There was an Opposition Debate yesterday in the House of Commons – called by Labour on a motion to condemn the recent statement by Lord Freud about disabled people possibly working for less than the minimum wage. Lord Freud has since apologised and the motion was lost.
However for those of us who have been watching the debates on Welfare Reform since 2007 – it was chance to see how far in some ways we have come and how far in others we haven’t moved forward at all.
For the first few years of welfare reform no one had a clue what it would be like in reality. All we had was Freud and James Purnell talking pure theory.
That has certainly changed. All MP’s now have a deluge of disabled constituents coming in to their surgeries, and they have found out what it is about. So the debate is finally informed amongst MPs. Yet still they do nothing.
Fundamentally the big problem with Employment Support Allowance remains. Both Tory and Labour parties have not changed at all. They are both wedded to the back to work philosophy as the only way forward. They aren’t prepared to admit that they still have no idea how to get most disabled people in to work.
The two main parties, however, have different approaches to getting disabled people in to work.
- Disability Confident from the Tories.
- A new scheme from Labour – run locally. Disabled people on the scheme are called in once a fortnight. It sounds like a lot of pressure with no real solution. Even worse – the new scheme from Labour involves the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) being a double test – firstly to see if you are eligible for the Support Group or the Work Related Activity group, and then secondly to assess what special help you need to get work so you turn up at the new Work Scheme from the WCA with a prescription for how to help you.
There will be many disabled people for whom this double test will be a disaster. If they are called to a WCA like that they will be so terrified that they will lose their benefit – it will cause immense stress. The idea that they can then at the same interview move on to a constructive talk about how they could be helped to work while they are still terrified of losing their benefit shows no understanding of what it is like to have a disability/serious illness.
Both main parties are still stuck in the double bind of every one must be ‘helped’ back to work – and the fear of sanctions, time limits, means tests are not even on their radar. They have a solid line drawn between ‘people who can’t work’ and ‘people who must be made to work, only we don’t know how’. Both parties are caught up in a common bi partisan delusion. And that’s how they like it.
It is shameful there has been no shift in understanding of what it is actually like to be disabled.
Of course a lot of disabled people would like to work. But while solutions are found to make this possible they need to feel safe and secure. To get the best out of people they need to feel safe. It isn’t rocket science. But it seems too difficult for our MPs to understand.