some of these costs. We believe the Government should protect the value of disability benefits and develop a new Personal Independence Payment assessment which accurately identifies extra costs.

Lastly, action is necessary to drive down the extra costs disabled people face in the first place. A cross-governmental approach should be taken to tackling the range of additional costs disabled people experience for things like transport, utilities and financial services.

We agree with the Prime Minister that disability discrimination is a burning injustice that needs to be tackled. This will require a system change.

We believe the Government should commit to a cross-government disability strategy to address the barriers disabled people face, make sure disabled people are widely consulted on this, and finally, set Parliamentary time aside for debate and the legislative reform required.

Change is desperately needed. And the Government cannot afford to wait any longer to address it.

The Queen’s speech – “Consultation cannot be a substitute for action”

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.