Mistrust and discrimination – or empowerment and aspiration?

A conversation with a colleague earlier this week made me think about what’s really wrong with this Government’s disability policy. I know disabled people are set up to fail by the actions of DWP and JobCentre Plus, that the Work Capability Assessment is a disaster, that many disabled people will have their independence compromised by the change from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment, that “protection” of the “most vulnerable” (whoever they are!) from cuts is merely a rhetorical illusion, that cuts in funding to local authorities and the closure of the Independent Living Fund are undermining social care – to list just a few aspects of this Government’s lamentable record. It’s a depressing litany of failure…

But can we re-frame the issues to come up with a radical, new approach to disability policy? I believe we can, but politicians will need courage if they’re to take policy in a radically new direction. In my view, an ideal world would look at bit like this:

  • Disabled people supported and empowered to have choices equal to others, to participate in family life, to enjoy fulfilling friendships and to be part of their community.
  • Disabled people working full or part time (if they can; I understand many can’t) in fulfilling jobs, with job security, sufficient pay to support an adequate standard of living and fair working conditions.

I actually believe that, in theory at least, the Government wants these outcomes too. However, with policies founded on discrimination and a deep mistrust of anyone who needs support, they have achieved, and will continue to achieve the opposite. This Government, and the Coalition Government before it, have successfully stamped out aspiration for huge numbers of disabled people, and instead rendered them anxious, depressed and impoverished by policies that seek to penalise rather than empower. For many, “work” (or “work-related activity”) has come to be seen as some kind of punishment, meted out at random to unemployed or disabled people who have been unlucky enough to be caught in the Kafkaesque machinations of JobCentre Plus policies and processes.

But what’s the alternative? Empowerment and investment.

Empowerment would mean trusting disabled people and respecting their autonomy. Most want to work but they’re up against a discriminatory labour market, that’s too inflexible to take account of their particular needs, and many don’t have the skills to compete. Disabled people need to be empowered to take responsibility and make choices: What sort of job do I want? What skills will I need? Where can I get training? Who will help me negotiate reasonable adjustments with employers, to enable me to do the job?

Investment would mean providing disabled people with the support they need to participate and achieve, to implement their choices. We need investment in skills, not mandatory attendance at bog-standard CV preparation sessions. We need investment in support, not cuts to Disability Living Allowance and to the quantity and quality of social care services.

But aren’t these expensive? Yes, they are, but then real investment always is. It’s important to remember that, for example, eye-watering amounts of money are being pumped into a failing Work Programme, that the NHS has to pick up the pieces when social care doesn’t enable independence and participation, and that disabled people who work pay tax.

On Monday this week, Iain Duncan Smith, speaking at Reform, was hand-wringing over the number of disabled people and people with long term conditions who are still claiming Employment and Support Allowance (long term sickness benefit). What’s most worrying is that he was surprised! What does he expect, when his department refuses to trust disabled people and forces them onto pointless jobsearch courses, not personalised or adapted to their needs, rather than providing them with training, skills and support? If IDS and the Government in which he serves continue to view disabled people as a drain on the economy, this will continue to be a self-fulfilling prophecy – killing disabled people’s aspirations and inflicting untold damage on their life chances.

6 thoughts on “Mistrust and discrimination – or empowerment and aspiration?

  1. Intertesting piece Jane and am with you on most of it, however disagree that the Governmnet (Coalition and current)” I actually believe that, in theory at least, the Government wants these outcomes too.” In my last employment of 5 years, I worked for DWP and there treatment of disabled people in that work, was awful, bullied, expected to achieve ludicrous stats, so I’ve seen that side of it. They also boasted about being a two ticks disability friendly employer, so where does that leave your theory? I was asked numerous times why I couldn’t get a GP/Nurse/Hospital appointmnet in the evening!!! There has been enough evidence for some time that has “official figures” of unemploymnet at about 2 million (there are a lot more/hidden) and yet on any given day, about 750,000 vacancies, my maths are poor, but even I know 2 million into theree quarters of a million doesn’t go. I know it’s hard to see why the elite, IDS and Tories hate and despise poor and disabled people, but they do and they have no real desire to see us, “happy with fulfilling lives, enough to live in”. I think that giving people the idea that they do want to help is giving false hope, they wouldn’t have done such evil things in last 6 years especially, if they really wanted to help, they’ve had plenty of opportunity? They’d rather give contracts to their buddies/private contractors, then make us suffer as they think that’s all we’re good for. I wasted 2 years on the pathetic Work Programme, they were worse than useless, I knew more than they did, they offered me no “personal support programme2 and i had the knowledge that this taxpayers money was being given to frauds. The woman at the head of A4E a Work provider was headed by Emma Harrison, was a pal of Cameron’s, her company were eventually done for fraud, but not before she walked away with about £8 million. There’s plenty more I could say, but feel too done in and exhausted from last 2 days, so maybe another time?!

    • What you can report “from the inside”, Marion, sounds awful, and i can completely understand that saying anything positive about a situation where there are no positives is unhelpful. I have no wish to give anyone false hope, but I’m very aware that the very negative campaigning of the last 5 years has had little (if any) impact, so giving the Government the benefit of the doubt is part of an attempt to engage more positively. We can surmise what Government ministers (as opposed to senior civil servants) want, from their actions, and to be fair we don’t see much, if anything, to encourage us. But only they know their true motivation!

      • Hello Jane I currently claim ESA and I am in the work group. Had another work focused interview last week. Have I been looking for work no. I want to work I would love to have an income. I have given up I know to well that no one would employ me.
        It seems that doing Permitted work and voluntary work is what the DWP suggest is what I should do. IT WOULD BE THERAPEUTIC for me apparently. I have an awful feeling that their next step is to have disabled people doing this for their benefit as a wage Workhouses come to mind.

      • Jane, I can understand why you want to engage more positively with the government; however, I find it hard not to be cynical. Pardon the cliché, but actions speak louder than words. DWP’s idea of empowering disabled people is to impoverish them (e.g. by removing the ESA-WRAG component). I will give the government the benefit of the doubt when they start listening to the real experts (including sick and disabled people themselves), instead of hand-picked experts such as the authors of “How to run a country: Working age welfare”.

  2. Why don’t they just leave us alone and go try f.ind jobs for the 18 – 25? It’s hard being disabled as it is then worrying when they going test us take are money I no this is cruel but since his son passed away sox he as been worse .and still not sorted bedroom tax it’s so much money they want air homes as well .

  3. Hi Jane I agree with you 100% can you not elect yourself for prime minister , I would vote for you in a heartbeat.
    instead of the nazi party against disabled we have, for 5 years that can’t come fast enough .

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