by Ian Shires on 2 April, 2014
The role that Liberal Democrats play in drafting their party’s manifesto is unique in British politics. So is the party’s approach to disability.
At the 2010 General Election the Liberal Democrats were the only party to produce a manifesto for disabled people. This pledged better employment support and improved recording of disability hate crime.
And in Government, the two Coalition Ministers responsible for social care reform are from Lib Dem benches – Paul Burstow and Norman Lamb. Their commitment to improving social care support for disabled people has been clear.
As the 2015 manifesto is drafted, there is an opportunity for Lib Dem’s to revisit and refresh some of these commitments. For many disabled people the future is far from certain. Providing some certainty would give real credibility to the party’s promise to create a stronger economy and a fairer society.
Scope’s pamphlet Better Living, Higher Standards, is published today and sets out practical recommendations for how all three political parties can ensure disabled people are able to participate in society and in the economic recovery. Here’s how.
Disabled people are at a distinct financial disadvantage because of the extra costs they face. Scope’s work indicates that the average disabled person spends £550 per month specifically on costs related to their disability.
Liberal Democrats have a good record of defending the payment disabled people get to help meet these extra costs. But with the Chancellor announcing that another £25bn of cuts will be needed in the next Parliament, there is concern about how these cuts could impact on disabled people. By committing to protecting the value of Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payments and Annual Allowance, the Liberal Democrats can send a clear message of support to disabled people.
Then there is a commitment to supporting more disabled people in work. The party has campaigned for ‘A Million Jobs’, and the party can take the same approach for disabled people. Getting a million more disabled people in work would halve the employment rate gap between disabled people and the rest of the population. Using regional growth strategies to boost disability employment rates is one way the party could take a step towards this goal, and would be a real illustration of how to create a stronger economy and fairer society.
Finally – getting social care reform right for disabled people. Although social care is often seen as a purely older people’s issue, one third of social care users are working age disabled people. This support enables disabled people to get up, get dressed, leave the house – and live independent lives. As council budgets come under more pressure, disabled people need real assurances that they will get this support. The Lib Dems are perfectly placed – drawing on the experience of Government – to show how they would go further than the Conservatives to make this happen.
Disability policy gives the Lib Dems the perfect opportunity to differentiate themselves – showing the party’s grassroots commitment to improving the lives of disabled people – whilst fleshing out their vision of a stronger economy in a fairer society.
* Ben Parker works for Scope as a Parliamentary Assistant.