Tag Archives: Liam Byrne

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.

Nick and Margaret: We All Pay Your Benefits

Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford
“Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford want to discover how much benefit is enough to live on and if work is worth it.” (photo: BBC)

Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford, most famous for expressing their utter contempt for an Apprentice contestant’s business acumen with nothing more than a scratch of the chin or an arch of the eyebrow, are turning their attention to welfare.

If ever an issue warranted such uncompromising prime time scrutiny it’s welfare.

The programme, which airs on Thursday at 9pm on BBC1, will see four claimants and four taxpayers come face-to-face to explore each other’s lives, examine their values and speak their minds.

I was lucky enough to be asked to help the programme make sense of what welfare means for disabled people.

This is easy. Life costs more if you’re disabled. At the same time you’re also more likely to earn less or be out of work.

So – especially now with incomes flat-lining, living costs spiralling and even fewer jobs out there – it’s tough for many disabled people to pay the bills.

We know many disabled people turn to loans to cover essentials.

Welfare – or more precisely financial support when you’re struggling to make ends meet – is the difference between disabled people paying the bills or not.

The programme is timely. Welfare is the subject of an £18bn squeeze by the Government. Last month the Government announced a cap on future welfare spending.  Parliament is for the first time having a debate about the combined impact of all the different changes on disabled people. Liam Byrne, the Shadow Work and Pensions Ministers is taking on the issue.

A lot is said about the need to make sure benefits go to people that really need it (and not hand-gliding benefits-fakers) and to make sure welfare helps people get work rather than put people off finding a job. 

But a couple of points tend to get lost. 

Firstly some people need benefits. It doesn’t make them a scrounger. It doesn’t make them a lay-about. It just means they need support to do things everyone else takes for granted. And it should not be conditional on finding work or the state of the economy . 

Secondly fraud on welfare, particularly disability benefits is tiny. 

The Government is planning to take disability living allowance away from 600,000 people. This financial support is a lifeline that helps disabled people cover the costs of doing things yourself at home and also getting out and about. The Minister argues that too many people claim it, the implication being that some must be fiddling the system. But fraud rates are actually less than 1%

I spent an afternoon with Nick and Margaret as they filmed in the main lobby of the London School of Economics at lunchtime. It wasn’t the best place in London to get people to be quiet while you film a documentary. 

But one thing came across clearly, they knew their stuff. 

They were interested in the issues and were asking the questions that the public would want to know. In fact they paid short shrift to the producer’s less well-informed suggestions and did things the way they wanted to.

The trick with any complex issue is attracting attention to it and explaining it in a simple way.  

People are more likely to watch a programme with Nick and Margaret in it than they would be to watch a documentary on welfare. The title might be provocative, but it gets people into the issue. Then it’s about seeking explain it in a simple way without dumbing down.

Nick and Margaret were great. I hope the programme gets the right messages across and more people get to understand what is really going on.

Watch Nick and Margaret: We All Pay Your Benefits tonight at 9pm on BBC1.