Miliband offers work hope for long-term disabled unemployed


theweeksubTens of thousands of disabled people who have found it impossible to break into the jobs market could secure guaranteed jobs, if Labour wins power at the next election.

The pledge emerged after a major speech on social security policy by the Labour leader Ed Miliband.

In the speech, delivered today (6 June) in east London, Miliband said that a Labour government would promise a job of 25 hours a week for every person aged 25 and under who had been out of work for more than a year, as well as 10 hours a week training.

He said the same guarantee – also at minimum-wage level or above – would apply to everyone over 25 who had been unemployed for more than two years.

A spokesman for Miliband later told Disability News Service (DNS) that the guarantee would apply to all disabled people who had been claiming jobseeker’s allowance for more than a year, or two years if they were over 25.

Thanks to the inflexibility and unfairness of the government’s work capability assessment (WCA), tens of thousands of disabled people are now being found “fit for work”, despite the substantial barriers they continue to face in finding employment.

In his speech, Miliband also committed Labour to a cap on social security spending, improvements to the WCA, and better support for disabled people to find jobs through the Work Programme.

The cap on welfare attracted most of the immediate headlines, with Miliband suggesting a Labour government would plan three years ahead to restrict spending on areas like housing benefit and the costs of structural unemployment.

He ruled out including in the cap the short-term costs of social security that come from downturns in the economy, which would probably include fluctuations in out-of-work disability benefits.

But the spending cap is likely to include at least some parts of spending on disability living allowance and the new personal independence payment, with Miliband’s spokesman telling DNS that the cap “would include elements of these benefits”.

Miliband also said in his speech that a Labour government would introduce major reforms to the WCA, which tests eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits.

He said Labour supported such tests, but added: “When over 40 per cent of people win their appeals, it tells you the system isn’t working as it should.”

He said disabled people’s experience of the test was often “degrading”, so the test needed to be reformed “so that it can really distinguish” between disabled people who cannot work, disabled people who need help to get into work, and those who can work without support.

He said: “The test should also be properly focused on helping to identify the real skills of each disabled person and the opportunities they could take up.”

Miliband’s spokesman told DNS that Labour wanted to make the tests “as much about what work people could do and the support that would be needed to make that happen, as they are about whether or not someone gets a given benefit”.

There was again some criticism of the Labour leader for the language he used to describe some benefit claimants, after he referred to hundreds of thousands of people in “long term idleness” and how “it appears that some people get something for nothing”.

Anne McGuire, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said after the speech: “I fully support Ed’s comments today that the [work capability]assessment needs to change, because it isn’t delivering.

“My own view is the government have grossly under-estimated the stress and anguish the assessments are causing. People are frightened of them and people should not be frightened of an assessment.”

McGuire, who has helped lead a year-long review of the party’s disability policies, which has yet to report, said the party would announce further details on social security policy “over the next months”.

Reaction to the speech from disabled activists on social media was mixed.

David Gillon, who tweets at @WTBDavidG, said the speech was “very much 2 steps fwd,1 back on disability”, and that while Miliband had admitted the WCA was “broken”, he was also calling for a greater emphasis on the contributory element of social security.

But “Vicereine de Glitter”, who tweets at ‏@halfabear, said: “For years @Ed_Miliband and his ilk have joined the Tories and LDs in demonising the ill and disabled. Now we’re supposed to trust them? No.”

And Sophia Botha, tweeting at @sophiabotha, accused Miliband of “giving in and selling out” on welfare reform.

Another disabled campaigner, Sue Rose, tweeting at ‏@mykkym1, questioned whether a Labour government would be able to create jobs for all those in long-term unemployment, and added: “If not their cap on welfare spending & attack on ‘worklessness’ is #ToryLite.”

But the disabled Labour activist Sue Marsh, writing in The Guardian, suggested that there might be “the basis of an intelligent, compassionate welfare plan lurking somewhere beneath the rhetoric and soundbites”.

She said: “Labour must still lose lines like ‘hundreds of thousands of people in long-term idleness’.

“People don’t want a Labour party who out-Tory the Tories. They want policies that sound honest, from the heart, that are designed to make their lives better, not placate the bottomless pit of right-wing, ideological cruelty.”

But she said Miliband appeared to be “no longer frightened of the word ‘disability’ and now more accepting that some will never work and must be supported with dignity” and that “current disability tests are failing badly”.

6 June 2013