Tag Archives: policy

Better living, higher standards: improving the lives of disabled people by 2020

2014 is a big year for Scope. Our new strategy is all about changing society and we have ambitious plans to make society a better place for disabled people. 20 years ago, we changed our name in a bid to take a stand against bad attitudes to disability. By ditching the name Spastics Society, we helped knock that insult out of circulation and got people questioning attitudes to disability.

But 20 years on, life is still tougher than it needs to be for disabled people who want the same things as everyone else. We’ve come a long way since our name change but there is still further to go.  There are still major issues when it comes to attitudes and these go hand in hand with policies and practises that undermine living standards.

Which is why our new report published today, Better living, higher standards: improving the lives of disabled people by 2020 (PDF), focuses on disabled people’s living standards and sets out clear recommendations for change.

Living standards are about a whole range of things that matter to people. It’s about opportunities to work, get out and about, and see friends and family.Alongside financial assets, income and jobs, we all depend on having skills we can use to learn or work. We rely on public services and on positive attitudes from family, friends and the wider community in which we live. All of these and more make up living standards for all of us.

Our report reveals that:

  • 42% of disabled people told us that they had lost out on a job because of the way employers perceived their impairment “every time” or “a lot of the time”.
  • Half of disabled people say that services they receive do not enable them to take part in community life.
  • Disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people, and half (49%) of disabled people use credit cards or loans to pay for everyday items including clothing and food. Disabled people are three times more likely to draw on doorstep loans.
  • Disabled  adults spend an average of £550 per month on costs related to their disability.

The recent recession has had an impact on living standards for many people. But for disabled people, the struggle to make ends meet has always been a fact of life. As the economy recovers we are calling for all political parties to use this opportunity to make sure once and for all that disabled people can contribute to economic growth and have the same chances as everyone else.

If we want to improve disabled people’s living standards we need to fix the problem of extra costs, poor employment opportunities and poor social care. We also need to shift the attitudes that create many of these problems.We have to see these areas as linked – we can’t fix one without the other; and we need government action that ultimately improves disabled people’s living standards.

Life can cost more if you are disabled – let’s end the financial penalty by 2020

Let’s create a society in which the extra costs some disabled people face – such as paying for specialist equipment or for taxis due to inaccessible transport systems, are no longer a barrier to making an economic contribution or to social participation.

We are calling for the value of extra costs payments such as Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payments to be protected. And in June 2014, Scope will be launching a Commission investigating the drivers of disability related costs and making recommendations on how to tackle them.

Let’s get a million more disabled people in work by 2020

Let’s create a society in which all types of work are available to everyone; a society in which disabled people have opportunities to be drivers of, and benefit from, new employment opportunities arising from economic growth.

We are calling for increased options to prevent people slipping out of the labour force unnecessarily and for new opportunities created through strategies for economic growth, such as City Deals, to work with, and include disabled people.

Let’s make sure all disabled people get the support they need to live as independently as possible

Let’s create a society in which more disabled people have the opportunity to live independently in the communities they choose and in which more working age disabled people can afford the care and support they need to live an independent life.

We are calling for a new financial settlement in the next Comprehensive Spending Review that ensures that everyone who is eligible for social care will get the support they need to live independently in the community. We also want to see greater focus on improving quality of care and support mechanisms, including through the integration of strategies on employment, health and social care to keep people in work, living in their own homes and preventing crisis.

The recovery gives us an opportunity to think differently: employers, public services, government, all of us. It’s an opportunity to make society work better for disabled people.

Let’s make sure disabled people aren’t left behind as the economy recovers.

Belgium vote to legalise euthanasia for terminally ill children

Richard Hawkes blogs about the news that Belgium has voted to legalise euthanasia for terminally ill children.

Many British disabled people will be looking nervously over at Belgium. They may still only be one of a handful of countries to legalise euthanasia. But the news raises many of the same issues that we’re grappling with in the UK when it comes to assisted suicide.

Right now there are loud, well-organised and influential, calls to legalise assisted suicide for terminally ill adults. But there are lots of ordinary people, not least disabled people, who are really worried at the way we seem to be edging towards a change in the law.

There are important parallels with Belgium. What Belgium’s experience shows – as with the other handful of countries, which have legalised euthanasia or assisted suicide – is that where the law is changed, euthanasia and assisted suicide go up.

In Belgium, there has been a sharp increase in the number of euthanasia deaths, which has increased from 235 in 2003, the first year the law came in, to 1133 euthanasia deaths in 2011, the last year for which official data is available.

Belgium’s decision also shows that when you implement such laws they don’t always stay within their original parameters. And certainly the assisted dying proposals from Lord Falconer leave the door open to broaden it from people with not terminally ill to people with disabilities.

Also, once again doctors are vocal in their opposition. At home, the British Medical Association and the Royal Colleges of General Practitioners, Surgeons and Physicians are all opposed to legalising physician-assisted suicide.

Over here disabled people are asking why our response to people wanting to die is to talk them out of it, but in the case of sick and disabled people it’s how can we help you die.  The law on assisted suicide works. It also sends a really powerful message countering the view that if you’re disabled it’s not worth being alive, and that you’re a burden. It stops that view turning into something much worse.

We can’t change a law that works on the basis of powerful, but exceptional cases. Politicians will debate assisted suicide again later this year. They need to guard against community bullying of our most vulnerable members.

Disability doesn’t have to be a barrier to starting your own business

Just four days until our event in London for disabled people who are thinking about setting up their own business, as well as entrepreneurs who have already taken the plunge. Book your free space today! Paul Carter who is speaking at the event explains why disability doesn’t have to be a barrier to starting your own business.

Paul CarterI founded my own media production company Little Man Media two years ago and haven’t looked back.

Leaving full-time employment was one of the best things I ever did, and now I want to show to other people – not just those with disabilities – that being your own boss needn’t be a pipedream, and is something that can change your life for the better.

Flexibility is far and away the biggest benefit of being your own boss. As a disabled person, the ability to be in control of your own time and your own commitments is really, really helpful and can often make the difference between a bad day and a good one.

One of the things I’m often asked is whether or not I’ve encountered any discrimination, prejudice or negative attitudes due to the fact that I’m disabled. For the most part the answer is no. Although there was one memorable occasion when applying for Access to Work funding (the government scheme that helps cover some disability-related costs in employment) when the assessor asked me how I could possibly operate a camera without hands, and that I should consider giving up and trying something “more suited to my condition.”

Such instances aside, I’ve not found that having a disability has been any form of hindrance or barrier, certainly not at least in terms of attracting new business, if anything it has helped open doors. A lot of my work has centred around equality issues and social justice, and being able to bring some lived experience or show that I have an understanding of or connection to my subject is something that people often find appealing.

There are considerable physical and societal barriers to getting disabled people into work so becoming your own boss might be the best option. But it’s not right for everyone and we certainly need more and better awareness among employers that disabled people aren’t going to cost loads of money or have a negative impact on the business – I think there’s still a long way to go there to change attitudes.

An often unaddressed issue is that disabled people’s conditions sometimes fluctuate, and a greater willingness to embrace flexible working would open so many more doors for disabled people, particularly those with mental health problems.

Nobody should be under the impression that running your own business is easy, it isn’t! You never truly switch off from the stresses and strains, and can’t leave work behind at 5pm when you shut down your computer and leave the office. I often find myself thinking about work last thing at night and first thing in the morning. Some people may find that thought unbearable or think it unhealthy, but if you truly love what you do and are passionate about your business, then it becomes an extension of yourself, and you’ll do whatever it takes to make it a success.

Having self-belief and being certain that you’re doing the right thing is absolutely critical, because there will undoubtedly be points where it looks and feels like everything is going against you, and you need to be able to pick yourself up and keep on going. But you need a bit of single-mindedness and the courage of your convictions, because running your own business is the best thing in the world. When you love what you do, it isn’t work. I get to spend my time meeting incredible people, telling amazing stories. Making films has allowed me to meet people who’ve spent time in foreign prisons, Paralympians, politicians, pop stars, and everyone in between. I’ve the best job in the world, and I wouldn’t swap it for anything.

Paul is speaking at a free event for disabled entrepreneurs and disabled people who are thinking of starting their own business in London on 13 February, organised by Natwest, Scope and Livability. 

The Access to Elected Office Fund – changing the world one political appointment at time

Today Minister for Women and Equalities Helen Grant announced that the fund will continue for another year, and be extended.

Helen nailed the central issue and reason it was created in the first place when she said: “Disabled candidates can often be faced with additional costs that make standing for election more difficult than their non-disabled counterparts.”

The fund also “creates the space for disabled people to play a key role in these decision-making processes, but can also lead to increased visibility in public life, and ultimately change attitudes towards disability” according to Scope chair Alice Maynard.

In the run up to the 2010 election the Conservative party manifesto committed to “introduce a £1 million fund to help disabled people who want to become MPs, councillors or other elected officials with the extra costs they face in running for office”.

The fund idea was then reflected in the coalition agreement after the election.

Since the fund was launched in July 2012 there have been over sixty applications to the fund, which will now also cover Parish and Town Council elections.

The Local Government Association Be a councilor campaign is also being expanded and will now help aspiring disabled candidates by providing coaching, mentoring and training, to help build their confidence, knowledge and skills.

Everyone involved deserves a huge amount of credit, for recognising the potential disabled people have, and the benefits they can bring to our communities and political life. Crucially that is being backed up with money, time and commitment, particularly at a time the public purse is under pressure.

Disabled people are still massively under-represented in public life, but here’s hoping that more people take the plunge and use to its full potential.

In you’re interested you can apply on the Access to Elected Office Fund website.

What the Conservatives and Labour say about welfare reform and disability

Today the Work and Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan Smith gave a speech to mark the 10th anniversary of the formation of the Centre for Social Justice think-tank about welfare reform.

Here is what he had to say about disability:

“Of course in the most severe cases of sickness and disability, it is right that welfare should support individuals, but even then, it must be about more than sustainment alone. It should be about helping people to take greater control over their lives.

For all those who are able, work should be seen as the route to doing so – for work is about more than just money. It is about what shapes us, lifts our families, delivers security, and helps rebuild our communities. Work has to be at the heart of our welfare reform plan, or all we will do is increase dependency not lessen it.”

Read the speech in full on the Spectator website, or with other comments on the Guardian’s politics live blog.

On Tuesday Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary laid out her party’s stance on social security at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think-tank, and here is what she said about disability:

“Now it’s important to say at the outset that there will always be people who cannot do paid work, because of illness or disability.

“And it is part of our responsibility to them to make their rights a reality: rights to dignity and respect, to a decent standard of living, and to the resources and support that can empower them to contribute and participate equally and fully in society.”

Read the speech in full on the New Statesman website.

Welfare debate… what next for disability?

As Labour and Conservative welfare leads spell out a vision for the benefits system, Richard Hawkes asks, what’s happened to the debate on disability?

It’s a big week for welfare.

Labour and Conservative leads are spelling out their visions for the welfare state, vying to be seen as ‘tough but fair’.

On Monday Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves told the Institute for Public Policy Research they would force jobseeker’s allowance claimants with inadequate maths or English to go on basic skills courses as a condition of receiving their benefit. Labour estimates this will affect about 300,000 people.

Iain Duncan Smith is making a key-note speech on Thursday. We don’t know the detail yet. But on Monday he and Theresa May placed a joint article in the Mail promising a “Housing benefit ban on jobless migrants”.

But as the Telegraph’s Benedict Brogan says, “The changes each side is proposing amount to fiddling at the margins.”

Meanwhile there is a big, unavoidable question about disabled people’s living standards that politicians have to answer over the next 18 months.

How do we make sure that as the economy picks up we don’t leave disabled people behind?

With disabled people struggling to make ends meet and getting in debt, struggling to live independently and struggling to find and keep work it’s an urgent issue.

We know politicians are working behind the scenes on this.

Unfortunately the current political debate makes it almost impossible to focus on the real issues.

The disability debate is stuck in stereotypes: ‘hopeless disabled person in need of hand-outs’ or ‘skiving scrounger fiddling the system’.

So here are three ways we can re-start the disability welfare debate:

  1. Let’s start by seeing disabled people as individuals – not a big group of people all with identical barriers and in need of the same support. Then let’s get over the fact that some disabled people need benefits, and instead take a look at why disabled people need support. Most disabled people are facing a living standards crisis – but sitting behind this are a range of concerns – from public attitudes, to local support to live independently and simply making ends meet.
  2. How we can drive down the costs of living with a disability? The issue of extra costs has been totally ignored so far. Disabled people aspire to live an ordinary life – no more, no less. Being disabled brings with it huge extra costs, research shows it can average between £800 – £1,550 per month. This includes things like specialist food, specialist equipment, specialist clothing, accessible travel costs.   While these costs exist Disability Living Allowance – introduced by the Conservatives in 1992 –  is vital and must be protected. It creates a level playing field and enables people to live and work. Before we get stuck in discussions about eligibility and assessments, let’s remember why this support exists in the first place.
  3. How can we change employers’ attitudes? There is rightly a lot of discussion about Employment Support Allowance and the Work Capability Assessment. But the focus should be on getting people back to work. Disabled people are pushing hard to get jobs and get on in the workplace. Nine in ten disabled people work or have worked. Yet only about 50% of disabled people have a job right now. A million more disabled people could be in work. How can we make sure disabled people get the tailored, specialist support they need and how improve the work place to so that disabled people thrive?

We know all parties want to engage positively with the 10 million disabled people in the UK. We know there’s a lot of positive discussion going on. But, when it comes to welfare, now’s the time to start to address the big issues.

Corrie suicide doesn’t tell us anything about the law and guidance on assisted suicide

Post from Alice Maynard, Chair of Scope

Alice MaynardWhy is it when someone who is not disabled wants to commit suicide we try to talk them out of it and offer them support, but when a disabled person wants to commit suicide we focus on how we can make that possible? That’s the question that’s been on my mind the last few days.

This week news broke of the story-line in Coronation Street about Hayley Cropper – a long standing character who has pancreatic cancer and is terminally ill. It’s compelling and heart-breaking. It’s sparked much discussion about dying. Something we don’t do enough. Unfortunately that debate has been seized on by campaigners – led by Lord Falconer – who want to legalise assisted suicide. First, let’s be clear: the issues raised in the soap – the character is taking her own life without the help of her husband – don’t tell us anything about the law and guidance on assisted suicide.

What the storyline should remind us is that death is very much final; death is terminal.  And this is why I am completely against any change in the law on assisted suicide. The campaign to legalise assisted suicide completely turns on its head the accepted approach of supporting someone if they feel suicidal. It ignores the fact that circumstances can change, pain can be managed, limited life can be discovered to be worth living.

The campaign instead feeds on the view that some lives just aren’t worth living. It plays into negative attitudes about disability that stubbornly refuse to be consigned to history. You don’t need to look very far for attitudes such as this. A Cornwall councillor last year said disabled children should be put down. Even some medical and social care professionals make negative assumptions about disabled people’s quality of life.

For disabled people the current law on assisted suicide sends a really powerful message that these kind of negative attitudes are not acceptable. But more than that they are a safeguard from anyone acting on those attitudes and turning them into something much worse

Legalising assisted suicide would mean the most fundamental of human right of disabled people like myself – the right to life – being violated. The campaigners argue that safeguards can be put in place. But these are completely inadequate.

In May politicians will again debate changing the law. Previous bills have been rightly rejected. I hope they will reject this one too. And I hope the public will similarly reject the bid by campaigners to hi-jack an insightful and valuable soap story-line.

A tale of two systems: the Government’s health and disability employment strategy

Today the Government has published proposals showing how it intends to improve the way it supports disabled people to find, stay in and progress work.

Work is a huge issue for disabled people. Only one in two disabled people currently have a job. Disabled young people are twice as likely to be not in education, employment or training (NEET). And if the same proportion of disabled people were in work as the wider population, there would be 2 million more people in the workforce.

But how well does the new strategy address the challenges disabled people face? Will it create the personalised support disabled people need?

What are the challenges for disabled people?

Many disabled people want to work – but find the labour market a daunting place. Many report that employers see them as too ‘risky’, often making assumptions about what they can and can’t do.

During recruitment, disabled people feel like having an impairment can automatically ‘discount’ them from jobs even when they are qualified to apply.

Disabled people looking for work also rely on having a wide range of other support services in place which can be very difficult and bureaucratic to co-ordinate, typically including housing, social care, welfare advice and other support such as childcare.

So it’s vital that there is joined-up, specialist support available for disabled people. But as Scope’s recent report found, disabled people too often report that the support they receive to find and progress in work is just not up to scratch.

The Work Capability Assessment – which tests whether or not someone is fit for work – still hasn’t been sorted out. 90,000 disabled people have had their benefits suspended for things like missing interviews at Jobcentre Plus. And only 1 in 20 disabled people have been supported to get a job through the Work Programme.

So it’s really welcome that the Government are trying to find ways to improve the system. But the challenge is that today’s proposals risk creating a tale of two systems – of high quality support for the few, and a one size fits all approach for everyone else.

High quality support for the few

The good news is that the Government recognises the need to make improvements, and have put forward a number of new proposals.

Some are really welcome. They propose creating a new ‘gateway’ to support, so that disabled people can get the right support at the right time. This is something Scope has called for before and that has been endorsed by the Work and Pensions Select Committee.

There’s also a focus on who delivers employment support, with more emphasis on specialist and smaller providers like Disabled People’s Organisations. This is good news, as many – such as the Essex Coalition of Disabled People – are doing excellent work and can offer a unique perspective on employment issues.

There’s also a welcome focus on the need for better evidence about the kind of support disabled people feel is useful, and how it can be best be delivered.

One size fits all for everyone else

The problem is that even if these proposals are enough to create a genuinely personalised specialist support offer, the chances are that too few disabled people will benefit.

The details of exactly who’s in or out of the specialist system are yet to be worked out, but the strategy is clear that the majority of disabled people will only receive employment support through the mainstream offer – primarily the Work Programme.

This is worrying. Despite some improvements it’s pretty widely accepted that the Work Programme is still a long way from being effective for most disabled people. We know that only 3.16% of the combined ESA groups found work, and a number of commentaries show that too often disabled people are being left without the right kind of support.

Although the strategy does contain some proposals for mainstream support such as introducing ‘ESA Champions’ in Jobcentres, it’s hard to see these delivering the step-change in personalised support the mainstream offer needs.

The strategy also makes clear that there is only very limited money available, which is ultimately what’s placing the limits on access to specialist support.

The Chancellor announced in the Budget that £350 million is available for disability employment and the Department is clearly still grappling with how to spend this money. But the indicators are that it is likely to be through greater rationing of specialist support and placing as many people as possible into the generic programmes.

So although today’s strategy is welcome, there’s a real danger that we end up having a tale of two systems: effective, holistic support for a small number of disabled people with high support needs; and patchy, heavily-conditional mainstream support for the rest.

As the Government starts to think about how they will deliver the proposals, it’s vital that they work to ensure that as many disabled people as possible receive personalised, specialist support.

Care, employment and families – big week for disability

It may be the last week before Christmas, but politicians are making time between mince pies and mulled wine to look at a couple of important disability issues.

Today MPs have their first opportunity to debate the Government’s plans for reforming local care – including capping care costs for elderly and an end the postcode lottery in care.

Councils say the crisis in social care sits behind big health issues such as pressure on A&E and GPs – if older and disabled people don’t get preventative, community care, they risk becoming isolated and slipping into crisis.

The Care and Support Alliance – representing 75 charities – is today saying that the bill is a real achievement but risks being undermined by a funding black hole which has forced councils to restrict who gets support.

The CSA has published new research from the LSE that reveals that if we had the 2008 care system today another half a million disabled and older people would get preventative, community support.

Sitting behind this is massive, historic under-funding. Government spending on social care would have had to rise by an additional £1.6 billion just to keep pace with demographic pressures. Instead councils have had to reduce their budgets by £2.6bn in the last three years alone, according to social services directors.

The story is on Sky News and in the Telegraph, the Guardian and the Times.

Meanwhile Scope has been asking disabled people to talk about why social care is important to them and encouraging the public to show that it thinks the Government needs to act on care.

Then on Tuesday the Government is going to be talking about getting more disabled people into work.  This is a huge issue. And it’s great that the Government is committed to tackling it. BBC’s In Business programme last week, which previewed some of the announcement, is worth a listen.

We’ll also be looking out for news on Children and Families Bill tomorrow.

Families have told us that they really struggle to the support they need in their local area. This bill will mean that councils will have to publish a ‘Local Offer’ of services available in the local area. Local agencies like education and the health services will have to work together better to plan and commission services for disabled children.

These are positive moves but we have been pushing for stronger guarantees that families with disabled children and young people will be able to hold local agencies to account for the delivery and quality of services set out in the Local Offer. Without this, families will be left with the same battles they encounter now in trying to get support. We’ll be keeping a close on the crucial final stages of the bill.

Cap on over £100 billion of welfare further threatens disabled people’s living standards

Today, The Chancellor announced details of the planned cap on Annually Managed Expenditure (AME). Currently, the social security budget has the flexibility to respond to the needs of the economy and the people within it. In the Autumn Statement today we learnt this may no longer be the case.

At the beginning of each Parliament the Chancellor- with support from the House of Commons – will place limits on social security spend. Set in 2014 for the four years following, the cap will cover more than £100 billion welfare spending.

The basic state pension, Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and JSA-pass ported benefits will be excluded from the cap. But all other benefits – including Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Personal Independence Payments (PIP), Tax Credits and the majority of Housing Benefit – will still be in the cap.

What does the cap mean?

Raising the stakes

A breach of the cap will trigger a debate and vote in the House of Commons. This will further raise the stakes for policy-makers who want to ensure they can provide the right support for disabled people.

Welfare trade-offs

Housing Benefit and tax credits are counter-cyclical –they may rise sharply if the economy falters. If the economy takes a downward turn, ministers bound by the cap will be forced to pitch them against disability benefits in their decisions to bring down social security spending.

Today Osborne argued that including state pensions within the cap would mean “cutting pensions for those who’ve worked hard all their lives because the costs on, say, housing benefit for young people had got out of control.” Meanwhile, disability benefits which help many disabled people work and live independently – appear to be fair game.

Short-termism

The cap installs yearly limits to social security spending. Instead of tackling the drivers of it, ministers will be compelled to make quick, top-down cuts wherever they can.

Scope have long-argued that continued investment in social care, better employment support and proper support to cover the extra costs of being disabled would all be more effective in meeting disabled people’s needs and driving down costs than any cap on AME.

This autumn, the Chancellor has celebrated growth and responsible recovery. But it is a recovery that will not benefit disabled people. Instead disabled people will face yet another squeeze on living standards, and further exclusion from local communities and the wider economy.