My speech at the Unison National Disabled Member’s Conference

IMG_9344This week, I was invited to the Unison National Disabled Members Conference where I spoke about challenging the Welfare and Reform Work Bill and promoting positive ideas about disabled people rather than allowing the government to continue demeaning benefit claimants by using divide and rule.

Please see below my speech at the conference:

I spent my week end campaigning against the Government’s Welfare Reform & Work Bill & the proposed cuts to tax credits as this will effect 3.3million working families on low pay in UK. IFS estimate lose on average £1300 per annum, for a single parent. People would need to earn £9.55 ph to make up for the loss in tax Credits.

Resolution Foundation estimate 200, 000 more children will be plunged into poverty next April when this comes into effect. We know what the impact on their future life chances will be…

But not much has been said about the 150, 000 families with a disabled child who will be affected by the proposal to limit child tax credit to just two children.

As anyone who has spoken to parents and carers of disabled children will know, it costs three times as much to raise a disabled child and as a consequence families are more likely to be living in poverty than other families. But I’m afraid it doesn’t stop there.

The cuts to the work-related activity component of the Employment and Support Allowance we believe are unjust and unfair. This will see disabled people and people with serious health conditions, who have been assessed as part of the Work Capability Assessment process as not fit for work and placed in the Work-Related Activity Group, have their social security support cut by nearly £30 from £102.15 to £73.10.

There is compelling evidence from the independent Extra Costs Commission which analysed the additional costs facing disabled people and found that on average they spend an extra £550 pm associated with their disability.

The Government’s proposed cuts to people on ESA WRAG is on top of a whole host of other cuts in social security support for disabled people since 2010. Demos estimated that by 2018 £23.8 billion will have been taken from 3.7 million disabled people, with 13 policy changes as part of the 2012 Welfare Reform Act including:

Changes to the indexation of social security payments from the higher RPI to the lower CPI and 1% cap on the up-rating of certain working age benefit. This cut £9 billion from 3.7 million from their social security support

The reassessment of people on Incapacity Benefit’s capacity to work with an associated cut of £5.6 billion

Limiting the time disabled people on Employment and Support Allowance in the Work-Related Activity Group are able to receive out of work benefit to 2 years, cutting £4.4 billion

And the reassessment of disabled people receiving Disability Living Allowance to determine if they are eligible for Personal Independence Payment, another cut of £2.62 billion

And of course this doesn’t include the freeze in other social security support and the £3.6 billion in cuts to social care.

We are really concerned at the very limited analysis that has been undertaken on the cumulative effects of these latest cuts on top of the previous cuts. It seems the EHRC is too…

The Government’s own IA estimates approximately 500,000 people and their families will be affected by this cut to ESA WRAG, but there is no analysis of the impact this will have on the number of disabled people who will be pushed into poverty.

We know disabled people are twice as likely to live in persistent poverty as non-disabled people and that 80% of disability-related poverty is caused by extra costs; last year there was a 2% increase in the proportion of DP living in poverty, equivalent to more than 300,000 people.

At the 2nd reading of the Bill, the Secretary of State stated:

‘The current system discourages claimants from making transitions into work’

What about people with progressive conditions such as Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis or Motor Neurone Disease who have no prospect of recovery, who have undergone a Work Capability Assessment and have been placed in the WRA Group? How on earth is this measure going to incentivise this group of disabled people into work? Why hasn’t there been an analysis of how many people with progressive conditions will be affected?

The Government must finally accept that in addition to being dehumanising, the Work Capability Assessment is not fit for purpose and needs a complete overhaul.

The IA has estimated that by 2020/21 another £640million a year will have been cut from social security support to disabled people, with £100million a year to provide unspecified support to help disabled people into work.

But if the Government was serious about supporting disabled people into work, why is there nothing in this Bill about how they are going to ensure that there are jobs for those disabled epople who are able to work? The Tory manifesto committed the Govt to halving the current 30% disability employment gap, but how are they going to do it? How many employers will be engaged? More than the 68 employers currently active in the Disability Confident scheme, I hope. Why wasn’t employer engagement included in the Impact Assessment? Where exactly is the ‘Work’ bit in this ‘Welfare Reform & Work Bill’? What are they going to do to improve Access2Work which only helped 35,000 disabled people into and to stay in work? The current level of 1 specialist employment advisor to 600 disabled people is derisory and the Government’s own evaluation shows how ineffective the Work Programme has been for disabled people.

So how has the Government managed to get buy-in to these draconian cuts? Part of their strategy has been an insidious spreading of a culture of blame and fear. In the 1980s, the unions were the target, today the focus is on the poor and vulnerable. The narrative associated with the so-called welfare reforms has been one of ‘divide and rule’, deliberately attempting to vilify people receiving social security as the new undeserving poor. By using pejorative language such as ‘shirkers’ and ‘scroungers’, the Government has intentionally attempted to demonise social security recipients, including disabled people. In 2010 the use of the term ‘scrounger’ by the mainstream press increased to 572 more than 330% from 2009 and has stayed at this level. It is not a coincidence that disability hate crime is on the rise.

The regular misuse of statistics is another way the Government is trying to harden the public’s attitudes to the welfare state. The facts are that with an ageing population the largest proportion (over 42%) of the social security budget is spent on pensioners, not as they imply on the workshy. But fear and blame is not just the preserve of the Conservatives and it must be resisted at all costs.

The Government has tried to imply we are far too generous with our welfare budget. But when we examine 2012 public spending on people with disability as a % of GDP, it is just 1.3%, 19th out of 32 EU states

There are two examples which I think epitomise the Government’s record & their agenda. Their policy on sanctions and their response to the deaths of people on IB/ESA.

There has been a meteoric rise in the use of sanctions since the new regime was introduced at the end of 2012. The rate for ESA claimants has quadrupled since 2010!

The Select Committee  was concerned about this back in 2013. We recommended that the:

DWP should launch a second, broader, independent review of conditionality and sanctions, to include investigation of whether the process is being applied appropriately, fairly, proportionately and in accordance with the rules, across the Jobcentre network.’

and we thought the Minister had agreed to that but I’m afraid there was another broken promise. So I managed to persuade the Select Committee to do one ourselves and build on the work from the Oakley review.

With even more concerns raised than in 2013, we published the report to this inquiry in March which again renewed our calls for an independent review but also in addition we called for an independent body to be set up following on from the deaths that had been associated with sanctions. We know that 49 deaths have been peer reviewed by DWP but the circumstances to they have refused to publish the circumstances to these deaths.

The Government finally published their response to this on Friday, 4 months late. They rejected the recommendation for an independent review and for an independent body to review deaths, amongst many others they also rejected.

On the Thursday before the last August Bank Holiday, 5 months after the Information Commissioner had ruled that the Governement must publish data on the people on Incapacity Benefit and ESA who had died between November 2011 and May 2014, the Government finally published these data. These data revealed that the death rates for people on IB/ESA in 2013, was 4.3 times that of the general population increasing from 3.6 times in 2003. People in the support group are 6.3 times more likely to die than the general population and people in the WRAG Group – the people whose support this Government is seeking to cut – are more than twice as likely to die – 2.2x in fact – as the general population.

The innuendo that people with a disability or illness might be ‘faking it’ or are ‘feckless’ is quite frankly grotesque and belies the epidemiological data; Incapacity Benefit/ESA are recognised as good population health indicators. And the release of the Govternment’s own data proves this point! Disabled people in the WRAG groups are a vulnerable group of people who need our care and support not humiliation.

Conference, as you know, being disabled is not a lifestyle choice. I am proud of the principles underpinning our model of social welfare where any one of us is afforded protection should we fall ill or become disabled.

But this is at risk. I look forward to working with you over the coming weeks and months to oppose this Government’s regressive policies and to build an alternative social security system, fit for the 21st century that we can be proud of, & that gives dignity, independence and support to disabled people.

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