Labour’s new shadow minister for disabled people has promised a major overhaul of the work capability assessment (WCA), and no further cuts to disability support, but has stopped short of calling for a return to previous levels of spending.
Debbie Abrahams also signalled that Labour would go on the offensive to defend the need for a strong social security system.
She made it clear in speeches to several fringe events at Labour’s conference in Brighton this week that it was too early to outline any detailed policies, but she provided some clues to her future direction.
She told a fringe event organised by the Employment Related Services Association – which represents the employment support industry – she wanted to see a “more holistic, personalised approach” in supporting disabled people into work.
And she told that event that the WCA was “not fit for purpose”, was “not humane” and was “not effective”, and needed to be “completely overhauled”.
She made it clear that she and the party would oppose any further cuts to disabled people’s support, and said: “We cannot build a recovery, the weak recovery we have at the moment, on the backs of disabled people.”
She told a fringe event organised by Scope and the Fabian Society that the government’s “rhetoric” on its introduction of the new personal independence payment (PIP) had been that it was a “more targeted and efficient way of using resources”.
But she said the introduction of PIP had just been “another ruse for cutting support to disabled people”, with the National Audit Office reporting that the government expected 600,000 fewer people to receive PIP by May 2018 compared with projections for disability living allowance, which it is replacing for working-age claimants.
And she suggested that she would want to overhaul the PIP assessment process – as well as the WCA – which she said had been “poorly” managed and blighted by “cock-ups”.
But when asked whether she wanted the government to reverse the estimated cuts of more than 20 per cent to spending on DLA and PIP, she declined to say what her personal view was, because she was “not a shadow chancellor”.
She said: “I don’t think it is right or fair in the sixth wealthiest country in the world that economic recovery has been built, and is continuing to be built, on cuts and further discrimination and punishing of disabled people.”
She warned Disability Labour’s fringe event that ministers had undermined the social security system.
She said: “The language they have used has been absolutely appalling. We need to shift and change attitudes as a whole.
“We no longer are passive in this, we will be actively campaigning on this, taking it out to the country, describing why it is so important that we have a welfare system that enables and empowers people and the legislation that supports that.”
She also referred several times during the conference to a Disability News Service investigation that exposed work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s exaggeration of the success of his Disability Confident campaign.