Disability in Politics

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The political discourse of today tends to only leave a small focus on the disabled. The rights of women, ethnic minorities and the LGBT community have all been central, as they should, to political debate in recent years, yet the disabled have been left in the background. Considering the vast amount of policy that affects disabled people, to not have them discussed often, or even represented well, is surely a mistake. 

So how are our main parties’ policies assisting those with disabilities?

The billions of cuts to disability budgets and social services made in the last seven years by the Conservatives have been so severe that the chairwoman of the UN described how these cuts have ‘totally neglected‘ the needs of disabled people and created a ‘human catastrophe’ in austerity Britain. If you are disabled in Britain, you are twice as likely as non-disabled people to live in poverty, due to the extra costs associated with having a disability. It is with this in mind that their new disability proposals must be analysed. These include:

  • Means-testing Winter Fuel payments, stopping millions of pensioners receiving them, a move which has been criticised by the IFS (Institute of Fiscal Studies) as not actually even providing a significant income saving for the state.
  • An extra £8 billion for the NHS during the next 5 years (the Health Foundation among others have stated that in just 4 years, there will be a funding gap of £12 billion ).
  • An increase to the Immigrant Health Surcharge to £600 for migrant workers and £45o for international students.

Given the problems that this government have created for disabled people, this new batch of policies is quite underwhelming to say the least. It seems that though we may be in an austerity climate (though many have argued austerity is a political choice, not a necessity) these financial cuts hit the disabled the most. Whether these cuts are necessary or not, is subject to your political viewpoint. The Conservatives’ immediate opposition, Labour, claim that, according to Scope, the Tories have cut £28 billion from social security support, and that this number is only increasing. Some of Labour’s proposals include:

  • Getting rid of the current Work Capability and Personal Independence Payment assessments, and replacing them with a ‘personalised, holistic assessment process which provides each individual with a tailored plan’.
  • Scrapping benefit sanctions and the infamous bedroom tax.
  • End the privatisation of all disability assessments, ensuring they are run by people, not corporations.
  • Scrap cuts to Bereavement Support Payment
  • Ensure the Winter Fuel Allowance is a universal benefit.

These proposals by Labour seem to be part of their entire economic revamp. Many have not raised concerns of Labour’s seeming humanitarian effort to improve the plight of the disabled, but whether they can afford this. Despite Labour’s claim that the manifesto is fully costed, many have argued that the full financial implications of Brexit cannot be known, and thus we cannot be certain if the nation can afford this.

The Liberal Democrats, striving to be the centre-ground of British politics and the ‘moderate, sensible’ party in the midst of the polarising politics, also have an array of policies designed to help the disabled, yet are cautious in their expenditure when doing so. Their policies include:

  • Scrapping the Work Capability Assessment and replacing it with a new system that includes a ‘real world‘ test based on the local labour market.
  • Ensuring both parents earn before cutting universal credit.
  • Withdrawing the Winter Fuel Allowance for pensioners in the top tax bracket
  • Implement a cap on the rising cost of social care

These policies are all proposed by our main parties, but what specifically is actually being criticised in our current policy? In the UN’s report criticising the UK’s treatment of disabled people, they specifically picked out several things:

  • The increasing amount of disabled children having to attend specialised schools. The report argues that mainstream schools should be able to provide support and this would create a more inclusive learning environment.
  • The decreasing support for independent living at home. With such policies as the bedroom tax, and the replacement of the Disabled Persons’ Living Allowance, this lack of independence seems to be a massive loss for those affected.
  • Partly due to the cuts mentioned above, there is an unnecessarily (to put it mildly) high level of poverty among the disabled and their families. This was a massive issue even before 2010’s austerity, made even worse by the excessive cuts and welfare reforms. The report calls for a review of benefit sanctions, which it perceives as detrimental to those affected.

Will a change of party improve the lives of disabled people in the UK? It could well do. However, the various social and cultural problems surrounding disability generally cannot be instantly solved by this. Attitudes take time to change, the work of disability awareness groups is also key to achieving social coherence. Discussing these issues is a good start.

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Politics Editor, 2nd Year English student. Writes mainly Politics + Opinion,

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