Broken social security system is a barrier to everyday equality for disabled people – Shadow work and pensions secretary

Posted On: 
27th September 2017

Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams calls for a total transformation of the social security system to better serve the needs of disabled people in the UK.

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Speaking at a packed panel discussion on how to achieve everyday equality for disabled people, hosted by Scope and the Fabian Society, the shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams attacked the current social security system.

“The system is broken, both in terms of content, in delivery, and in culture.”

“We need to transform our social security system so it’s there for every one of us, like the NHS.”

“We need to challenge all levels of society to find where the barriers are to letting people live full and independent lives.”

She argued that the Labour Manifesto had already taken significant steps into proposing transformation of the system and that they had continued the process of developing new policies since the election.

“We pledged to scrap the Work Capability Assessment, and the Personal Independence Payment system, and we have also pledged to get rid of the punitive sanctions regime.”

“There could be an election at any moment…We are not in power but we need to make sure that when we are in power we have all the policies in place.”

Also on the panel was Anna Bird, Executive Director of Policy and Research at Scope, who outlined how society’s attitudes towards disability needed to be reformed.

“It’s about making sure disabled people have the same opportunities as everybody else… it’s about making sure that disabled people aren’t made to feel inferior, they aren’t treated unfairly, they aren’t overlooked because of their impairment or condition.

 “It is about fairness, justice, and rights. At home, at school, at work, and in our communities.”

She continued by welcoming Labour’s commitment to halve the disability employment gap, but urged them to take more concrete steps.

“We need to see some bold action see the ambition become a reality.”

“One of the key changes has to be reform of the fitness for work test. We need Labour to hold the Government’s feet to the fire on this, and they need to be clear about what will replace it if it is scrapped.”

“We need Labour to set out a clear defence of out of work benefits…to make sure there is a positive vision.”

She reflected on the Prime Minister’s commitment to ‘end the burning injustice of disability discrimination’.

“She could have used the Queen’s Speech to set out a programme of reform to get us there; instead we had no commitments at all on disability.”

“Meanwhile we are seeing disabled people having their incomes squeezed, their outgoings rise, and the support they receive cut.”

This was a familiar experience for panellist Jessica Kellgren-Fozard, a Youtuber and disability blogger, who spoke about her experiences with the benefits system.

“When it comes to the PIP assessment, every single disabled person I know has had problems with this.”

”Everyone has found it degrading, we’ve hated having to sit down with someone, with the form in-front of them where we have already said what we have trouble with, and they want us to explain again about our problems in going to the toilet… no, I’ve just met you, and you’re not my doctor.”

But simply removing or reforming these parts of the benefits system would not be a move towards everyday equality for disabled people, claimed the panel. Anna Bird argued that working towards a system which fully met the needs of disabled people across every part of their life would require a more fundamental restructuring of how we deal with disability.

“After 7 years of austerity you could spend all your time in a whack-a-mole game of trying to reverse this cut or that programme, but what is the bigger picture? What is the overall vision for welfare?”

“At the moment, it feels like the welfare system is all but an emergency service.”

Kate Green MP, Former Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions agreed with taking a more comprehensive approach to dealing with disability issues.

“For us to achieve everyday equality for disabled people, we actually need to develop a holistic policy strategy for dealing with issues faced by disabled people… we need this holistic strategy to improve equality and improve life chances in every aspect of the lives that disabled people lead.”

Concluding the panel, Jessica Kellgren-Fozard highlighted that people with disabilities have much more to offer than the current policy environment assumes.

“People often think of disabled people as a burden that they have to look after…but they aren’t thinking about what disabled people can become, and about what we can bring, about how we can make the world a better place.”