In recent weeks, the Labour Party has been revealing some of its plans for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – or rather, its revealed what little plans it actually has. This particularly applies to chronically ill and disabled people, as Labour is already showing that they’re low on its list of priorities. This isn’t a surprise though, as the party has put right-winger Liz Kendall in charge of the DWP brief.
Labour and the UNCRPD: not happening
First, Labour will not be implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) into domestic law. The UK has ratified the UNCRPD – meaning it agrees with its covenants and has said it will adhere to them. However, as the Canary has documented, successive governments haven’t been sticking to the UNCRPD at all.
In 2016, the committee in charge of the UNCRPD found that Conservative-led administrations had committed “grave” and “systematic” violations of chronically ill and disabled people’s human rights. The chair of the committee went as far as to say governments had created a “human catastrophe“. Currently, the UN committee responsible for the CRPD is investigating the UK again.
So, you might think it would be a priority for Labour to put the entire UNCRPD into domestic legislation. However, the party’s shadow minister for disabled people – Vicky Foxcroft – has said it won’t be.
Labour’s policy document on this states:
We will honour our commitments to the United Nations’ Convention for the Rights of Disabled People and ensure its principles are reflected across government to create policies which remove barriers to equality and focus on disabled people’s representation at all levels of government.
That’s not the same as making it law – which Foxcroft has admitted. She told Disability News Service (DNS) that ““the wording in [the document] is the wording at the moment”. Foxcroft added:
We’ve still got time until the next [election].
I think it’s one of those where in government you have to hold us to account in terms of whether we are actually committed to it.
This attitude shows that Labour has little concern for chronically ill and disabled people’s rights in terms of the UNCRPD. However, the UNCRPD isn’t the only area where the party has let down chronically ill and disabled people down.
Vacuous word soup – and not a lot else
As DNS also reported, the DWP is planning to change the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Specifically, the DWP is planning on taking out the following features:
- Factoring in people’s mobility.
- Bladder or bowel incontinence.
- The inability to cope in social situations.
- People’s ability to leave their homes.
That is – the DWP thinks anyone who those descriptors apply to should have to work from home. Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) have already condemned the plans as “dangerous”.
So, Labour has said it will not be carrying out these changes if they’re elected. However, that’s about as good as it gets. As DNS also reported, new shadow work and pensions secretary Liz Kendall’s:
speech to the annual conference contained almost no social security policy detail, with vague pledges to “transform employment support so it’s tailored to individual and local needs”, make “sweeping changes to jobcentres”, “reform universal credit” and “champion equality for disabled people”.
Foxcroft defended the lack of policy detail in her new boss’s speech, saying she “didn’t have very long to speak”.
Kendall’s vacuous word-soup of buzz phrases isn’t surprising. Historically, she’s made it clear she is on the right when it comes to social security. As the Big Issue reported, when Kendall ran for the Labour leadership in 2015:
She was the only candidate to back acting leader Harriet Harman’s decision not to oppose welfare cuts made by the Conservative government.
She said she would not oppose the bill “unless we show how we can pay for the alternative” and supported a benefit cap set by the government. This was seven years ago, but it remains an insight into Kendall’s politics and has roused worry among some campaigners.
Throughout 2022, Kendall was absent for a number of votes on welfare benefits – but in previous years she has voted for increasing benefits and against cuts alongside her Labour colleagues.
Kendall’s predecessor, Jonathan Ashworth, was no better – tabling policies which, as the Canary previously wrote, were:
peddling the right-wing idea that there are chronically ill, sick and disabled people who should be working but aren’t – ‘benefit scroungers’, but without explicitly saying it.
However, even if Labour’s policies for chronically ill and disabled people weren’t lacking – it may not make a difference, anyway.
Can Labour really change the DWP, anyway?
Much of the DWP’s decision making is extra-governmental. That is, civil servants, not politicians, drive and implement policy.
For example, the department’s current reforms to the WCA – scrapping it, and using Personal Independence Payment assessments for everything – are not a current government policy. The DWP originally announced it when Amber Rudd was work and pensions secretary in 2019. There have been three different governments, and three work and pensions secretaries, since then. Yet, the DWP is still implementing the policy.
It’s a similar story with Universal Credit. It’s a system the Tories originally created when they weren’t even in government. However, the DWP has pushed it ever since, regardless of who has been in power. Part of the problem has been work and pensions secretaries’ unwillingness to force reform at the DWP, challenge bad policy making – or introduce good ones in the first place.
So, Labour’s stance on chronically ill and disabled people, while vague at best, may not matter that much anyway. Without significant reform to the DWP as an institution, little is likely to change.
Featured image via Good Morning Britain – YouTube
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