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Addressing the Disproportionate Impact: Labour’s Commitment to Empowering Disabled People in the UK

disability
Vicky Foxcroft

Vicky Foxcroft MP

Shadow Minister for Disabled People

Vicky Foxcroft MP for Lewisham Deptford and Shadow Minister for Disabled People, outlines the challenges for disabled people across the UK and Labour’s commitment to tackling inequality.

Although the last few years have been difficult for us all, there is no doubt that COVID-19 and the cost-of-living crisis have each had a disproportionate effect on Britain’s 14 million+ disabled people. During the pandemic, some were told to shield while others had difficulty accessing government communications. Many found themselves without their usual support networks. Rising energy costs and food prices have now forced some disabled people to choose between eating, heating their homes, and keeping vital medical equipment running.

I became Shadow Minister for Disabled People in April 2020 and spent a lot of the early days lobbying Ministers to ensure people could access the basics, such as food deliveries and covid tests. While some of the immediate barriers were overcome quickly, as the UK started to move through the initial crisis, it became clear that most changes amounted to little more than a sticking plaster.

In 2021 and 2022, I held a series of roadshows, with hundreds of disabled people and disabled people’s organisations, to discuss current government policy and positive changes that a future Labour government might make to help remove societal barriers. The biggest takeaway from those sessions was that disabled people feel they have been treated as an afterthought by successive Conservative governments.

However, the evidence for this is not purely anecdotal. When disability equality charity Scope launched the Disability Price Tag in 2018 to calculate the additional costs faced by disabled people, it stood at £570 per month. They have recalculated it in the wake of the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis and their latest analysis estimates that it currently stands at £975. On average, this means that the extra cost of disability is equivalent to 63 per cent of household income.

However, the problems do not end there. Disabled people’s organisations and charities have seen their funding decimated by austerity and, in 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities found that “grave or systemic violations” of disabled people’s rights had taken place in the UK because of welfare reforms since 2010.

Successive Conservative governments have pledged to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD, which the last Labour Government signed up to in 2009) via the Equality Act 2010 and various other measures, notably the National Disability Strategy. Announced in the 2019 Queen’s Speech, but not published until July 2021, the Strategy was found by the High Court to be unlawful and quietly dropped last year. The Department of Work and Pensions has subsequently announced a new Disability Action Plan, due to be consulted on and published by the end of 2023, but progress appears slow so far. The reforms announced in Transforming Support: The Health and Disability White Paper, published in March 2023, have also done nothing to restore disabled people’s trust in the Government.

Labour understands the importance of transparency in building trust. We acknowledge that there is a lot of work to do but we are committed to working closely with disabled people to co-produce our policy and, in doing so, ensure we are implementing the UN CRPD.

Disabled people continue to face significant barriers in the workplace. When questioned on this, government ministers will tell us that they achieved their goal of getting one million more disabled people into work five years sooner than expected. However, the disability employment gap still stands at just under 30 per cent. Labour is committed to acting to close that gap (along with the gender and ethnicity pay gaps).

Our New Deal for Working People will also benefit disabled people by giving everyone the right to request flexible working from day one, strengthening trade unions and putting mental health on a par with physical health in our workplaces.  

We will reform the Access to Work scheme to give people ‘in principle’ indicative awards so they know exactly what support they need and will get in the workplace. There is currently a backlog of almost 34,000 applications, which ministers do not appear to be tackling.

We will also carry out an equality impact assessment for every budget to ensure that disabled people are not disproportionately impacted by changes to spending commitments under a Labour government.

We will equalise laws so that hate crimes are treated as aggravated offences and we will end cruel disability assessments, supporting disabled people to live the lives they want and deserve.

But this is just the start. By working closely with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations, and across departments, Labour will ensure that we are doing all we can to eliminate discrimination, enable disabled people to live independently, ensure an inclusive education system and protect disabled people from exploitation, violence, and abuse.

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