Monday, 14 July 2014

For the first time in the history of modern social policy things are getting worse for disabled people.

There was a lot of political consensus on disability policy during the 20 years to 2010.  Over that period, the disability movement gradually influenced all three main political parties to recognise the discrimination we face in all areas of life, and to acknowledge and make some provision for the additional costs many disabled people incur.  Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties also came to recognise and support disabled people’s wish to have choice and control over any assistance or equipment we need to go about our daily lives. It was a Conservative government that, in 1992, introduced Disability Living Allowances and a Tory Minister who first used the term ‘choice and control’ in Parliament to signify government support for this important aspiration. 
Then, in 2005, with all party support, the Labour government published Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, which set out a vision that 
By 2025, disabled people in Britain should have full opportunities and choices to improve their quality of life and will be respected and included as equal members of society.
This was followed in 2008 - again with all party support - by the Independent Living Strategy. This set out an aim that, by 2013:
  • disabled people who need support to go about their daily lives will have greater choice and control over how support is provided
  • disabled people will have greater access to housing, transport, health, employment, education and leisure opportunities and to participation in family and community life.
[I should declare an interest here - I worked on both these policy documents.] 
There was a commitment to measure progress each year against a clear set of outcomes; and to consider the need for legislation on independent living if sufficient progress was not made by 2013.  
Unfortunately, in 2010 the Coalition government took a ‘ground zero’ approach to disability policy.  The Independent Living Scrutiny Group, chaired by Baroness Jane Campbell, was disbanded and 2013 came and went with no assessment by government on what progress had been made on the Independent Living Strategy.  I’ve therefore done the job for them, using what statistical evidence is available. It makes depressing reading.  I’ve summarised the main findings below, and the evidence for all these general statements is contained in the report itself.

There has been no progress in disabled people’s experiences of choice and control in their lives since 2008, and there is evidence that people who need support in their daily lives are experiencing diminishing opportunities to participate in family and community life.
Older people are finding it more difficult to access support and are experiencing fewer options and opportunities for independent living, while disabled people of all ages who have high levels of support needs are at increasing risk of institutionalisation. Mental health needs are increasing, but access to mental health services is becoming more difficult.
The employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people remains at the level it was in 2010, and there is no evidence that current policies to support disabled people into work are improving employment opportunities. Only 5% of disabled people on the Work Programme have found a job and, although the reported success rate for the Work Choice programme is better, only 1% receive this form of support. There has been a 16% decline in the numbers of disabled people receiving support from the Access to Work programme between 2009/10 and 2012/13.
Large numbers of disabled people have experienced a reduction in their household income since 2010, many are experiencing a reduction in housing opportunities and an increasing number are living in accommodation which is not suited to their needs. 
Although there has been a small decrease in the percentage of disabled people experiencing difficulties with transport, there has also been a large increase in transport difficulties experienced by unemployed or economically inactive disabled people.  Moreover, there have been significant reductions in expenditure on important programmes intended to increase transport opportunities.
This is the first time in the history of modern social policy that things are getting worse for disabled people.  Yet those with the power to change things are refusing to recognise how bad things have already become.  Unless there is a change of direction we are going to see more institutionalisation, more unemployment, more poverty, more prejudice and abuse. Opportunities for full citizenship amongst the current generations of disabled people are diminishing, and will only worsen for future generations unless urgent action is taken to reverse current trends. 

A small group of people have been meeting to discuss whether we can salvage anything from the Independent Living Strategy, and how we can campaign for the disability movement’s long-held aim of a legal right to independent living.  Some tentative proposals have been published via the Authors of our Lives blog and will be discussed at an Independent Living Conference on Friday 18th July.