Tag Archives: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

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.

Behind the figures: what do today’s sanctions figures mean for disabled people?

New figures out today show the scale of the Government’s new sanctions regime. In total, over 90,000 disabled people have had their benefits suspended for anywhere between 3 weeks and 3 years. Here’s four things you need to know:

How many disabled people do sanctions affect?

Since November 2012, when sanctions were tightened, 90,004 disabled people have had their benefits suspended.

This breaks down as 82,860 disabled people on Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) – the out-of-work benefit available to everyone – and 7,180 disabled people on Employment Support Allowance (ESA), which is meant to be for those who face the biggest barriers to work.

This means that 1 in 7 of the total number of JSA claimants who’ve been sanctioned are disabled people, and 4 in 5 of the total number of ESA.

How does this compare to previous years?

It’s hard to say exactly, because DWP haven’t published figures specifically for disabled people before last year.

But looking at the figures for those on ESA – the majority of whom are disabled people – we can get a sense of how many more people are being sanctioned under the new regime. The increase is pretty shocking.

Since December 2012 the number of ESA sanctions was 11,400. For the same period in 2011/12, the number of people sanctioned was 5,750. This is an increase of 50%.

Compare this with an 11% increase for JSA sanctions year on year, and it’s clear that the regime change has had an even more dramatic effect for those who face the most barriers to work.

Why are people being sanctioned?

What the stats show is people being sanctioned for things like missing interviews with advisers, or not engaging with the Work Programme, or sending enough job applications.

What they don’t show is the reality for disabled people: interviews with advisers clashing with medical appointments; inaccessible transport; advisers without specialist understanding of conditions and impairments; a lack of jobs with the flexibility disabled people often need.

Do sanctions work?

No. Disabled people face a wide-range of barriers to work. Lack of available jobs, fewer qualifications and even negative attitudes from some employers can make the workplace daunting.

So simply taking away benefits from a disabled person really doesn’t help – as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have repeatedly pointed out. In fact, suspending benefits can make things worse: stats from the Trussell Trust show that increasing use of food banks is linked to the tightening of sanctions.

Instead of simply suspending benefits for no reason, we need a system that actually works for disabled people, that supports them to find a job they want, and that takes seriously the barriers they face.

Disability, care and the living standards debate at the Lib Dem Conference

We want to get across two important things to politicians during this conference season. Our first chance came in Glasgow with the Lib Dems. The first was to make sure MPs are prepared for the Care Bill, set to enter Parliament in the near future. The second was to draw attention to the crisis in living standards that is facing disabled people.

One of the Lib Dem’s own themes for their conference (… accidently leaked to journalists) was ‘achievement in Government’, and it would be sensible for them to point in the direction of social care reform as an area that they have made a difference. The Care Minister, Norman Lamb MP, is a Liberal Democrat, as was his predecessor Paul Burstow MP.

Together they have pushed through the first ever single legislative framework for social care in the Care Bill. And for this they have received much praise. But Scope’s big concern with the Bill – and that of the Care and Support Alliance – is that too many disabled people will be locked out of receiving formal care by an eligibility threshold which is too high.

This point was made again and again to Norman Lamb in fringe meetings about social care. I ended up heading to events with the Minister on the panel for five straight hours on Sunday evening. At each and every event he was asked about the new national eligibility criteria and why this must not be set too high – as the Government currently intends.

Encouragingly – by 9pm – he recognised that ‘there is a debate about where the eligibility criteria should be set’, and it was another reminder that we need to keep up the pressure on the Government through the Britain Cares campaign.

It seems like the local pressure is increasing as well, with the Bradford Cares campaign also visible at the conference, most notably at a fringe event from the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors.

The question of ‘living standards’ was also a key theme of the conference. Scope’s research with Demos shows that between 2010 and 2017, 3.7 million disabled people will have lost £28bn in social security. There were thought provoking fringe meetings from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Child Poverty Action Group, Resolution Foundation and Liberal Left.

It seemed to me that the idea that the next election will be one fought on ‘living standards’ is being accepted amongst Lib Dem MPs and members. There was certainly much discussion about what the next Lib Dem manifesto would include to push up living standards.

At one fringe meeting, Frances O’Grady of the TUC said, “it is expensive to be poor”. The same is true for disabled people who are disproportionately likely to be vulnerable from financial shocks. Scope will be making sure that throughout the rest of the conference season, disabled people are front and centre of the living standards debate.