Sunday, 4 August 2013

Labour needs the 'disability' vote in 2015

It was disturbing a couple of months ago to hear both Ed Miliband and Ed Balls state that they would continue with social security spending cuts should Labour form the next government in 2015.

Disabled people in the UK have felt the full force of the ConDems vicious austerity cuts over the past few years. The Work Capability Assessment has caused worry and anxiety across much of the disability population; as well as driving untold numbers to take their own lives.

A hundred years, or so, ago ill and disabled people were haunted by prospects of the workhouse; by the 1930s the social stigma associated with unemployment 'means tests' visited millions of workers. Today the word ATOS coupled with 'work capability assessment' is enough to terrify disabled people.

People are literally terrified of receiving large brown envelopes containing ESA50 forms; as these will normally presage an invitation to an ATOS centre to undergo an, all too often, flawed medical examination. Stories of ATOS failings abound, as severely disabled and ill people being found fit for work despite evidence to the contrary; and the numbers of successful appeals demonstrates the rank incompetence of ATOS and the abject contempt the DWP has for allowing people to be treated in such a manner.    

So, when Liam Byrne made a speech to the cross-party think-tank Demos on reform of social security back in July this year it was reassuring to hear he intends freeing disabled people "...from  the debilitating rounds of testing that currently bedevil the benefits regime."

The freeing-up Byrne speaks of comes in the form of a 'tell us once' assessment that takes into consideration social care, health needs, disability payments and employment and support allowance. Like a 'universal disability credit' without the punitive approach used by the ConDems with their failed 'universal credit'.

There is no standard criteria at the moment for assessing social, health, disability or employment benefits for disabled people. Thus each system has in place its own testing regime which are too frequently at odds with each other.

The Labour Party needs to win back disabled voters. Many were disillusioned by New Labour; especially in its last couple of years in government where it was seen to attack disabled people; attacks that became relentless onslaughts under the ConDems.

However, disabled people will expect more than a vague promise to introduce a 'tell us once' policy, as good as it sounds. Guarantees to put an end to the incessant re-assessment people currently undergo in order to claim ESA - with similar frequency of testing under PIP.

What Byrne and the shadow DWP team need to put into a Labour Party General Election manifesto is that the 'tell us once' assessment will be honest, open and transparent.

The assessments should not be carried out on a profit-by-results basis which ATOS applies to ESA, and will probably do so for PIP. No, the experiment that brought profiteering into medical assessments has proved lethally disastrous and as such assessing for a 'universal disability credit' should be returned to a not-for-profit environment.

Reports, letters and evidence from GPs, hospital consultants, district nurses, physiotherapists, OTs, PA/carers, etc should carry more weight; and a more human approach over the current flawed computer-based profit-led ATOS way needs to be introduced.  

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