Labour has been accused of caving in to “powerful vested interests” after failing to include any reference to scrapping care charges in documents that will form the basis of the party’s next general election manifesto.
One leading disabled people’s organisation said the statement “confirms our worst fears”.
The section of the documents on adult social care talks about “supporting independent living”, ensuring disabled people have “choice and control” over their support, and ending “the postcode lottery for care”.
But there is no mention of a Labour government taking any steps to end care charging, despite being told repeatedly that tens of thousands of disabled people across the country every year are having debt collection action taken against them by their local authorities over unpaid care charges.
Labour leader Keir Starmer supported the idea of free social care, funded by national progressive taxation, with a universal right to independent living “enshrined in law”, when he was campaigning to become leader in February 2020.
But instead of a pledge to scrap care charges, or even to gradually reduce charges, the document says Labour would create a new National Care Service that would be “a needs-based, locally delivered system, where people are helped to stay in their homes for as long as possible and where disabled adults have choice and control over their support”.
The details are included in the party’s National Policy Forum (NPF) documents, which were passed to Disability News Service this week but have not been published.
Mark Harrison, a member of the steering group of Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), said: “This policy statement confirms our worst fears.”
He said the statement was “a step backwards” from the policies of the last Labour government, which lost power in 2010, and its policies such as the Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People strategy, Right to Control and Putting People First.
Harrison said: “Rather than coproducing a policy with disabled people and our representative organisations, they have listened and caved in to the powerful vested interests in the social care industry.
“There is no mention of article 19 of the UNCRPD, direct payments, no commitment to scrapping the tax on disability that is care charging, no re-imagining social care as ROFA has done in our National Independent Living Service (NILS) vision, and no recognition of the vital role of peer support through DDPOs* delivering direct payments support.
“There is also no commitment to reopening and expanding the Independent Living Fund, as Scotland has done and Northern Ireland intends to do.
“Whilst we welcome some elements, including the commitment for people to be supported to live independently in their own homes, we recognise that this is not realisable while being delivered by cash-strapped local authorities in continuing and enduring austerity.”
Kathy Bole, chair of Disability Labour, said: “Labour needs to scrap care charging as soon as possible.
“Many people are going without care because they can’t afford the charges. This then puts further pressure on family carers.
“Again, the Labour party is avoiding making a commitment to disabled people.
“A commitment to scrapping charges would show a true difference to what the Tory government has done for 13 years.”
Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts and author of The War on Disabled People, said: “The strategy of the current Labour leadership is to appeal to Tory voters to secure election victory.
“Their priority is to head off criticisms that the Tories might throw their way in their pursuit of electoral power.
“Commitments that were made to Deaf and disabled people in the 2017 and 2019 Labour party manifestos play no part within this strategy.
“They are asking us to trust them – to trust that once elected they will work in co-production with us to formulate policies that will benefit disabled people.
“If they get elected with their current fiscal policy then the scope of what can be achieved with co-production will be very limited.”
Commenting on various concerns raised about the NPF document, Vicky Foxcroft, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, told DNS: “The National Policy Forum plays an important role in shaping Labour’s policy platform, but this is not the end of the journey.
“The report outlines a credible and ambitious policy programme that will be further discussed at our party conference and we will set out our manifesto in full before the next general election.
“Unlike the Tories, Labour is committed to co-production and ensuring we work with disabled people right from the start.”
October’s party conference will decide which parts of the NPF documents are included in the party programme.
Ahead of a general election, Labour representatives will then attend a so-called clause V meeting to decide which elements of the party programme will be included in the manifesto.
*Deaf and disabled people’s organisations
Picture: Mark Harrison (left) and Ellen Clifford
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