Tag Archives: Labour Conference

Influencing at the Labour Party Conference 2015

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.

Panel at labour conference including Scope
The panel for Scope’s fringe event with the Fabian Society

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.

lady talking at labour conference
Catherine Scarlett speaks at the Scope fringe event

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.

Group of exhibitionists with awards
The award winning Care and Support Alliance conference stand

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.

The bedroom tax, ATOS and social care at the Labour Party conference

Guest post from Megan Cleaver, Parliamentary Officer at Scope.

It was the second leg of Scope’s conference tour last weekend when the Labour Party headed to Brighton for their annual gathering.

It was an important week for Labour disability policy as the Party published their Making Rights a Reality (PDF) report which included two key announcements.

After a long running campaign against the ‘bedroom tax’, a measure which will cost over 400,000 disabled people between £624 and £1144 per year, Labour Leader Ed Miliband promised delegates that they would scrap the policy if they got into power in 2015. This is a welcome move as for many disabled people, a spare bedroom is not a luxury, but an essential- needed for specialist equipment, or so their severely disabled child can sleep separately from their siblings.

And there was more good news from Shadow Welfare Secretary Liam Byrne who committed to ending the Government’s contract with ATOS, who currently undertake the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). But while there are countless horror stories around the behaviour of ATOS assessors which has provoked the ire of many disabled people, the blame cannot be pinned squarely on them for the failings of the WCA.

As we said to Liam Byrne, Shadow Disability Minister Anne McGuire and Shadow Employment Minister Stephen Timms at conference, if Labour is seriously committed to getting disabled people into work, and not just off benefits, there needs to be a complete rethink of the whole assessment process to ensure it addresses the many barriers disabled people face when it comes to finding a job. Just handing a P45 to ATOS is not enough.

Arguably the most transformational policy announcement to be made at conference was Andy Burnham’s vision for ‘Whole Person Care’, paving the way for the full integration of the health and social care systems with one service (with one budget) coordinating a person’s physical, mental and social needs. This vision is an exciting prospect for disabled people who are facing their own ‘social care crisis’, often falling through the cracks between the NHS and social care system.

In his leader’s speech, Ed Miliband likened the scale of the ambition of ‘Whole Person Care’ to that of the creation of the NHS is 1948. But like much of the debate on this issue, he framed the reforms to social care purely as a means of solving the care crisis for older people. But when a third of social care users are working-aged disabled people, it is vital that the care system works for them.

As Paralympian Sophie Christiansen highlighted in her speech at the Women and Equalities discussion panel (where she received the first standing ovation at Labour Conference), getting the right social care was vital to her being able to live independently and train to become a gold medal winning equestrian.

Social care is the cornerstone of independence for disabled people. It gives them the vital support which enables them get up, get washed, get dressed so they can go to work, get involved in their local community, and reach their potential. And this is the message we will take to the Conservative Party as the Scope conference tour makes its final stop in Manchester.

Read our previous blog from the Lib Dem conference.