Leading party members and activists have raised serious concerns over Labour’s refusal to promise that a new review of its adult social care policy will be co-produced with disabled people.
Shadow health and social care secretary Wes Streeting announced this week that he had asked the Fabian Society, a left-of-centre thinktank, to carry out an inquiry that will “develop a roadmap” towards a “national care service” for England.
In a Guardian interview, Streeting said he wanted to see a national care service delivered on the same terms as the NHS, so it was “publicly owned, publicly funded, free at the point of use”.
But he also said that this could not be delivered in one parliament, and he suggested it could take more than a decade to scrap care charges.
Disabled people and their organisations made it clear this week that the inquiry must be co-produced by disabled people.
Labour has previously stated its commitment to co-producing social care policy, with Liz Kendall, its then shadow social care minister, telling a party conference event last September that a Labour government would not get reform right “unless the most important people, the people who use services and support, are actually driving and shaping… co-producing their services and support”.
The Labour party declined to comment yesterday (Wednesday) when asked if it would insist that the research was carried out in genuine co-production with disabled people.
The Fabian Society also refused to promise that its inquiry – which will be funded by Unison – would be co-produced.
Instead, a Fabian Society spokesperson pointed out that one of the thinktank’s researchers was a disabled person, and she said the inquiry would “review the latest evidence and policy proposals, conduct a series of interviews with key experts, including people with lived experience of the care system, and undertake quantitative analysis to develop up-to-date estimates of costs and benefits”.
Asked to confirm that the inquiry would not be co-produced with disabled people, she said that “as with all our work the research will be produced by a very small team that includes disabled and non-disabled people.
“It will gather evidence from and hear the views of a wide range of individuals and organisations, including organisations led by disabled people.”
Labour’s party conference in 2019 approved plans for a National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS) model for social care reform, which was devised by the disabled people’s movement.
NILSS would provide a universal right to independent living that was “enshrined in law”, and would introduce free social care in England, funded by national and progressive taxation.
NILSS was then backed by Labour leader Keir Starmer during his Labour leadership campaign two years ago.
But Labour has since backed away from the idea of free social care, with the party’s shadow leader of the Commons, Thangam Debbonaire, telling female party members last year that introducing free social care for disabled and older people would just “give the Tories a stick to beat Labour with”.
This week, Ellen Morrison – Labour’s disabled members’ representative on its national executive committee – said a co-production commitment from the Fabian Society was “notably missing” from the inquiry announcement.
She said: “We need our shadow ministers to be leading the way in commissioning all policy work to be co-produced with disabled people, at inception.
“I’m not clear if that’s the intention with this inquiry.”
She also called for the inquiry to pick up on the “transformative” work already carried out by disabled people, including disabled trade unionists, through NILSS, and questioned “why there is the need to replicate existing work that has been led by disabled people and our representative organisations”.
Morrison also raised concerns about how the party’s policy was being shaped, and its lack of engagement with disabled people through her role.
She said she feared that the “very positive work” led by Vicky Foxcroft, the shadow minister for disabled people, through her regional disability roadshows, was at risk of being “over-ridden”.
She said: “I wish I could offer disabled members my full confidence that their voices are being heard in every area of policy-making, but I’m not confident that’s the reality.
“Co-production is a term with meaning so I’m not looking for it to be bandied about without a firm commitment behind it.”
Mark Harrison, a member of the steering group of Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), who helped produce NILSS, said: “The Fabians need to adhere to ‘nothing about us without us’ and co-produce proposals for a national service with disabled people.
“The leaders in co-production in social care and independent living are ROFA, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, which is the only local authority in the UK to scrap charges for social care.”
He added: “It is no longer acceptable to non-disabled people and professionals to talk for us or on our behalf – they need to be ‘on tap, not on top’.”
Kathy Bole, chair of Disability Labour, said: “One disabled person is not co-production.
“As the major users of care services, more disabled people need to be included and fully involved in the whole process from start to finish.
“We don’t need things done to us again and this is what it sounds like will happen.”
Helen Rowlands, co-founder of Cheshire Disabled People Against Cuts (CDPAC), said: “Any serious effort by politicians and thinktanks to address the social care crisis will be informed by the social model of disability and a rights-based approach.
“It is critical that the Labour party comes to terms with co-production of policy as the way forward in any modern, progressive country.
“Wes Streeting and the researchers he has selected to cost up his vision for social care would be well advised to draw upon the expertise of the Co-production Implementation Group at Hammersmith and Fulham council, Inclusion London, and the work on social care carried out by ROFA, if he wishes to convince the disabled electorate that disabled people’s insights and experience will be central in Labour’s plans.”
Picture: (From left to right) Wes Streeting, Ellen Morrison and Mark Harrison
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