Labour conference: Party hears of plans to copy Aussie single assessment


theweeksubA Labour government would aim to bring together health, social care and out-of-work disability benefits into a single “comprehensive” insurance system, the party’s annual conference has heard.

The move would see an end to the multiple assessments faced by disabled people, and a move towards a single assessment to cover all of the support they need.

Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, told the party’s conference in Brighton that he wanted to mirror the disability insurance scheme introduced by the Australian Labor party.

Byrne also told delegates in Brighton that he wanted “devolution” of control over work programmes from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to councils.

He said he wanted local authorities, and not the centralised DWP machine, to “shape the programmes to get people back to work”.

And he said that Labour would “sack” Atos, the controversial outsourcing giant that carries out “fitness for work” tests on behalf of the government, and which he said was a “disgrace”.

Labour also pledged to repeal the “bedroom tax”, the housing regulations which came into force on 1 April and financially punish tenants in social housing who are assessed as “under-occupying” their homes.

And Byrne said a Labour government would act to strengthen the laws on disability hate crime, which are currently being examined by the Law Commission.

Anne McGuire, the shadow minister for disabled people, told a fringe event that Australia appeared to have “a far more streamlined and supportive system” than the UK.

She told Disability News Service later that it was Labour’s “ambition” to get rid of multiple assessments, but added: “No-one is going to under-estimate that that might be tricky to implement.”

She said that Atos doctors had told her that the “missing link” with the fitness for work test – the work capability assessment (WCA) – was that it did not assess a person’s employability, and take into account the many barriers a disabled person faces in the employment market.

This was something the new single assessment would aim to address, she said.

Earlier this month, disabled activists from various user-led organisations announced that they were going to work together to design an alternative to the WCA, following a meeting with Mark Hoban, the Conservative employment minister.

McGuire said that this work “will be valuable in seeing whether or not we can move to a single assessment”.

25 September 2013