The Conservative party appears to have announced just five new policy pledges – across its 62-page general election manifesto – that would specifically address the poverty, barriers and breaches of rights faced by disabled people.
The party’s manifesto is silent on a range of issues of importance to disabled people, with no mention of disability rights or how a Boris Johnson-led government would meet its obligations to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
Successive Tory-led government have been repeatedly criticised by UN experts for their breaches of the rights of disabled people under UN treaties, particularly UNCRPD.
Two years ago, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities told the UK government to make more than 80 improvements to the ways its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.
The committee raised concerns and made recommendations on all but three of the 33 UNCRPD articles it could have breached.
But there is no mention of UNCRPD in the manifesto or of the government’s duty to achieve progressive implementation of the treaty, although the government has previously insisted that it has made “significant progress” on rights and was “committed to building a society which is fully inclusive of disabled people”.
The UN committee also accused the UK of “going backwards on independent living” in 2017 but the party has failed again to suggest a long-term plan to solve the social care funding crisis (see separate story).
Instead of detailing a series of policies to address the barriers faced by disabled people, the Conservative party promises instead a new National Strategy for Disabled People, to be published by the end of next year.
This strategy would “look at ways to improve the benefits system, opportunities and access for disabled people in terms of housing, education, transport and jobs”.
The government has issued no updates or progress reports on its existing, discredited Fulfilling Potential disability strategy since November 2015.
The party has told Disability News Service (DNS) that the new strategy would take a broad approach to the barriers disabled people face and would be rooted in their lived experience, and developed with disabled people, disabled people’s organisations and charities.
In addition to the strategy, there are just four other clear policies which focus on disabled people.
The first is to abolish hospital parking charges for disabled people, although this will also apply to “frequent outpatient attenders, parents of sick children staying overnight and staff working night shifts”.
The second, on social care, is an extra £1 billion a year to fund the system in England, for 2021-22, 2022-23 and 2023-24 (an extra £1 billion for 2020-21 had already been announced).
The King’s Fund has already said that this extra funding “is not enough to meet rising demand for care while maintaining the current quality and accessibility of services”.
The manifesto also offers an extra £74 million over three years to fund further capacity in community settings for autistic people and people with learning difficulties who are currently in long-term hospital settings.
DNS revealed earlier this month that new measures introduced by health and social care secretary Matt Hancock (pictured, right) to address the scandalous treatment of autistic people and people with learning difficulties in mental health hospitals were strikingly similar to failed government measures announced seven years ago.
Hancock’s announcement had come just four days after a report by parliament’s joint committee on human rights condemned the “horrific reality” of life for young people with learning difficulties and autistic people detained in mental health hospitals.
The final disability policy in the Tory manifesto is to double the minimum personal independence payment (PIP) award length from nine to 18 months, at a cost of about £310 million over four years, which should reduce the number of repeat assessments claimants are forced to undergo.
PIP has been plagued by concerns about its unfairness since its introduction in 2013, with the stated objective of the Tory-led coalition in 2010 to use it to cut spending on extra costs disability benefits by 20 per cent.
DNS spent months investigating allegations of dishonesty by PIP assessors in late 2016 and throughout 2017, hearing eventually from more than 250 disabled people in less than a year about how they had been unfairly deprived of their benefits.
And in September, DNS revealed that PIP claimants are now almost twice as likely to win their tribunal appeal than claimants of disability living allowance – which is being replaced by PIP for working-age claimants – were almost a decade ago.
Only this week, DNS secured new figures (see separate story) which show that more than 100,000 Motability customers have had to return their Motability vehicles after being reassessed for PIP and losing eligibility for the scheme.
The party also pledges in the manifesto to “continue the roll-out of Universal Credit”, which it says builds “a clearer pathway from welfare into work”.
On accessible housing, the party has told DNS that it has not dropped plans to consult on tightening minimum accessibility standards on new housing, as announced by the previous prime minister, Theresa May, in June, shortly before she left office, even though it is not mentioned in the manifesto.
Instead, the manifesto says only that a Conservative government would “encourage innovative design and technology to make housing more affordable, accessible, and suitable for disabled people and an ageing population”.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick still faces the possibility of legal action over his failure to take action to tackle the crisis in accessible housing.
A report by the accessible housing provider Habinteg in June said that under a quarter (23 per cent) of new homes due to be built by 2030 outside London were planned to be accessible, and just one per cent of new homes outside London were set to be suitable for wheelchair-users.
The party also insisted that it had not dropped its target to get one million more disabled people into employment over the 10 years from 2017 to 2027, even though it does not appear in the manifesto.
Instead, the manifesto says only that a Conservative government would “reduce the disability employment gap”.
The party told DNS that 1.3 million more disabled people had found work over the last six years, reaching 4.2 million in the third quarter of 2019, and that it was still its intention to reach the goal of one million more disabled people in jobs but wanted a renewed focus on the disability employment gap which had not fallen as significantly as ministers had hoped.
The disability employment gap – the difference between the proportion of disabled people and non-disabled people in employment – is still about 29 per cent.
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