Disability: Is Labour turning the corner at long last?


Readers of this blog will know there is no love lost between Vox Political and Liam Byrne. He’s a Tory in Labour shoes, and a frightening symptom of the malaise gripping what used to be a “democratic socialist” political party.

However, his speech on Wednesday seems to indicate that Labour policy on social security for the disabled is turning a corner – away from the pseudo-Tory murderous nonsense of recent years (decades?) and towards something slightly more sensible.

There’s a lot of waffle and a lot of political flannel – you don’t want to read about Ed Miliband saying how “a One Nation Labour government will reform social security so that once again it works for working people” – that doesn’t mean anything at all.

And he’s still banging on about “work for everyone who can work… That’s how we start to bring welfare spending under control” without acknowledging that people with disabilities who can work, already do – or do their best in an environment where the Tory-led government keeps shutting down their factories. Support to make sure they can continue to earn the living that gives them their continued self-esteem is vital. Also vital is support for people who genuinely can’t work, but are being victimised by the current government, as they were by the Labour government that went before.

He rightly points out that the Work Programme is failing and suggests a new arrangement between the government, private employers, the voluntary sector and local authorities, “like they do in Germany”. Good idea. Maybe this time, when the DWP signs people who are on the Work Programme off-benefit, they’ll actually be receiving a proper wage, rather than working full-time for the same pitiful amount of benefits as before.

And he delivers five principles that, he says, should guide Labour’s thinking on employment for disabled people:

“Principle 1: A personal plan for support, including employment – Rather than separate services treating different bits of a person, we should provide a single service to meet all of a person’s care needs. This means health and social care, mental health and employment services working together.

“Principle 2: Local partnerships – We should create local partnerships between the DWP, specifically the DWP’s Pensions, Disability & Carers’ Service, Social Care, the NHS, Local Enterprise Partnerships, emerging City Deals (Scope) and disability organisations.

“Principle 3: “Tell us once” approach to assessments – Everyone agrees that assessments are necessary to make sure people get the help and support they need, but the last thing anyone wants to do is fill out time-consuming forms, or take a series of tests unless they are absolutely necessary. We will look at introducing assessments which dovetail together to gauge eligibility and need in the quickest and most efficient way possible. This could include assessments for employment, health and social support needs as well as benefit entitlement.

“Principle 4: Empowering approach to assessments – So Labour will also look at reforming tests so that they identify the help disabled people actually need to achieve economic well-being and independent living, rather than a simple assessment of conditions.

“Principle 5: Root and branch review of employment support programmes for disabled people offered though a personal budget – To simplify the employment support system, improve targeting and give disabled people choice over the type of support they receive, we will look at rolling disability employment programmes into one individual budget-based programme. This could be contracted locally with the budget pooled with other services. This could build on Andy Burnham’s Whole Person Care approach and the Right to Control pilots, and would give individuals greater choice over the support that they most need.”

For me, the approach is still far too close to “Your disability is all in your mind and you can work if we tell you to” – but at least he seems to be accepting that there are faults in the current system, and that more people are genuinely unable to work than the current government accepts.

He’s still nobody’s choice to speak for the disabled in Parliament (I’d nominate Michael Meacher, but then he’s everyone’s darling at the moment) – but at least he’s starting to improve.

If we can get the current disability death statistics from Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP, this might help push Byrne further towards sanity – or Labour towards replacing him with a genuinely sympathetic Work and Pensions spokesman.

Meanwhile, the Tories who are currently in charge at the DWP are sending their press officers on a statistics course after a series of complaints about its figures – despite the fact that we know the politicians were responsible for the cock-ups and misinterpretations, not the officials.

They keep trying to cover up their own mistakes by blaming someone else and thinking we won’t notice, but we always do.

Your thoughts?

41 thoughts on “Disability: Is Labour turning the corner at long last?

  1. jeffrey davies

    it doesn’t matter whot he says hes still a little tory in labour clothes tony blair done a good job on planting his torys into the labour party it needs a mass pruning of their mps to get back to real labour but sadly to many millionaires there also how can they now whots it like to go without never have they had to jeff3

  2. Smiling Carcass

    I must have read a different speech.

    It could be written by a Tory, for a Tory and is, in effect a Tory speech. The Labour plan is the same as the Tory plan- not to give the disabled the support they need, both out of work and into work IF they desire to do so, but to make work the focus- to make disabled people go to work and I will never, NEVER support a party that makes these ‘choices’ their intent.

    Personally, if I could chose who to speak on behalf of the disabled, I’d choose The Beast, good old Dennis Skinner.

    1. Tim

      Yep. That’s about it. It boils down to a policy of harrying and badgering the sick and disabled hoping to drive them into work. And if you don’t get ’em now wait a bit and retest them… retest them… interview them… and retest them… until they are found fit for work, get into work, or die. I can hardly believe that we have reached this point. I am ashamed of all concerned in this atrocity, including Ed Miliband who admires this so called “active welfare state”.

  3. Linda Bruce

    If labour brought in Atos ,late 90s. Why have the Tory’s moved the goal posts? I passed 2 assessments in the past. Failed this 1 ,Oct 12 , still got same chronic condition plus new prob with muscles, under investigation, now waiting 4 Appeal.

    1. Mike Sivier

      Peter Lilley brought in the company that preceded Atos, in 1993. Atos took over that company later, which is how it got its claws into the UK government. Don’t make the common mistake that Labour brought Atos in. Labour’s mistake was allowing it to stay.

  4. Jaz

    Te reason that the Work Programme and its Labour predecessors failed is not because the men and women on it don’t want to work but because employers, with so many people ready, able, and willing to fill any job vacancy, have no incentive or need to employ anybody over fifty or with a history of sickness, disability, or unemployment. The jobs aren’t there and you can’t force, bully, or sanction men and women into jobs when the employers advertising those job don’t want them.

    The idea that all you need is to be willing to get gainful employment is a lie.

    It is a lie Byrne himself has assiduously propagated.

    In my view British politics would benefit greatly if people like Byrne absented themselves.

  5. casalealex

    One thing I have learned in my time in politics is that if one of the parties is shameless, the other party cannot afford to be spineless. Frank Lautenberg

      1. Nick

        mike trust me he has not the brain to evaluate million of sick and disabled people and put them in to groups of what they can and cant do

        all this will do is to continue to stress the lives of the sick and disabled people until they break ie they go to work or commit suicide they are the only two choices available

      2. joanna

        Just an idea but a successive government could bring out a volunteers allowance, so that anyone who does voluntary work can be recognised as doing something worthwhile and not penalising people for doing it, but any firm taking volunteers must show that they are Not commercial huge profit making companies such as tesco’s, and they have nothing to do with the DWP. The choice to do voluntary work should be just that!!!

  6. Niki

    I keep making comments on here and they never get published for some reason!

    Here goes though….

    Nothing said above deals with the attitudes of employers to disabled people, or what happens to people with fluctuating conditions, and it also needs to give respect to voluntary work as being as useful as paid employment for sick/disabled people, without them fearing it will b******er up their WCA if they try and do some….

    As per usual no mention that the real issue is lack of jobs full stop, as well as lack of jobs a sick/disabled person can do even if an employer will employ them…

  7. AM-FM

    “Look, there’s 500,000 vacancies available on a daily basis”

    Surely it’s IDS that needs to go on statistics course, he could do a CV writing one while he’s there.

    1. Tim

      Even if this were true what work there is, is not distributed homogeneously across the UK. Try looking for work in the North or the South West and it’s a different story altogether. What use are vacancies created in places where poorer workers can no longer afford to live?

  8. Liam Byrned

    As far as the fate of the disabled goes, it’s a case of mind over matter.

    Politicians don’t mind and they don’t matter.

  9. Tim

    Iain Duncan Smith is a committed Roman Catholic who has, like many religious zealot before him, enabled many of the innocent and the helpless to meet their maker… prematurely. Here is a true monster in human form. How tawdry and banal real evil is.

    1. joanna

      makes sense seeing as IDS is part of an oganisation that imprisoned women for getting pregnant and then kidnapping their babies, I am referring to the magdalen laundaries, for some women the only way out was death!!! If IDS had his way they would still be in operation today!!!

  10. john elwyn kimber

    “Maybe this time, when the DWP signs people who are on the Work Programme off-benefit, they’ll actually be receiving a proper wage, rather than working full-time for the same pitiful amount of benefits as before.”

    If this is what Byrne is now contemplating, well wow, what a great new idea! In the 1970s and ’80s this was called the Community Programme. It was the fruit of cross-party support plus a lot of input from the Unions, endorsed by Heathites in the spirit of his ‘In place of strife’ initiatives, and subsequently by the Wilson-Callaghan government.

    Participants were paid the rate for the job. [Cue Neo-Liberal shock-horror].It wasn’t great but it was a lot better than ‘Employment Training’, which replaced CP in the late 1980s. It would be heaven compared with what the DWP get up to nowadays.

    I suppose it would be too much to hope for for any politician to admit that ending CP was a huge political mistake, since it was a civilised and reasonably fair manifestation of ‘workfare’ which allowed participants to be proper employees with proper incomes.

    1. guy fawkes

      “it would be heaven compared to what the DWP get up to nowadays”, is this a submission into accepting a job on the back of cheap labour.
      Instead of “new labour” they should be called “cheap labour” for everyone but party royalty, herein lies the problem.

  11. scarecrow78

    “Labour plan to make benefits a ‘human right’ – Secret recording reveals plans for Lib-Lab deal”

    Found on the Guido Fawkes blog, and reported in the Scottish Sun.


    Apologies for the long URL, but I thought this might prove interesting. Certainly Mr Guido Fawkes is less than amused – so it sounds pretty promising. Interestingly though (and rather depressingly), Scottish Labour MP Willie Bain describes it as a “scroungers’ charter”.

    1. Nick

      the main problem with mp’s is that only one of them is a valid member of their constituency forum and is a regular contributor

      he happens to be my mp so when you ask him something he cant say i never read it or saw it because he has

      he would make a good prime minister i feel henry smith as he does like to involve himself at this local level

      if you ask any other mp did you read so and so the answer is invariably no and that’s the main problem with politics those that should be leading cant as they don’t put any effort in other then a one on one basis and that frankly isn’t good enough

      i mean take mike here for example he knows more then most mp’s put together and i dare say so do i which is an extraordinary state of affairs

      my x neighbour worked for the royal family for over 40 years and he always maintained that they haven’t a clue on most topics even the ones they should be experts in like dogs and horse racing estate management they are found wonting an I’m one of the biggest fans of the royal family and have met them all many times as various functions when i was working back in the seventies /eighties and even then i found them to be extremely remote as if from another planet

      no wonder it’s against protocol to ask the queen a question or to first hand engage with her in discussion as she knows very little about anything that you or i would know so my belief is that mp’s are the same in life and just as lord sugar would say and that their just winging it

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      1. jo

        He wasn’t himself but he brags aboutj being roman catholic and they were heavily government funded the moD made use of them, the laundaries only came to light when a mass grave containing 155female bodies were found. May point was IDS would have approved how much more evil can anyone be than cutting support to people? Thank you Mike for keeping us informed!

  13. guy fawkes

    I watched the film on the magdalene launderies and never heard any mention of IDS.

    1. jo

      Sorry i worded it wrong my point is he brags so.much about being an RC in justifying what he does I the organisation I should have said the religion, no descent christian would do what he has done. So sorry for the confusion!!!!!!

  14. Phil The Folk

    He’s said nothing about scapping the WCA tests, getting rid of ATOS, and letting people’s GP’s have the final say on whether a person is fit for work, or not. That is what needs to happen! The problem is, that this and the previous government have taken disabled people’s good fight to win the right to work IF THEY FEEL ABLE, and manipulated it into all should work whether they are able, or not. Sadly their fight has backfired on them..unwittingly of course.

    1. Mike Sivier

      The question I was asking in the headline was whether they were turning the corner, not whether they were now willing to reverse everything. I was wondering whether we could hope that they were moving into a state of mind in which they might be more willing to do the things you mention.

  15. anon


    Will Labour be breaking the ‘special relationship’ that successive governments have had with this rogue operator since the early 90s, when, by its own boasts, UNUM has been behind every so-called reform and crackdown on alleged fraud in disabilitye benefits ever since?

    How will this reform be any different (apart from further infantilizing disabled individuals and removing all remaining choice about care and medical treatments)?

    How exactly will UNUM (and ATOS, and other government darlings such as A4E) stand to benefit from any such new rounds of reforms? If Labour had any intention of kicking the lot of them out, it would say so.

    And it seems to go without saying that Lord Fraud will be staying in post, no matter what, in 2015.

    1. Mike Sivier

      In all what? The article was suggesting there might be a change of heart going on – not that Labour was going to reverse everything that’s wrong about the system straight away! That will take time and persuasion. It won’t happen in a day.

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