Statement by the TUC Disabled Workers' Committee to TUC Disabled Workers' Conference, 18 May 2017:
There will be a general election on Thursday 8 June. Whatever the circumstances under which it was called, it is an opportunity for voters to either reaffirm or change the government.
The TUC is not affiliated to any political party and does not have a political fund. But no doubt trade unionists will vote for policies in line with trade union aims and values.
We can tell you what we think about the policies pursued by the three major parties which have been in government at some point during the past ten years. We can tell you the policies passed by our Disabled Workers' Conference and how the parties measure up to them. Here are ten of the most important:
1. Benefit cuts
Cuts in benefits by the Tory/LibDem coalition government, and by the Tory government since 2015, have left many disabled people struggling, in poverty, or even dead. They have been accompanied by the demonisation of disabled people, labelled as 'scroungers'
Labour's manifesto commits to a new Social Security Bill, repealing the sanctions regime, the Bedroom Tax and cuts to Bereavement Support Payment, and increasing Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by £30 per week for those in the work-related activity group and Carer's Allowance by £11 to the level of Jobseekers' Allowance. Labour's manifesto also states that it will change how Jobcentre Plus staff are performance-managed.
2. Scrap the Work Capability Assessment
The last Labour government introduced the Work Capability Assessment, which has led to many thousands of disabled people being driven off benefits. The Tory-LibDem coalition, and then the Conservative government, have continued its use, replacing one discredited, incompetent cruel private assessor (ATOS) with another (Maximus). Labour is now committed to scrapping the WCA. and replacing it with personalised plans, ending the privatisation of assessments, and ending reassessments for people with severe long-term conditions.
3. Trade Union Act
The Conservative Government has introduced a new Trade Union Act which: introduces turnout and support thresholds for industrial action ballots, an opt-in restriction on union's politic al funds, more regulation of picket lines, and additional curbs on trade union rights.
Labour and the LibDems opposed the Bill in Parliament. Labour has pledged to repeal the Act.
4. Employment Tribunal fees
The Conservative / LibDem coalition government introduced fees for workers to apply to Employment Tribunals, and it now costs more than £1,000 to complain about disability discrimination by your employer. This has led to a massive fall in ET applications, and therefore an increase in employers getting away with discrimination.
The Labour Party states that it will scrap ET fees, so that it will once again be free for workers to apply to Employment Tribunal.
5. Scrap Personal Independence Payments (PIP), restore Disability Living Allowance.
The Tory/LibDem Coalition introduced PIP against the wishes of Disabled People's Organisations. Labour's manifesto pledges to implement last year's court decision to give parity between physical and mental health conditions.
6. Make public transport more accessible Public transport remains largely inaccessible to disabled people. Our railways are set to become even less accessible as Train Operating Companies plan to remove guards from trains, a policy enabled by the franchises set out by the Conservative government and its coalition predecessor. The last Labour government did not reverse the private-franchise system during its 13 years in office, but Labour Party policy now is to bring the railways back into public ownership, which will enable public policy to make the network more accessible and retain the staff that accessibility needs.
Despite promising no top-down reorganisation of the NHS, the Conservative/LibDem government in 2010 did just that. The A&E target of 95% of people seen in 4 hours was last met in July 2015 yet there are plans to downgrade or close a significant number of Emergency Departments. NHS income from private patients has climbed since the Conservative government increased the cap and private companies are running NHS services across the country. Due to cuts in funding most NHS areas are now in debt. Labour now plans a huge injection of cash, the reversal of the Health and Social Care Act and the removal of staff pay restraint plus guaranteeing the rights of the EU staff the NHS relies on.
8. Social care
Disabled and elderly people are seeing their social care and support packages stripped back; in some cases packages are completely removed. As a consequence many disabled and old people are left socially isolated and excluded. Since 2010 around one third of funding has been taken from social care and support budgets.
Social care and support is in crisis. The Conservative and LibDem Coalition caused and refused to acknowledge the crisis. Although the current government has given an extra £2 billion towards social care and support, this in no way plugs the massive funding gap. Moreover, the Tory manifesto will make millions more people have to pay for own social care. Conversely, Labour has pledged to spend an extra £8 billion on social care and support over the duration of the next parliament.
Our schools are currently facing a funding crisis, with provision for disabled pupils being cut. Under the Tories schools are facing £3 billion in cuts. The Lib Dems are pledging £7 billion for education. Labour has also promised significantly more money and free school meals for all primary school pupils. Labour will end university tuition fees. The TUC is asking all parties to commit to school budgets which are sufficient to ensure an inclusive, well rounded education, for every child because we know a world class education system cannot be achieved on the cheap.
10. Strengthening laws against discrimination The last Labour government introduced the 2010 Equality Act; the Tory-LibDem coalition amended it to make it weaker. Labour's manifesto includes a commitment to enhance the Equality Act, including making terminal illness a protected characteristic, and to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into UK law.
The last Labour government also introduced the 2009 Autism Act; however the Autism Strategies adopted under this Act by the Tory-LibDem coalition and then the Tories have been weak and unresourced. The Labour Party is developing a Manifesto on Autism and Neurodiversity including some radical, progressive policies that the TUC Disabled Workers' Committee supports.
We campaign on these issues year in year out, not just when an election is coming. That's because disabled people face these attacks and this oppression year in year out, day in day out. But a general election is a unique opportunity to either reaffirm or change the government simply by voting.
The deadline to register to vote in this election is 22 May. We have a short time to ensure that disabled workers and our allies are registered to vote, and turn out in big numbers to vote for our rights and interests, and against the continuing discrimination and persecution being dealt out to us.
We call on every delegate at this conference, every disabled person, and the working-class movement as a whole, to join us in this effort.