The MP leading the race to be Labour’s next leader has become the first candidate to back calls by disabled people’s groups for the introduction of free social care, funded by national progressive taxation.
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, said he supported the motion passed at last autumn’s national conference, which called for a new National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS) for England that would provide a universal right to independent living that was “enshrined in law”.
NILSS would be designed by service-users and carers in partnership with local authorities and the NHS, and it would be delivered “as far as possible” by service-users.
The motion originated with the disabled people’s movement and a document drawn up by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA).
Although the motion became party policy as a result of the conference vote, Labour failed to include it in its general election manifesto and called only for free personal care for older people.
Now Sir Keir has said he supports the party conference motion and that he would want to work with members to further develop that policy position.
He told Disability News Service (DNS): “Everyone has the right to the support they need to live independently no matter where they live in the country.
“I believe that principle should be hardwired into everything we do.
“Unfortunately, our social care service is in crisis and mental health provision is chronically underfunded, so it is only through radical action that we can deliver the change that is needed.”
The new policy came as he responded to all six of the questions sent by DNS to the four candidates last month, following a briefer response to some of the questions he provided last week.
Sir Keir’s mother-in-law died in hospital on Saturday, after spending two weeks in intensive care following an accident.
But despite receiving significant criticism for failing to answer all the questions in depth last week, his team declined to offer his mother-in-law’s accident as an explanation for the late response.
The other leading candidates, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy, answered the questions in depth last week, while Emily Thornberry has still not provided any answers.
In this week’s responses, Sir Keir (pictured) added to the backing he gave last week to calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions.
He said: “I fully support the calls for a comprehensive, genuinely independent investigation.
“The cases that Disability News Service has reported are deeply disturbing and the families of those affected deserve justice.
“Under this government, disabled people have been subjected to the most appalling indignity and they have been robbed of the support to which they have a right.
“We need an inquiry to address the fundamental flaws in the social security system and ensure the necessary reforms are implemented.”
The former human rights barrister also said he would push as prime minister for the government to “fully resource” the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), to ensure it can “more effectively enforce” the Equality Act and stop discrimination against disabled people.
Like Nandy and Long-Bailey, he backed the idea of incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into UK law.
He said: “Before I was elected as an MP, I was a human rights lawyer and I spent a career championing human rights and the work of organisations, including the United Nations.”
He also gave a similar commitment to Nandy and Long-Bailey on accessible housing, which he said “must be a priority for any future Labour government”.
He said: “The poor provision of accessible housing is a national scandal and it is a disgrace that the number of people with disabilities and medical conditions on the housing waiting list in England has risen by almost 11,000 in the last two years.”
He said that, as a Labour prime minister, he would want to see a “significant increase in investment in social housing” and a guarantee that everyone can live in a “decent, affordable and accessible home”.
He also said he would examine building regulations to ensure that all new housing developments were accessible to disabled people, with all publicly-funded homes expected to meet the Lifetime Homes standard on accessibility and adaptability as a minimum.
Sir Keir again stressed the need for greater resources for EHRC, to ensure that all bodies involved in the provision of housing, including government agencies, “comply with their duties under equalities legislation”.
And he said he would want to work with Labour-run councils in the build-up to the next election “to see how we could address the accessible housing crisis locally over the next four years”.
On schools, he was not as outspoken as Long-Bailey or Nandy, who both emphasised the importance of a more inclusive education system.
But he did say that children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) were “all too often being left behind because of a lack of government funding and the perverse incentives brought about in our school assessment system”.
He said he wanted the government to ring-fence funding to plug the £500 million SEND funding gap.
He said: “This funding would be enough to put a SEND specialist teaching assistant in every primary school.”
He said he also supported measures proposed by Labour in 2018 to end the “off-rolling” scandal.
Survey evidence last year suggested that pupils with SEND were more likely to experience off-rolling – in which mainstream schools force pupils off their books to boost their academic results – than other children.
Asked for three ways in which he had fought for the rights of disabled people, he firstly highlighted his work as director of public prosecutions, in which he had called for the criminal justice system to do more to tackle disability hate crime.
He said at the time that he was “deeply concerned” about the number of such cases that were going unreported, and invited disability groups to work with the Crown Prosecution Service to inform its guidance and policies on hate crime across England and Wales.
Secondly, he highlighted his work as shadow Brexit secretary to persuade the government to enshrine the Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law after Brexit.
He said: “The charter prohibits discrimination on the ground of disability and recognises the right of people with disabilities to benefit from measures to ensure their independence and participation in the life of the community.
“I was – and remain – deeply concerned that without these protections in place the rights of disabled people could be weakened.”
He said he would continue to press the government to enshrine the charter into UK law.
Thirdly, he said he had worked as an MP to represent “numerous constituents who have been negatively affected by the government’s so-called welfare reforms.
“These are some of the most distressing cases I have had to deal with as an MP and it has informed my strong belief that we need a substantial overhaul to the social security system in this country.”
In December, DNS reported how Sir Keir had worked “tirelessly” for several years to support and seek justice for the family of his constituent Michael O’Sullivan, who took his own life in September 2013 after being wrongly found fit for work by the Department for Work and Pensions.
He said this week: “We need to create a social security system with dignity, justice and compassion at its heart.”
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