This year’s Labour Party Conference arrived almost immediately following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader and the appointment of an entirely new Shadow Cabinet. Including new appointments into the roles of Shadow Health Secretary, Shadow Disability Minister and Shadow Care Minister.
For Scope the conference represented an important opportunity to seek to influence as Labour began the process of developing new policies in a number of key areas.
Scope’s influencing work remains focused in three main areas; ensuring that disabled people are supported to find, enter and stay in employment, highlighting the extra costs of disability and underlining the important role of social care in supporting disabled people to live independently. This ensured that on arrival in a sunny Brighton last Sunday there was a busy agenda ahead of us.
Top of the agenda was a high-profile fringe event hosted alongside the influential Fabian Society to examine how we can address the extra costs of disability.
Joining Group Head of Public Affairs and Policy Elliot Dunster on the panel was the newly-appointed Shadow Minister for Disabled People, Debbie Abrahams, General Secretary of the Fabian Society, Andrew Harrop and Catherine Scarlett – to share her personal experiences of the extra costs of disability.
To a packed room of sector guests and stakeholders, Catherine powerfully described how her wheelchair, purchased with the support provided through Personal Independence Payments, had given her life back. She also gave further examples of the extra costs of clothing, transport and accommodation that she has faced as a result of her disability – including a £70 premium she was required to pay for her hotel room.
Elliot spoke to underline Scope’s work, highlighting the impact that these costs have on disabled people’s financial resilience and independence – particularly that the historic policy approach to extra costs payments had led to an unhelpful binary distinction of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ disabled people.
Discussing the work of the Extra Costs Commission, Elliot described how a more holistic approach to examining the causes of extra costs was essential if the problem was to be successfully addressed.
Perhaps most significantly, the event provided a unique opportunity to put Scope’s work in this area directly in front of the Shadow Minister at such an early stage, following the recent reshuffle. We’ll be looking to follow this up as an influencing priority.
Scope is also a prominent member of the Care and Support Alliance (CSA), a coalition which campaigns for increased investment in the social care system. As with last year, alongside an extremely busy and lively fringe event on Sunday evening, the CSA had an impressive interactive exhibition stand in the main hall of the Brighton Centre. Allowing visiting political stakeholders to better understand the scale of the crisis facing the care system.
Amongst a steady stream of visitors was the new Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Heidi Alexander, Shadow Home Secretary, Andy Burnham and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, Kate Green. This allowed us to speak to some of the key decision-makers at the top of the party. Highlighting Scope’s shared concerns about increasing pressures on the care system and the impact this was having for the lives of disabled people. This was further underlined when the CSA was awarded best stand by delegates attending the conference.
The rest of the time was spent meeting with a series of new backbench MPs, catching up with existing contacts and dropping in at numerous fringe events covering topics ranging from employment, the future of the welfare state, the health and social care integration agenda and the future direction of the Labour Party.
What can we expect from the Labour Party in the coming months?
It was pleasing to hear Jeremy Corbyn reference the impact of reductions to local authority budgets on the social care system in his leader’s speech yesterday. And equally welcome that Debbie Abrahams recognised the multiple barriers that disabled people face in finding employment – and the implications that this also has for disabled people’s financial resilience and independence. But these are early days for a very different Labour Party – meaning that Scope’s influencing work with them in the coming weeks and months will have more importance than ever.
Meanwhile, Scope’s attention now shifts to the coming weekend and Manchester for the Conservative Party Conference. Look out for another blog post next week on what promises to be another vital influencing opportunity for Scope.