Update 17 March 2015:
Although Andy Burnham committed to a meeting with disabled people about protecting Independent Living Fund recipients when the ILF closes (he made that commitment on Saturday – you can listen to him talk about it in the video below), he’s now said he can’t meet. I realise he’s busy and that Labour has an election to fight/screw up in the coming weeks, but honest to god. Can’t a single senior Labour figure commit to keeping that fund open so that the disabled people who receive it can live. The ILF is due to close in June. If Labour is going to commit to anything to protect those people, now is the time to do it. Can we take Labour’s refusal to make that commitment as evidence that disabled people aren’t people that Labour plans to represent?
To the Labour Spring conference in Birmingham yesterday! – where a group of Independent Living Fund recipients, Disabled People Against Cuts and me did our best to get answers from Labour worthies about the party’s plans for disabled people’s benefits and funds. The aim was to hear from various horses’ mouths what will happen if Labour forms part of whatever monster administration we end up with in a couple of months, etc.
It wasn’t a bad day out if you fancied a mid-morning cake. There were croissants, piles of those great little pastries with jam and icing, and awesomely big chocolate squares laid out on oddly morgue-y concrete slabs. Answers to the funding questions were a little harder to come by. The people I tried to speak to either ran away, stamped off when compared with Tories, or said they had families to get home to. Not to worry. Plenty of time left before the election (54 days they kept saying yesterday). I think I might get along to a few more of these junkets and hustings. Even the most committed MPs and parliamentary hopefuls can’t spend 54 days legging it from the rabble.
But let’s not carp about that. Let’s go to some of yesterday’s responses. The electorate requires a few decent responses on these issues. Disabled people have taken the brunt of austerity cuts. I personally feel that Labour needs now to be offering something a bit more substantial than “That’s Sad,” or “How Awful” (heard both yesterday) on the topic of this government’s disability funding slaughter. A rigorous commitment to social security from a party that ought to see the point of it would be nice.
We had two questions for MPs:
1) Would Labour scrap the hated and dangerous Work Capability Assessment for Employment and Support Allowance?
2) Would Labour change its mind and keep the Independent Living Fund (ILF) open – the ILF being an all-important fund that profoundly disabled people use to pay for the extra care hours that they need to live independent lives? The current government plans to close the fund by the end of June this year.
You’d expect a reasonably straightforward set of responses, given that the answer to both questions ought to be a resounding Yes. Unfortunately, things weren’t quite as simple as that, as you’ll see.
Out of the blocks (literally) in the video below was Yvette Cooper. I asked her for her views on the WCA and whether Labour would scrap it. She said to talk to Rachel Reeves, because she, Yvette, was in hurry for her next meeting. To be fair, this may have been true, although I noted that she went from walking to her next meeting to sprinting for it very fast when I tried to talk to her. I was asking “Will Labour get rid of it [the WCA]?” as she went. Not a lot of joy there as you’ll see:
Transcript for video (pdf)
No luck finding Rachel Reeves back at base, either. But not to worry, as I say. Am already on the search for a next time.
Onto Andy Burnham next. The great man was in the NHS corner in the top assembly room. In the video below, he speaks with DPAC’s Linda Burnip about the fast-approaching closure of the Independent Living Fund.
Burnham agreed that the profoundly disabled people who rely on the ILF needed protection when/if the funds closes. Which they do, to say the very least. Without the ILF to pay for the extra care hours they require, those disabled people will either be pushed into care facilities, or left at home to try and get by with dangerously low levels of care. It is no exaggeration to say that many won’t get by. The big problem now, of course, is that the ILF is due to close in a matter of months. It’s very late in the day for politicians to be wafting on in a non-specific way about protections for people whose lives will depend on those protections. As DPAC says in the video, Burnham’s integrated health and social care plan is still a long way off. There are also those of us who feel that in a general sense, Labour council attempts to protect social care budgets and facilities in the past five years have been beyond woeful, so putting further hope in widespread protection for disabled people could be a bit – hopeless. Burnham did commit to a meeting with DPAC and Inclusion London about the ILF/these “protections”, so I very much look forward to that:
Transcript for video (pdf)
Next up – I spoke with Liam Byrne about the Work Capability Assessment. God only knows why I decided to do this to myself. I’m starting to think that I may need to re-nose this aspect of my approach. Quite a lot of my life has already been wasted on conversations with fading worthies. You can actually hear my will to live leaving me via my voice in this one. Needless to say, Byrne thought that outsourcing assessments for disability benefits was still a good idea, despite the Atos experiment ending up as a pile of turds. One thing I will say for modern politicians – once they’ve chosen a disastrous ideology, they stick with it. They don’t flail through life looking for new ways to fail like the rest of us. I raised the ILF with Byrne, but didn’t get anything there, because he had to go and talk to some (possibly more important) blokes and also remembered he had to get home to the family:
Transcript for video (pdf)
What next. Oh yes. There was a “conversation” with Angela Eagle near the start where one of our number made a comment about Labour’s approach to WCA not being far removed from the Tories’. She apparently got all upset about that and left because she was a) genuinely angry or b) quietly delighted because she felt that the Tory comparison gave her an excuse (it didn’t) to leave, and on her high horse. Her Spad person told us to “send an email” as Angela marched off. I think I’ve got an audio from that one, but might go for a drink before subjecting us all to it. Definitely let me know if you’ve got hustings coming up in your area, though. Am right up for more of these face-to-face chats.