The politics of disability used to be about achieving equality and inclusion as contributing citizens but in 2010 the welfare reforms changed everything. The charities, supported by a whole host of new generation sick and disabled activists have ripped up the equality agenda and replaced it with a list of demands that see disabled people as naturally inferior beings unable to work, who need benefits, pity and cold hard cash to be swept under the carpet rather than included in society.
The current disability conversation is destructive and hostile, and for any future (Labour) government to get an handle on this hysteria over benefits, WCA and ATOS by disabled people and the charities exploiting the situation, they must change the conversation. Firstly, they must eliminate the notion of being unfit for work, which has enabled the pity seekers to get massive attention. I would therefore propose that they scrap WCA, which I have believed for some time without pressure from anyone else.
My suggestion is not because it has failed to define who is notionally fit or unfit, but because it is an unworkable notion as everyone has human potential and can with the right support at some point make some level of meaningful contribution, which is not saying everyone can work 9 to 5. The process has also failed miserably in recognising and supporting the emotional journey of coming to terms of newly acquired impairments and preparing to make a contribution to society.
At the same time, I would scrap DLA, PIP, Direct Payments, Personal Budgets, Access to Work and others monies paid to disabled people and/or carers, and replace them with one single outcome focused need led individual payment covering everything a disabled person requires in terms of additional costs, assuming the use of Universal Credits for household income. I strongly believe disabled people should get exactly what they need when they need it to become contributing citizens.
To implement this properly, it needs to be assessed in a new way and therefore while I intend to work with ATOS to improve the immediate situation, I would scrap the big assessments contracts given to ATOS and others. I would replace them with locally commissioned small specialist interdisciplinary teams, which are matched to people’s specific needs at given times. These teams will be more responsive and will use discussion rather then formal assessment to meet people’s specific individual needs.
This new system would not be interested in medical labels and will take people at face value, looking instead at what is their exact additional needs at that time because of their impairments based on their outcomes, what they intend to do, in terms of work, education, raising a family or fulfil other important roles. The pressure to prove difficulty will be removed and it is then about explaining precisely what they need because of their difficulties.
I feel if these suggestions were properly implemented that it would quickly move the conversation on disability back to equality and inclusion, where the role of the state is to enable and empower individuals to reach their full potential. It will support so many sick and disabled people currently trapped in the grieving process of coming to terms with their situation, and enable them to complete their emotional journey in a less stressful relationship with the state. By meeting exact individual need when it is needed, it will avoid label based compensation where a fixed amount creates winners and losers. Since many sick people may have no additional needs to what is provided already to them, it puts the onus on them to prove what exactly they need which they would then easily receive.
I feel this is how the next Labour government will go, simply to diffuse the situation, as well as moving away from a dependency culture and allow disabled people to be regarded as equal citizens with the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else. I feel it will be very hard for charities and activists to argue against this way of thinking without revealing their true intentions of keeping disabled people dependent. The conversation of disability must change and I feel my ideas represent a good first stab in trying to do this.