The review looks set to lead to a much stronger focus on disability in the next manifesto, with 18 months to go to the general election, and will be the first time the party has looked at the “purpose” of the welfare state.
It looks set to demand greater personalisation of support for disabled people – which should mean greater choice and control – with funding for training, education support, out-of-work benefits, workplace adjustments, and other areas all potentially pooled into a single funding pot.
And it appears likely that it will develop ideas pioneered by the Right to Control pilot schemes, which were introduced through Labour’s Welfare Reform Act and put support from six sources, including council-funded care, into single pots of money for disabled people to use as they wish.
Lord German, the Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman in the Lords, who is pushing these ideas, told Disability News Service at this week’s party conference in Glasgow: “We have to look at a way that deals with budgeting that crosses most departmental boundaries.
“The idea of personalisation of budgets is a principle which we could start to look at in much more depth as a party.”
He admitted that his party’s manifesto had not been strong on disability at the last election in 2010.
Although he does not yet appear to have secured the full agreement of pensions minister Steve Webb, the party’s only minister in the Department for Work and Pensions, Lord German said he had discussed his ideas with key figures in the party.
He added: “We need a safety net to recapture people who fall out of the system somewhat, to concentrate much more on the interventions that we make to help people overcome difficulty in their lives, and to find alternative routes to manage those difficulties.”
He later told a Liberal Democrat Disability Association fringe event that the party would almost be starting its review of welfare with “a blank sheet of paper”.
He said there needed to be “a safety net so no-one falls through”, and added: “Intervention and removing barriers seems to be fundamental, giving people a hand-up rather than a handout, which I think everyone really wants.”
He said the party also needed to look at how society views disabled people, and the removal of stigma, particularly in the workplace, where too few employers were willing to employ disabled people.
Lord German said the party needed to look at integrating services, pooling resources, and increasing personalisation, with people “given help to be in charge of their own lives”.
He added: “I think disabled people need the kind of welfare state which is not a mere safety net, but which invests in tackling disability barriers and provides resources to [deal with those] barriers.”
18 September 2013