The Disability and Poverty Taskforce was set up by Labour and headed by Sir Bert Massie, former chair of the Disability Rights Commission and a party member.
Breaking the Link between Disability and Poverty makes recommendations in four key areas that the members of the taskforce believe will “help disabled people and their families to escape poverty”, looking at government work programmes; social security; the extra costs of disability; and disability equality.
Sir Bert told Disability News Service that the link between disabled people and poverty had been broken – “generally speaking” – for older disabled people, under the last Labour government, partly through higher pensions, so the same could be done for working-age disabled people.
He said: “There is huge poverty and it is caused by the extra costs of being disabled, and by lower income.”
He said the report demands a “much more sophisticated” way of assessing whether disabled people can work – in contrast with the current work capability assessment (WCA) – and makes it clear that the government’s view that all people can work is “just nonsensical”.
And he said the taskforce’s idea of a new third strand to disability living allowance (DLA) and its new working-age equivalent, personal independence payment (PIP), was a “credible way forward”.
This would see the state contributing towards some of the extra costs faced by disabled people that are not currently covered by the mobility and daily living/care components of PIP and DLA, such as extra heating costs, the expense of having to wash clothes or bedding more frequently, or the costs of independent living equipment.
Sir Bert said: “These are little things that add up to it being bloody expensive to be disabled.”
He added: “There has to be some transfer of resources [from the state to disabled people]. I don’t think we can alleviate poverty otherwise.”
But despite a warm response to its conclusions from disabled campaigners, Labour appeared to distance itself from the report, ensuring it was published during the Easter recess and refusing to issue a press release.
Sir Bert says in the report: “Our approach is to invest in what people can do, rather than to solely compensate them for what they can’t do.
“A major investment is needed in skills and qualifications. Far more must be done to create a more receptive and open labour market and to tackle in-work poverty.”
On the much-criticised WCA, the taskforce calls for it to be replaced by a new system that is “capable of taking account of the full range of factors which determine genuine employment opportunity”, including a person’s health or impairment, their skills and qualifications and the local job market.
And as a priority, it calls for an end to the use of “predetermined percentage targets” for the number of claimants allowed to qualify for employment and support allowance, the out-of-work disability benefit.
On employment, the report calls for a “major drive” to improve the skills of disabled people, and for the government to implement the recommendations made by the Sayce report on expanding and improving the Access to Work programme.
It also suggests the mainstream Work Programme and specialist Work Choice jobs scheme should be replaced with a new system of personalised employment support, which disabled people could use to access learning and qualifications, with employment programmes commissioned at a more local level.
The report says public policy should “focus on the availability of jobs and on the major barriers to employment for disabled people: the inclusivity of workplaces and the accessibility of services”, while there should be investment in “creating a sea-change” in the behaviour of employers on recruiting, developing and retaining disabled staff.
The report also calls for major efforts to address the “cost-of-living crisis” affecting disabled people, including a detailed investigation into disability poverty, government investment in accessible and affordable housing and transport, and national and local government to use their purchasing power to drive down the price of disability-related equipment and services.
It also calls for a Labour government to scrap the coalition’s controversial decision to tighten the “moving about” criteria for PIP from 50 metres to 20 metres.
And the taskforce calls for a major review of how disabled people’s rights are protected through government-funded organisations, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Office for Disability Issues, with public bodies forced to set out “mitigating actions” if they think that new laws and policies, such as spending decisions, will have a negative impact on disability equality.
Kate Green, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, dismissed fears that the report was “dead in the water”.
She said the party was considering the report’s recommendations “carefully” and had been given “a lot to think about”, and wanted to open up a debate on the report to disabled people.
She said: “There is a lot in the report that either we were already thinking about how we would do it or were underway with doing.”
She pointed to examples, such as reforming the WCA and suggestions for personalised, localised work support, and recommendations on reducing living costs for disabled people and renewing the equalities infrastructure.
She said: “None of those are dead in the water, quite the contrary. They are absolutely the kind of policies we want to develop and explore.”
But she stressed that the party would focus “on what we can do within current resources”.
1 May 2014