I spoke in a House of Commons opposition day debate on the disability employment gap yesterday at the despatch box, where I told MPs that Labour will provide leadership on disability issues whereas the Government’s efforts have been “hollow”.
During my speech yesterday, I stated “although 4m people with disabilities are working already, there are another 1.3m who are fit for and want to work, but are currently unemployed. The gap in the employment rate for disabled people compared to non-disabled people has grown under this Government to 34%; a 4% increase since they came into office. As 90% of disabled people used to work this is such a waste of their skills, experience and talent.
“Study upon study has shown the Government’s pledge to halve the disability employment gap rings hollow with estimates that, at the current rate, it will take until 2030 for the disability employment gap to be halved.
“The shelved White Paper with the promise of a strategy defining support for disabled people is yet another broken promise.
“This comes down to whether the Government believes in the principles that underpin the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which we are signatories to. Fundamentally, it says that disabled people should be able to participate fully in all aspects of society, including work, accessing the same opportunities that everyone else can, including being able to use their talent and skills to the best of their ability. No one should feel they are unable to reach their best potential or that their hopes and dreams don’t matter.
I asked the Government ministers present at the debate: “Does the Government support the principles and articles of the UN Convention? And, if so, when will they be publishing the UN Committee’s report investigating the UK’s breaches of this, and their response to this?”
I then went on to tell the House that: “Governments set the tone for the culture of society explicitly through their policies and laws, and more subtly through the language they use and what they imply. Collectively this tells us who they think are ‘worthy’ or not.
“This Government has made their views abundantly clear. Their swingeing cuts to social security support for disabled people including the recent ESA WRAG (Employment and Support Allowance – Work Related Activity Group) cut of £1500 per annum; nearly £30bn in support has been cut from 3.7m disabled people since 2010.
“Their overhaul of the WCA (Work Capability Assessment) process that manages to be both dehumanising, ineffective and has been associated with profound mental health effects including suicides. Their sanctions policy targeting the most vulnerable, bringing people to the brink and under which people have died.
“The PIP (Personal Independence Payment) debacle which is making it harder for disabled people in work to stay in work. The closure of the ILF (Independent Living Fund), and so on. And it’s happening across all Government departments in BIS (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills), transport, education, justice, culture and media; disabled people are being marginalised.
I also informed MPs about my plans to organise a UK-wide roadshow to consult the public about disability issues saying: “The Labour Party’s Disability Equality Roadshow will work with disabled people, their carers, disabled people’s organisations, providers across the UK, listening to and developing policies with them that address their needs and that work. But we also will be engaging the public at large, providing an alternative to this Government’s negative narrative or casual inaction.”
After outlining some of the action needed, I ended my contribution to the debate by saying: “Mr Speaker, it is over 70 years since legislation was first introduced to prohibit employment-related discrimination against disabled people.
“Sadly, we are still fighting to address this discrimination and the inequality in employment disabled people still face. Changing attitudes and behaviour needs cultural change, it needs leadership. We will provide it.”