Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Labour’s Disability Manifesto: A Positive Step, But Just How Good is It?

I couldn’t face reviewing all of the Party Manifestos this time around*, but when Labour released a mini manifesto specifically on disability policy, that called for a closer look.

Nothing About You, Without You: A Manifesto With And For Disabled People.

What I’m going to do is a headline summary for each of the policy areas (italicised to keep the boundaries clear) and then look at whether they’re good, bad, or missing essential points. Please check the manifesto itself for further details.

Title Page

Nothing About You, Without You: A Manifesto With And For Disabled People.

It’s snappy, and clever, but I did feel this was slightly appropriating our “Nothing for us, Without Us” for party political purposes. On the other hand, I thoroughly approve of manifestos being written “with and for” us.


Summarises what the last seven years have been like for disabled people. The UN criticism. Promises to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into UK law. Commits Labour to ‘a social model of disability’ and promises to keep working with disabled people. It is signed by Jeremy Corbyn, Debbie Abrahams (Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions), and Marie Rimmer (Shadow Minister for Disabled People). 

Positives are the promises to work with us, which we’ve seen continually eroded under the Tories, and to incorporate UNCRPD into UK law. Technically we’re already subject to it as a signatory and as the ECHR uses it as a guiding principle in applying human rights law, but incorporating it into UK law will make it more readily accessible to ordinary disabled people. No real negatives, but I would have been more reassured if Marie Rimmer had known what the Social Model is two months ago, and if they had said ‘the Social Model’ rather than ‘a social model’. What they are committing themselves to may not be what disabled people imagine when we hear ‘Social Model’. Equally the seven months to put Rimmer in place after Abrahams was promoted is deeply worrying as to how much of a priority disability is to Corbyn.


More introductory background on Tory cuts. Background on the Disability Equality Roadshows they held, another commitment to ‘a social model of disability’, promises to replace the WCA and reverse the changes to PIP that are denying it from 160,000 disabled people, sanctions to be axed, 30% WRAG cut to be reversed. Disability issues to be incorporated into every government department. UNCRPD to be law. Social Security Bill to repeal cuts within first year in office. Social Security system to stop demonising disabled people.

This is the good stuff: WCA gone, sanctions gone, WRAG cut gone, PIP to revert to more like DLA, all within the first year in office. A description of their ‘a social model’ says “People may have a condition or an impairment but are disabled by society. We need to remove the barriers in society that restrict opportunities and choices for disabled people.“ Which is reassuring, but I’d still prefer ‘the Social Model’ to be sure we’re on the same page and not dealing with another Atos/Tory BioPsychoSocialModel. The deliberate disablism and demonisation of disabled people within DWP is recognised and will be stopped. Along with sanctions going, we’re promised that the way JCP staff are performance managed will be changed, hopefully meaning they are no longer judged on the number of disabled people they’ve managed to victimise this week.

We could have done without the statement that “Work should always pay more than social security”. If someone is disabled and unable to work, why should they automatically earn less than their non-disabled peers? Especially when disability comes with higher costs. That statement seems to be there more for the Daily Mail than for disabled people. It is at least paired with an acknowledgement that needing to rely on social security should not leave disabled people feeling ‘worthless and abandoned’.

Somewhat confusing is page 7 referring to 160,000 people being denied PIP, while page 9 references Coalition Government figures, saying 600,000 fewer people will receive PIP in 2018 than received DLA. That second figure needs to be updated with a current projection, and using two different but related figures is a mistake 

If you know the background to Labour’s multi-year search for a disability policy, then the absence of any mention of Sir Bert Massie and the team of prominent disabled people who wrote a set of disability policies for Labour, at Labour’s request, back in 2014, only to have their report dropped at the last moment and replaced a whole new set of Disability Roadshows, is a wee bit obvious.

Cuts to be repealed by Social Security Bill in year one, Bedroom Tax included. Sanctions to go. PIP and WCA assessments to be replaced by “a personalised, holistic assessment process which provides each individual with a tailored plan, building on their strengths and addressing barriers, whether financial, skills, health, care, transport, or housing related.” Assessment to be via local voluntary/public sector organisations. Culture changes in JCP.

This is the headline stuff. It covers the axing of not just WCA, but the ESA WRAG cut, the PIP changes, and the Bedroom Tax as well. Make no mistake, these are hugely significant changes. However, there’s significantly too much space spent attacking the Tories and SNP, which just doesn’t tell us anything about how Labour will fix stuff and makes us, as disabled people, look like a stick being used to beat Labour’s political opponents with.

I do have some concerns over the proposed new assessment regime. It almost has to be better than WCA, but the proposed system seems to suggest a single assessment for PIP and ESA. There are some reasons why that might be a good thing, i.e. fewer assessments, and some reasons it might be not be, i.e. ESA being work related where PIP isn’t. There does need to be a different focus between the two. Equally people tend not to apply for the two benefits at the same time.

The proposal to shift assessment over to public/voluntary bodies is equally mixed, taking the profit motive out of rejecting us is an undoubted plus, but one core problem with WCA has been unqualified staff who didn’t know what particular disabilities were, or had a cliched view of them. Sourcing qualified assessors with positive attitudes to disability will be a major issue.

Cultural changes at JCP are also desperately needed, but this may be akin to Hercules cleaning the Augean stables. There must ultimately be a willingness to sack staff who are irredeemably disablist.


Disability Employment Gap to be halved. JCP to work with local employers on recruitment practises. Any employer with 250+ staff to report annually on disabled staff employed. Review to explore expanding Access to Work. Review of ‘specialist employment services’ and look at support for disabled people transitioning into work and who may need sheltered employment.

This is an area I am active in, and there is a lot of good sense here on halving the 31% / 3 million disabled people Disability Employment Gap. However, it falls short of where I’d prefer in talking about the significant barrier of employer/recruiter discrimination. It does actually mention that disabled people say they encounter this, but that is subtly different from saying that Labour agrees it exists. That’s still a major step forward on the Tories’ Disability Confident, which insists the only problem with employers is that they are ‘embarrassed’.

Demanding staff demographics from every company with 250+ employees is a start, but given 1 in 5 of us is disabled within the definition of the Equality Act, that number should be far lower. I’d like to see it reduced to 50 at most, and I think there is an argument for 20. Intersectionality means this reporting will be meaningless without similar reporting for all minorities. Nor are staff demographics alone sufficient, the data also needs to cover wage and seniority levels to determine whether disabled staff are being systematically disadvantaged.

Expanding AtW is clearly needed, Tory ideological cuts (it made a profit, only the Tories would cut a benefit that made a profit) mean it is barely helping as many disabled people as it was seven years ago and for some disability communities, notably the d/Deaf, it is far worse than it was. Expanding AtW coverage for self-employed disabled people is also mentioned, but without any details. And calling for a review simply pushes any change into the future.

With respect to ‘specialist employment services’, it isn’t entirely clear who is being addressed. The Tories shut down the Remploy factories, and privatised the disability employment advice part of Remploy, which is now owned by Maximus, the Atos replacement on the WCA. There are also various charities who offer support for disabled people JCP don’t feel able to handle (I found them singularly useless, but they do help some people), and of course there are JCP’s infamous DEAs (such as the one who told me to apply for minimum wage jobs, even though I was a specialist aerospace engineer). There’s a case for tossing the lot of them and starting again with a professional service of specialist disability-trained employment advisors, but pushing it out into the long grass with another review isn’t going to fix it in the short term.

Turning to sheltered employment, the Remploy model was clearly flawed, with able-bodied management more interested in feathering their own nests, and a government not interested in ensuring their factories had the capital investment to compete. And in the end Remploy’s reputation was so bad it was damaging to disabled people as a whole. But it’s also clear that the shut-down left unsupported a cohort of disabled people who are unable to compete in the mainstream jobs market, and that there likely is a role for some form of sheltered workshop scheme that can offer work to people who won’t be able to find mainstream work. That work needs to be meaningful, not a patronizing token, and it also needs to be subsidized in such a way that it isn’t trying and failing to compete with mainstream companies as Remploy did. There’s no detail here on how Labour would address this, but at least they’re recognising the problem exists.


Discrimination in accessing education to be addressed, including with Free Schools and Academies. Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCs) to be replaced, to prevent them being used to block access to support. Resourcing to be addressed. Inclusivity strategy for children with Special Educational Needs and Development (SEND), SEND to be embedded more fundamentally into teacher training, and training of support stafff. Ensure Modern Apprenticeship scheme is open to all, more disabled trainees. Higher Education to be under a duty to support disabled students, tuition fees to go.   

There have been issues with academies being unwilling to take on disabled kids, and the national statistics seem to show systematic discrimination against disabled kids by the Tories’ favoured grammar schools, so addressing discrimination in school entry is a necessary step, but there are no details as to how this is to be achieved.

The new EHCs (replacements for the old Statements) were rushed in by the Tories, and some councils appear to have been using them to try to slash the number of kids getting needed support, but rushing in a replacement risks the same thing happening, so this needs to be done carefully. (And maybe Labour could take the time to revise the terminology – there’s nothing ‘special’ about disabled kids' educational needs).

Deeply embedding disability into teacher and other staff training is a good idea, an essential idea – doubly so as a survey found 90% of heads felt current training was inadequate. If we train teachers to have positive views of disability, then they should pass that on to the pupils they teach. Equally essential is adequate funding to support disabled pupils, 80% of schools said theirs was inadequate.

Modern Apprenticeships are known to have a problem with numbers of disabled people entering them, at times as low as 0.3% in some areas, so attention is timely, but again no details.

For Higher Education, particularly universities, the axing of tuition fees is clearly a major step towards opening up access. But when you say that cutting Disabled Student’s Allowance and making universities responsible for support instead has been a problem, proposing to fix it by making universities responsible for support seems a bit counter-intuitive. Universities already have a legal duty under the Equality Act to support their students, if they aren’t meeting that then a new legal duty to define their support isn’t going to help unless it is backed with both teeth and resourcing.


Environments to allow disabled people to live independently within the community. More accessible new homes. No expansion of driver only trains. Restored funding for station accessibility.

The devil is in the details. This talks about Labour pledging to build 100,000 more homes, and to build more accessible homes, but nowhere does it say how many of the 100,000 will be accessible. If you can pledge a figure for overall numbers, you can pledge a figure for accessible numbers. I’m not impressed by that omission, it suggests something that’s been thrown together without buy-in from the general policy makers.

Equally the pledge on driver-only trains is only to prevent expansion of the scheme, not to roll it back on the lines where it has already been implemented. As a wheelchair-using train passenger, I have to rely on the guard getting the ramp out on about 50% of my journeys, and that’s with pre-booked passenger assistance from platform staff. I’ve had to physically block the door from closing with my leg to prevent a late-night driver-only service hijacking me to Milton Keynes when I was trying to get home to Kent. If single crew operation is going to restrict disabled passengers travelling, then it clearly falls under the Equality Act and needs to be addressed. In fact, an unpublished report commissioned by the Train Operating Companies in 2015 admits that this falls under the Equality Act and is likely to be considered discriminatory. Either roll it back completely, or allow it, the proposal here doesn’t make sense.

Restoring funding to the Access For All scheme to make railway stations accessible is clearly essential, I can only access the platform at my local station by rolling down a dangerously steep access road after buying my ticket at a booking hall with no disabled parking, and other stations are worse. But when Access to All was cut in 2014, only 452 out of 2533 UK stations were accessible, despite almost £400m having been spent since 2006. Restoring the funding would only increase it from £25m/yr to £43m/yr. And that doesn’t address the two smaller schemes (‘mid-tier’ and ‘small’) which were axed at the same time, and which amounted to another £40m. Restoring Access to All funding only addresses part of the issue and we need an overall scheme to ensure access, and assistance, at all stations at all hours they are in operation.


Create a network of local ‘independent living hubs’ to access services. Invest extra £37Bn in NHS. Invest £8Bn in care, lay the foundation for a ‘National Care Service’. Increase status and career opportunities of care workers. Homes excluded from care means testing. Increase Carer’s Allowance to £73/wk.

A whole 50% of the text here is devoted to attacking the Tories and the SNP, and not telling us about the details of policies. Undoubtedly adequately funding the NHS is huge, and essential, but some of the other ideas are just not clearly explained. The proposal is that these ‘independent living hubs’ would be run by disabled people and support access to other services, but how this would be superior to addressing existing access issues to these services isn’t clear. It’s also impossible to tell whether the extra £8Bn on care is all targeted at the elderly, rather than at disabled people.

I’m all for increasing the status and career opportunities of domiciliary care workers (i.e. those who work in the home), many disabled people depend on their care workers, but there are absolutely no details, nor anything to indicate that Labour recognises the difference between agency and directly employed staff. Most disabled people who directly employ care staff don’t have the means to provide pay increases and fund training courses, so these will need to come from national or local government.

And saying something must be done about the perception of care work as low paid, while promising to increase Carer’s Allowance for ‘Britain’s Unsung Heroes’ to a whole £73 a week seems almost like spitting in carers’ faces. Carer’s Allowance requires you to be devoting 35 hours or more to caring for someone, so that’s a princely £2.08/hr being promised (at a maximum), versus a national living wage of £7.50/hr.

A complete omission is any mention of the Independent Living Fund. It looks like Labour has no interest in reversing that particular Tory cut, no matter how hard disability groups fought to prevent it.

Access to Justice

Labour to ensure disabled people have same access to justice as non-disabled people. National action plans on disability hate crime, and hate crime against disabled women, with associated reporting of statistics.
This whole section is murky and unclear. Half the text is spent describing Conservative cuts to legal aid, plans to do away with face to face tribunals and tribunal fees, but then all it says in terms of addressing them is: Labour will ensure disabled people have the same access to justice as non-disabled people. There’s no promise to actually restore legal aid or axe tribunal fees. There is a promise to strengthen the disability provisions of the Equality Act, by both reinstating the Public Sector Equality Duty and ‘seeking’ to extend it to the private sector. I think most disabled people would far prefer to see government take up the burden of enforcing the Equality Act and not leave it to individual disabled people to sue when organisations discriminate or otherwise refuse to act on their obligations. There is a promise to increase the independence and role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, but still only to support disabled people in taking action.

There is a promise, in accordance with the Istanbul Convention, to introduce “annual reporting of the levels of disability hate crimes and violence against disabled women”. The proposal for releasing stats on violence against disabled women is completely appropriate, intersectional violence against women is a particular problem. But we already have multiple national reports on the levels of disability hate crime, and general disability hate crime is not subject to the Istanbul Convention, which addresses only violence against women. This is utterly confused. On the other hand, the promise of a national disability hate crime action plan is a needed one. The last Home Office hate crime action plan essentially forgot about disability hate crime, which got one sentence in the entire document, and that clearly added at the last minute. Extra training is promised for the police, but a considerable percentage of the problems with disability hate crime prosecutions actually arise with the judiciary, rather than the police or CPS, with judges refusing to implement the hate crime uplifts and instead sidetracking cases into the lesser sentences for crimes again 'vulnerable people'.

A gaping absence is any promise to raise disability hate crime to the same status as race and religious hate crime, an acknowledged weakness in the law that disability groups (and LGBT groups who face the same issues) have been demanding parties should address in their manifestos.


As a party Labour will have accessible selection processes at all levels. Labour will review access to sports, art and leisure venues.

The party stuff only commits Labour to meeting its legal commitments under the Equality Act, I’m really not sure ‘we’ll provide reasonable adjustments’ should be in their political manifesto when it’s the law of the land! Completely missing is any promise to reinstate the Access to Elected Office Fund, which existed to help all disabled candidates with their additional campaigning costs. Why on earth is Labour proposing to address this internally, but not to reinstate it at a national level?

The promised review on access to sport, art and leisure venues, illustrated with the failure of the Premier League clubs to meet access requirements, seems strange when you realise that the EHRC is already on the verge of launching a formal investigation of the Premier League given its failure to carry through on previous access pledges. Why promise to make the EHRC fully independent in one section, and then undercut it in the next? The logical approach here would have been to ask the EHRC to extend its investigation.

A promise is also made to promote the use of BSL and to give it legal status, something the British Deaf Association has been campaigning on for over 30 years. 

And that's the last item in the manifesto.


Points deducted for the initial release, the only link to the document that I and other activists I know could initially find was buried under one of those interminably long auto-generated document names, from a link on the DisabilityLabour site. That just looked amateur when you linked directly to it; but a better link does now exist on Labour’s main site.

And serious points deductions for failure to provide accessible formats. These exist for the main manifesto, but if they exist for the disability manifesto then they have been well hidden. Seriously, Labour must have known they would be criticised for this. Producing a manifesto specifically for disabled people, but without accessible formats, is pretty much unforgivable.


The absolutely vital stuff, axing WCA and rolling back the cuts, is all there (well, except for the ILF), but on the merely very important things start to look a bit less uniformly good, and there are a few absolutely unforgivable omissions, noticeably the failure to reinstate the ILF and not raising disability (and LGBT) hate crime to the same status as race and religious hate crime.

Of course it’s far better than what we would face from a Tory government.

Undoubtedly this is a step forward, and some of it is really good; but Labour need to win on Thursday for any of this to be put into force. And, of course, manifesto promises can be fleeting things that never again see the light of day. We’ll see.

* However there is an Easy Read review of the disability related policies within the party manifestos here and which also looks at accessible versions:
Tories: Easy Read, Braille, Large Print, BSL, Audio
Labour: Easy Read, Braille, Large Print, BSL, Sign-supported English, and Audio.
Lib Dems: Easy Read, Audio, BSL and braille
Greens: Easy Read, Audio, BSL and braille

To which we can add
Labour, Disability Manifesto: None, zip, nada, zilch.

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