Once again, I've ended up drafting something on sickness and disability policy - mainly because the Welfare Reform Act is a horrific piece of legislation which will destroy lives which Lib Dem parliamentarians have ended up supporting because we don't have any real policies on sickness and disability and so ended up going along with a tory policy because we didn't have any alternatives of our own to suggest.
So what I'm hoping is that I can bring to conference and get passed a motion which lays out some red lines on welfare policy that can be adopted for the next general election and give us something to work with in any coalition negotiations in 2015 or beyond. It might be too late to change this government's welfare policy but at least we might be able to make sure that the next government with Lib Dems in it can undo the damage caused and create a system that actually supports the sick and the disabled properly.
And, without further ado, here's the first draft of the policy motion I've written. It still needs to be sent off for drafting advice and it still needs lots of input from other people to improve it (not to mention enough people to support it that it can actually get debated at conference) but hopefully it's a start.
Equal Citizenship: sickness and disability policy post 2015
- The passage of the Welfare Reform Act, particularly:
- Changes to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
- The introduction of Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) as a replacement for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for people of working age and that the introduction of PIPs is expected to cut the DLA budget by 20%.
- The feeling of exclusion from the welfare reform policy development process amongst the disabled community - as highlighted by the report ‘Responsible Reform’.
- The conclusions of ‘Reversing From Reform: the hidden economic costs of welfare reform’ on the impact of the Welfare Reform Act.
- The use of the ‘biopsychosocial’ model of disability by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
- The Harrington Reports reviewing the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) which determines eligibility for ESA.
- The passage of policy motion F6 ‘Employment and Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments’ by Autumn Federal Conference 2011.
- The presence, both historical and present, of executives of organisations such as Unum UK on the DWP’s technical working groups and other bodies which influence DWP policy on sickness and disability.
- The continued barriers to access to public transport for the disabled and poor rates of improvement in this area.
- The rise in disability hate crime in recent years as reported in a survey conducted by the disability charity Scope.
- The principles of ‘equal citizenship’ as expressed in the strategic policy plan ‘Equal Citizenship’ by the National Disability Council of the Netherlands.
- That society and government have a duty of care towards the sick and the disabled and that the goals of government policy should be the empowerment of the sick and disabled to tackle and reduce dependency on others and, fundamentally, to enable them to enjoy full, equal citizenship.
- That certain aspects of DWP policy are detrimental to these goals and, more broadly, that the DWP’s use of the biopsychosocial model is detrimental to the wellbeing of the sick and disabled and to the development of effective welfare policy.
- That companies such as Unum UK have a financial interest in the outcome of welfare policy and that their involvement with the development of said policy creates a conflict of interest and that this conflict of interest has lead to successive reforms of DWP policy which have been detrimental to the wellbeing of the sick and disabled.
- That current welfare policy is failing the sick and disabled and that the Welfare Reform Act does not do enough to improve this situation. In particular:
- That sick and disabled people unable to work or unable to find employment should be supported by the welfare system for as long as they are unable to work or find employment and that mechanisms such as the time limiting of contributory ESA are counterproductive and harmful.
- That being dependent on relatives, partners and friends increases the vulnerability of sick and disabled people to abuse.
- That more needs to be done to remove barriers to access to employment, transport and participation in society as a whole.
Conference therefore calls for:
- The DWP to end its use of the biopsychosocial model of disability and for the social model of disability, which focuses on treatment of the sick and disabled as equals and the removal of barriers to equal citizenship, to be used as the future basis of welfare policy regarding the sick and the disabled.
- An independent review of the impact of the Welfare Reform Act to be set up.
- An immediate end to WCA assessment centres without disabled access and which lack easy access by public transport.
- The establishment of a public consultation on the assessment mechanisms for DLA, ESA and PIPs, with special emphasis on eligibility for support for those with time variant conditions.
- The results of this consultation to be used by the DWP to reform its sickness and disability policies.
- Additional support and effort to be targeted at enabling the sick and disabled to remain in work and at removing barriers of access to work through expansions of schemes such as the Access to Work Fund.
- Means-testing and income-related support elements of disability welfare policy to be reformed to end situations where sick and disabled people are made wholly dependent on partners and carers and therefore made more vulnerable to abuse.
- A greater emphasis to be placed on ensuring the delivery of improved access to public transport for the disabled.
- A greater effort to be made throughout society on tackling prejudice and other attitudes detrimental to the wellbeing of the sick and the disabled.
Note: 'Reversing From Reform' is a report which won't be published for another two weeks but which I've been lucky enough to see an embargoed version of. But because it's embargoed for another fortnight that's all I can say about it.