Labour conference: Begg paints bleak picture on cuts


A prominent disabled Labour MP has painted a bleak picture of the impact of the coalition government’s spending cuts on disabled people.

Anne Begg told a fringe event at the Labour conference that her constituency in Aberdeen had already been through a similar scenario when its city council was forced to make cuts of £50 million a year.

She said the cuts had caused one constituent with learning difficulties to lose five separate services during the first tranche of cuts. Rather than forward-planning she said, “they panic and they just shut things”.

She said such cuts cost government more money in the long-term, and added: “That’s what’s happened in Aberdeen and that is what is going to happen as the next two years goes on.”

Arun Chopra, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told the same event that he had seen three patients with mental health conditions in the previous week who had needed to be admitted to hospital for the first time in three years because of the stress caused by plans to retest all those disabled people on old-style incapacity benefit (IB).

He also said it made him “angry” that inpatient admission rates were rising because positions such as advocates and care coordinators were being cut to save money.

In another fringe event, the Labour MP Rushanara Ali said it felt as though disabled people and other long-term unemployed groups were being left to “sink or swim”.

But she accepted that Labour had had “limited success” in supporting disabled people into work “despite much effort”, and she admitted that there were “a lot of lessons for us to learn”.

The former work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper told another fringe event that Labour should guarantee a job that “fits with their abilities and capability” to everyone who has been on long-term incapacity benefits, but then “require them to take it up”.

Kerry McCarthy MP, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, told Disability News Service that she was worried that the government’s welfare reform approach would be “very much about the stick [rather]than the carrot”.

And she said she could not see how cutting staff in jobcentres would lead to a better service for disabled people on out-of-work benefits.

Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said in a conference fringe event that the commission was still talking “pretty robustly” with the Treasury about how it was bringing in tax and benefit changes.

He said: “We think they need to do a bit more to demonstrate that they have complied with the requirements of the law.”

Meanwhile, a new report by Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland has raised new concerns about the quality of support provided to disabled people and others on out-of-work benefits.

A survey of more than 800 Citizens Advice clients with experience of back-to-work support found only a quarter of those who attended compulsory “work-focused interviews” found them useful.

Citizens Advice said the government’s target to move millions of people off benefits and into work at a time of recession and high unemployment was “exceptionally challenging”. To stand any chance of succeeding, it would need to provide support that was “more responsive to individual needs and thus more effective”.

30 September 2010

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