Change is the essential thing we strive for as campaigners. Or more specifically, as Scope Disability Gamechangers, positive change for disabled people, to remove the barriers they can face in day-to-day life.
There’s a lot of change going on in UK politics right now, but what we want to see is change that will spell meaningful, real-life beneficial changes for disabled people.
Today, the Prime Minister has made a number of announcements to ‘break down the barriers faced by disabled people’.
Many of these announcements are things we’ve long been calling for at Scope, and we welcome the recognition that disabled people face too many barriers.
But what do these announcements mean for disabled people? How much will they support disabled people being afforded equality?
Last week we published research into the experiences of disabled people in work, and earlier this year we published research which demonstrated disabled people face a startling inequality in living standards driven by extra costs. And everyday we hear on our helpline from disabled people who are struggling to navigate the benefits system.
At Scope we will keep pushing for critical change to welfare, accessibility, work and employment support, flexible working and, driving down the extra costs disabled people face.
How far do the announcements go?
Scope Chief Executive Mark Hodgkinson said:
“Continued action from government to tackle the barriers Britain's 14 million disabled people face is welcome.
Making workplaces more flexible, improving market regulation and government coordination are positive steps in the right direction.”
Reform to Statutory Sick Pay
The Government have announced that they will be consulting on reforms to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), “so it is better enforced, more flexible to encourage a phased return to work, and covers the lowest paid”, says Prime Minister Theresa May.
We have long been calling for essential changes to this system. To make it more flexible and more fair.
Statutory Sick Pay exists to protect employees from facing a financial penalty for being unwell. We know from disabled people that the current system does not provide enough flexibility or financial support to cope with a period of ill health or a disability which can change over time. Disabled people are either not taking the time off they need, not feeling able to be open with managers, forced into negative lifestyle changes to cover the cost of sickness, or falling out of work altogether.
If the Government is serious about improving disability employment, change to SSP is key. We’d like to see a system which not only covers the lowest paid, but provides a living wage. The right system should offer support which is flexible and fair, right away.
A welfare green paper
The current welfare system is not meeting the needs of huge numbers of disabled people, or recognising the barriers they face in society. Reform to welfare is desperately needed, and long overdue.
We hear all too often from disabled people that they've lost their disability top ups under Universal Credit, that PIP does not meet the extra costs they face, that they face delays with payments, and that assessments are riddled with errors and not looking at the real world barriers disabled people face. Significant change which reflects these issues is needed.
The proposed green paper could be promising but Government must properly listen to and engage with disabled people and ensure action is taken to improve the welfare system rather than just tweak round the edges of a flawed system.
Improving how companies deliver essential markets
The Government have also announced “new metrics to compare how well companies deliver for disabled customers in essential markets, such as energy, broadband and water.”
This is a much welcome proposal – and an area Scope has been long been campaigning for change in.
Our research highlights that disabled people face extra costs of £583 a month. Energy and insurance markets are where disabled people face particularly high costs either through needing to use more, or being turned down or facing unfair premiums.
Assistance to support disabled people take charge of their spending in these markets and get the best deal possible is welcome.
Creation of a new cross-Government Equalities Hub
The barriers facing disabled people cut across all aspects of life, and throughout society. Scope has been calling for a cross-department disability strategy to create an ambitious roadmap to improve the lives of disabled people in all areas affected by government decision-making, so this is positive news.
For this measure to be a success, we’d like to see it work in partnership with disabled people, businesses and the third sector, backed up by meaningful action, with the ambition to reduce the prejudice that disabled people face every day.
Improving housing accessibility
Finally, the Prime Minister has also announced a consultation on higher accessibility standards for new homes.
This is positive. But being able to live independently doesn’t just mean having a home which is up to accessibility standards – it’s crucial for disabled people to have access to the right equipment and care and support to live independent, confident and connected lives.
This can only happen if disabled people are involved at every stage of service design, and if independence, confidence and connectedness become the measures of success of the support people are offered.
The proof will be in the pudding
Today’s announcements look positive for disabled people, and at Scope, we’ve long been calling for many of these changes.
The proof will be in the pudding – how these changes are developed, delivered and assessed. It is crucial that disabled people’s views and experiences are at the heart of any meaningful change. Scope will continue to push for change which make sure this happens.
Sign up to find out more about Scope campaigns and help us end inequality