On Labour’s recent disability discussion paper

There is much to be welcomed in Labour’s discussion paper, “Making Rights a Reality for Disabled People” (pdf), including:

  • Using the period leading up to the General Election to develop ideas and to generate debate about disabled people’s priorities
  • Undertaking this process with disabled people
  • Challenging what is thought to be wrong with current policies regarding disabled people. For example, the paper feels to me to be spot on when it says the changes to DLA stem from saving money and not much else, or when it says that unsustainable risk falls on small third sector providers in the Work Programme, or when it says that the changes to Legal Aid will leave the most vulnerable without any legal support when things go wrong
  • Highlighting that disabled people are bearing a greater brunt of cuts in government expenditure than, for example, bankers
  • Reasserting that (a) rights should be fundamental to a society where disabled people are valued as participating members of the community, and (b) universal provision should be just that, “universal”
  • Similarly, talking of Social Security rather than Welfare (a point Jenny Morris has made many times, and with which I was previously unsure but have now seen Jenny’s point on).

There are also, and you can probably see where I’m going with this, a few things that worry me a little about the discussion paper, including:

  • The conflation of “universal provision for those who need extra help because they are unable to work” (my italics). First of all, extra help isn’t limited to only those people who can’t work (think Access to Work); and second, as JRF has regularly pointed out, help is also needed for people who are in work
  • Noting that RNIB told Labour “currently someone who is totally blind can be found fit for work”. Erm, yeah – blind people can work!
  • The precarious line that’s being drawn between welfare rhetoric and disability hate crime (on which, read Neil Crowther’s excellent post)
  • The headings of each section are excellent. The body of each section, though, takes one or some of the government’s welfare changes and has a (justified) dig at them. That’s fine, but there’s a big leap to be made between people’s benefits and people’s rights (see point at the end of this post). This is quite aside from how narrow it makes the focus: the right to a home is much more than Housing Benefit
  • Putting the issue of the cumulative impact assessment of changes to policies affecting disabled people so much to the forefront (Demos, amongst others, have already done a great job on highlighting the cumulative impact). This begins to mistake process for policy – something also done in the paragraph on improving assessment, and which makes no reference to the two significant recent attempts to do just that (Right to Control and the Individual Budget pilots)
  • Claiming mismanagement of Remploy (something Labour itself did)
  • Not recognising some of the more positive things that have happened in the last couple of years, including the Access to Elected Office Fund and the Paralympics
  • No meaningful mention of education, civic participation, culture or transport. Why not?

It’s a slightly longer list than what’s good in the document, but I think it’s salvageable if the Labour party is willing to do what it says it will do: listen to and act on, meaningfully, what disabled people want.

There are two wider points to make.

The first is a lingering feeling I have from the document that Labour’s focus is more on impairments you can see than those you can’t. I didn’t get much sense that people with learning disabilities or mental health problems, for example, were prominent in their thinking and I hope there is more focus on these groups in ongoing discussions.

The second picks up on Neil’s blogpost about frames. The whole document has a very heavy basis in welfare, particularly benefits. This is paternalistic at best and, to my mind, doesn’t provide the right platform on which the rights of disabled people should be built.

Others regularly put it better and more eloquently than I will here, but the state must be not only a safety net when people need it, but a mechanism by which the barriers disabled people face can be addressed and removed such that disabled people can use their strengths, capabilities and assets to contribute to their communities and society as a whole.


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Man of letters & numbers; also occasionally of action. Husband to NTW. Dad of three. Friendly geek.

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