The Liberal Democrats have “a mountain to climb” to prove that the party will stand up for all those in need, their annual conference has been told by a disabled activist.
The conference in Bournemouth was discussing an anti-austerity motion that was passed unanimously by delegates, and was put together by key figures in the Liberal Democrat Disability Association (LDDA).
The motion (F40) said the government’s social security cuts were “motivated by ideology rather than necessity or rationality”, while it committed the party to campaigning against “cruel and unnecessary cuts which affect the most vulnerable”.
The motion’s success came as the party announced that it was set for its first major review of social security policy since 1992.
George Potter, who helped put the motion together, said the party had previously been “quite happy to nod through policies in government… which hurt vulnerable people disproportionately”.
Potter, who also devised motions at previous conferences that exposed the unhappiness of grassroots members with the impact of austerity policies on disabled people, said the party had to do more to develop a proper social security policy.
He said: “The fact that we have not looked at welfare in almost my entire lifetime is simply not good enough.
“We do not prioritise welfare and social security in this party in the way we should do.”
He said that “people in need” had been “abandoned”, and “not just by us but by all political parties”.
He said the party now had “a mountain to climb in proving that we are there for the vulnerable”, and needed to devise “a Beveridge Report for the 21st century” that would offer “root and branch reform of the welfare system”.
Beveridge was a Liberal economist and social reformer, whose 1942 report for the wartime government laid the foundations for the modern welfare state, including the formation of the NHS.
Potter told delegates that the government’s plans for further welfare cuts were “absolutely appalling”, and he pointed to plans to cut payments for new employment and support allowance claimants placed in the out-of-work disability benefit’s work-related activity group by about £1,500 a year from 2017.
He said: “These are people who are not able to work and yet they are being treated as if they are able to work.
“It will destroy lives and leave people even worse off than they were before.”
Kelly-Marie Blundell (pictured), LDDA’s vice-chair and the party’s south-east diversity champion, who will be co-chairing the party’s social security working group, told delegates that the motion rejected the Conservatives’ “politics of fear” and “benefit scrounger rhetoric”.
She said: “It is a fundamental principle of a civilised society that we provide a safety net for those in need.
“The truth is that the ideological cuts to welfare are hitting the most vulnerable the most.”
Robert Adamson, another member of the LDDA executive, said: “We as a party recognise that this is about more than money.
“Poverty is not just about financial poverty [but also] poverty of ambition and hope.”
And he said that future policy must look at provision of advice and support on social protection.
The party’s new work and pensions spokeswoman, Baroness Manzoor, backed the motion, and said the “ideological and unnecessary measures” that the Liberal Democrats stopped the Conservatives from introducing in coalition were only becoming clear now the Tories had a majority government.
She said Liberal Democrats in parliament would “do all we can to fight for the agenda given to us by this motion”, and called on her party to “reclaim the principles of Beveridge”.