The four candidates to be Labour’s next leader have produced between them only a small handful of policies aimed at disabled people, after being quizzed by some of their own party’s disabled members.
Although the four were praised for their overall commitment to equalities, critics within the party say they appear to have given “scant” attention to developing policies aimed at improving the rights of disabled people.
Andy Burnham (pictured), Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Kendall were asked for their policies on employment, housing, social care, social security and transport by Disability Labour, a Labour-affiliated group which represents the party’s disabled members.
Corbyn and Cooper appeared to have thought most carefully about policies aimed at disabled people, followed by Kendall, with Burnham trailing in a distant fourth place.
On employment, Corbyn called for stronger discrimination laws “to ensure that reasonable adjustments are made by all employers, with enforceable rights for disabled workers”.
He said he would introduce mandatory pay audits, to expose the gap in wages between different groups, including disabled people, and called for an inclusive education system, as well as a role for government in “educating employers and challenging prejudice”.
Cooper said she would “replace the failing Work Programme with a specialist programme of employment support for disabled people, including inviting disability organisations to share their expertise to help design and deliver this support”.
She would also ensure that the Access to Work scheme operates “effectively”, and would “ensure that health and social care are joined up with employment programmes, so that people have the integrated support they need to work or learn”.
Kendall backed “reintroducing specialist disability employment advisors, working with employers to provide the information and support they need to employ disabled people, and ensuring that disabled people have the equipment, social care and support they need”.
Burnham appeared to have no targeted policies on disability employment, other than stating: “My basic principle is that we cannot justify cuts to income [through social security]that cannot be replaced by work.”
On social care, Burnham, his party’s shadow health secretary, said he was “committed to extending the NHS principle to social care – where everybody is asked to make a contribution according to their means and where everybody then has the peace of mind of knowing that all their care needs, and those of their family, are covered”.
Corbyn backed an integrated health and social care system, and committed to reinstating the Independent Living Fund. He was the only one of the four to oppose and campaign against the closure of the fund before it shut for good at the end of June.
Kendall, her party’s shadow minister for care services, said she would “seek to encourage good, local provision of care provided by community interest companies and social enterprises”, and introduce a living wage for qualified care workers, as well as “a system of apprenticeships and training schemes to bring social care into line with health care”.
She also committed to closing all assessment and treatment units for people with learning difficulties or autism in mental health hospitals.
Cooper backed pooling budgets for the NHS and social care, with “a much stronger role for local councils, better collaboration with the third sector and more personal budgets to give people more choice over their care”.
She said spending on social care would need to increase as a “top priority”, and called for a living wage in the social care sector – funded through closing two tax loopholes – as well as “an end to inappropriate 15-minute visits” by care workers.
On social security, Corbyn said he would scrap the much-criticised work capability assessment, and bring the eligibility testing process back in-house, end benefit sanctions, and reverse the cuts to employment and support allowance announced in the chancellor’s 2015 summer budget.
Burnham appeared to suggest action on benefit sanctions, with the introduction of “proper safeguards for vulnerable people”, but offered no detail or any other policies, other than seeming to back calls for an independent review of how sanctions operate.
Kendall was also vague, suggesting only that more support for disabled people “may mean providing equipment, social care, the time to learn to cope with a newly acquired impairment, the flexibility to allow people to work just a few hours a week”.
Cooper said she would “reform the work capability assessment to ensure it’s fair to disabled people”, ensure disabled people have access to “good quality advice”, and “make better use of the evidence people supply about their disability or health condition, sharing information better, and reducing the need for repeated and unnecessary face-to-face assessments”.
On housing, Corbyn stressed his continuing opposition to the bedroom tax, which had “disproportionately hit disabled households”, and said the country should build at least 240,000 new homes every year, at least half of which should be council housing.
Burnham said he would force all social housing that was sold to be replaced with affordable homes “within walking distance”, allow councils to borrow to build new homes, develop “rent to own” schemes, and introduce regulation of the private rental sector, but made no reference to accessible housing.
Kendall criticised the previous government for failing to force the construction industry to work to the “highest standard of accessible homes”, but suggested no particular policies.
Cooper said her commitment to building 300,000 new homes a year would include a “guarantee of accessible lifetime homes”.
On transport, Corbyn said he supported disabled people who had joined unions to protest against cuts to train station staff, because of the importance of ensuring stations had enough employees to assist people with mobility impairments.
He said he would nationalise buses and trains, but also “press councils and government to ensure accessibility is part of procurement and budgeting decisions”.
Burnham did not suggest any transport policies aimed at disabled people, but said he would ensure “proper and accountable public control of the railways”, and better regulation of buses.
Kendall said that not enough had been done to “force the transport companies to provide access” and suggested that the transport system could be “properly accessible to everyone” with “careful design and increased staffing”, but she suggested no particular policies on accessible transport.
Cooper said she was “determined to deliver a fairer deal for disabled rail passengers and to give them a strong voice to ensure investment in the rail network helps to improve access and passenger safety”, and wanted to ensure that 100 per cent of bus drivers were trained in “disability awareness”, with “regular repetition” of good quality training.
She said she would also work with the aviation industry to improve information for passengers in accessible formats, and improve services for disabled air travellers.
In a statement responding to the candidates’ answers, Disability Labour said: “Our questions identified some of the key priorities for disabled people.
“The answers received reveal that candidates understand that these are important issues and that Labour is committed to equalities.
“However in the main, they don’t give more than the briefest sense of what each candidate would do if successfully elected.”
The statement pointed out that, of the four, only Corbyn voted against the government’s much-criticised welfare reform and work bill.
Disability Labour said it would not be endorsing any of the candidates, but that it was “most encouraged by those who have consistently supported disabled people and have gone out of their way to demonstrate this”.
Meanwhile, Kendall has been criticised this week for suggesting that disabled people were different from “ordinary” people.
Kendall told the BBC that Labour had been successful in 1997 because “people thought that we had a message that was yes, for the weak and the vulnerable and those who were suffering, but for ordinary people too”.
One disability campaigner, [email protected], said on Twitter: “#Labour’s Liz Kendall says yes to help ‘for the weak & the vulnerable but for ordinary people too’ how extraordinarily ignorant! #disability.”
And another disability campaigner, @thisisamy_, tweeted: “Liz Kendall did really divide the country between ‘weak, vulnerable & ppl who are suffering’ and ORDINARY ppl. Wow.”