A European commissioner has told Disability News Service (DNS) that the UK government should have done more to “minimise the social damage” caused to disabled people and other disadvantaged groups by its austerity measures.
Dr Laszlo Andor, the Hungarian economist who is commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion – the equivalent of a cabinet minister for the European Union – suggested that the coalition had not done enough to avoid the “collateral damage” caused by its programme of spending cuts.
His comments are likely to infuriate work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, ahead of this week’s annual Conservative party conference in Manchester.
They come only weeks after another leading international figure, the United Nations special rapporteur on housing, Raquel Rolnik, called on the government to suspend its controversial “bedroom tax” because of its impact on disabled people and other “vulnerable” groups.
Speaking to DNS at Labour’s annual conference in Brighton, Dr Andor said: “The question is whether you can pursue fiscal consolidation [reducing the deficit] without collateral damage.
“In order to minimise the social damage, this is sometimes the point when government… makes investment in people.
“Welfare reform should not simply be a function of fiscal consolidation, it should [also] ask what kind of investment is needed in human resources.”
He said very few countries had managed to “remain very forward-looking” and continue to sustain “social investment”, particularly by ensuring “you do not open big doors for a lost generation”.
He said: “Austria and Netherlands managed to prevent this very well. The UK definitely did not. The UK has much higher youth unemployment than would be justified by its strength. It is one of the wealthiest countries on earth.
“A lot more could be done. The commitment could be much stronger.”
He said there had been experiments with “many things” by the UK government, and he suggested that “some of those experimental approaches” should have been subject to a “much stronger” assessment before they began.
Asked about the impact of the government’s reforms and cuts to disability benefits, he said: “There has been a very robust policy to transform the system to make sure that more and more people with disabilities work instead of being on benefits.
“Overall it is important that those who have a limited capacity to work still remain part of the society and remain part of working society if it is possible… It hasn’t happened in the way we would have been satisfied with.”
He said the European Commission had “followed this development with some concern” but had “very little direct competencies in this area”.
26 September 2013