The impact of the government’s unpopular welfare reforms on disabled people is set to play a major part in next month’s Liberal Democrat party conference, thanks to the efforts of disabled party activists.
A motion due to be debated on the second day of the conference will call for an independent review of the cumulative impact of the many measures in this year’s Welfare Reform Act that are set to affect disabled people.
In June, the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell asked Maria Miller, the Conservative minister for disabled people, why the government had still not carried out an assessment of the cumulative impact of its policies on disabled people.
Her question followed a report on disabled people’s right to independent living, by the joint committee on human rights which called on the government to produce such an assessment.
The Liberal Democrat activists behind the motion – which raises a number of other concerns around the government’s welfare reforms – hope the debate will feed into a review of the party’s disability policy by its federal policy committee, which will be completed in time for the next general election in 2015.
The debate is likely to repeat the embarrassment caused to Liberal Democrat coalition ministers by a similar motion at last year’s annual conference in Birmingham, which saw a string of disabled party activists take to the platform to raise concerns about the impact of the controversial work capability assessment (WCA) on disabled people.
This year’s motion will call for a public consultation on the government’s use of the WCA and its planned new assessment to test eligibility for the benefit due to replace disability living allowance.
It will argue that the coalition’s welfare policies are “failing sick and disabled people”, and will again criticise the government’s new one-year time limit on claimants of the contributory form of employment and support allowance.
The author of the motion, George Potter, a disabled activist and member of Liberal Youth, also proposed the motion at last year’s conference, which led to a major change in the party’s welfare reform policies.
Potter said: “My hope is that a lot of people within the party will be able to feed into the policy review and that that review coupled with the motion means we will be going into the 2015 election with a party committed to radical action on disability issues.”
Potter said he believed the “vast majority” of party members would support the motion, and added: “I will be very surprised if the motion was not passed overwhelmingly by conference.”
Liberal Democrat rules mean the motion will become party policy if it is passed, although ministers, other MPs, and peers would not be bound by the vote.
Potter said he had not called in the motion for the WCA to be scrapped – as demanded in June by the British Medical Association – because he wanted to focus on measures which could “realistically be achieved”.
Kelly-Marie Blundell, a disabled activist and the party’s diversity champion for the south-east, who will move Potter’s motion at next month’s conference in Brighton, said she believed the WCA had improved since last year.
But she added: “The fact that we are coming back to conference this year with a motion points out that it has not gone far enough.”
23 August 2012