Friday, 20 June 2014

Is This Labour’s Best Chance for Disability Reform?, by Simon Stevens

A few weeks ago I was proud to launch a discussion report entitled Achieve Support, which is a detailed proposal for a new single assistance and support assessment and allocation system and process for disabled and older people.

Its central aim of the proposal is to replace all the current disability benefits as well as adult social care funding streams into one new system, managed nationally by a new body, Support England, and delivered locally by new support bodies that are independent from local government.

More importantly the funding provided would be outcome based, determined on what individuals specifically need, not on labels and artificial lines of ‘fitness’.

I wrote the report myself, with some input from various colleagues in the disability and social care sectors, and it was intended for the consumption of Labour, after a meeting I had with Liz Kendall as shadow minister for care services.

The report is not perfect and I regard it as a starting point in what will be a long journey to its realisation.

But as the basics of the idea is something I have had for years, I am more than hopeful that eventually my idea will be a reality in some form, because it makes sense.

I kept an open mind when the coalition came to power and made an effort to reach my own conclusions to their policies, as oppose to simply jumping on the anti-cuts bandwagon without having my own thoughts. 

And I have now reached my own conclusion that the welfare reform is in a mess for enormous reasons that most readers will be very aware of. ESA and WCA is too toxic to continue, bedroom tax hit the wrong people, PIP is in chaos and Universal Tax Credits is nowhere to be seen.

In preparing my report, I looked carefully at what has not been working and why, such as the fact that WCA and the interaction with ATOS ignores the emotional journey to ‘getting better’ and being ready to return to work.

I want to build a system that works with disabled and older people, not against them, but at the same time it has to be fair and I did not want to fall into the trap of making it a list of demands of what disabled and older people wanted without any consideration for the economic realities of delivering assistance and support.

It is clear sanctions are not working and while I want a system that starts with big juicy carrots, in the background, there does need to be a clear and transparent stick to fairly manage those who refuse to properly engage with the system, as citizenship is about rights and responsibilities.

I would argue society would be more accepting of the inclusion of disabled people if a rights and responsibilities framework to assistance and support was provided.

As the next election quickly approaches I must ask if my idea is Labour’s best chance of getting it right for a generation?

The Care Act is nothing more than moving deckchairs on the Titanic, whose implementation will be far more disastrous than the welfare reforms. DWP is in melt down and please do not get me started about the state of HMRC.

The country is crying out for real major reform and a government that is prepared to be brave enough to deliver it.

It is important to understand Disabled and older people are a few steps away from claiming their inclusion as fully contributing members of society if the right policies were put in place.

I think my biggest fear, other than my idea being ignored (if I would allow that happen), is that my proposal is knocked into something out off all recognition to what was intended after all the interests groups have their say, who could twist the objectives to suit their agendas, and so like many policies in social care, it will become meaningless and no different to the mess we have now.

This is why I have being upfront that I would like to be the first Chair of Support England, because this proposal will need strong leadership if it is going to be as successful as I know it can be.

Labour has the opportunity to reinvent assistance and support for disabled and older people, and my proposal is the starting point they need, only time will tell if they have to courage to deliver.

I am a leading independent disability issues consultant, researcher, trainer, controversial inclusion activist, campaigner, and social change agent, based in Coventry (UK) with vast experience and expertise in a wide range of fields including disability equality, independent living, health policy, social care, lifestyle advocacy, employing personal assistants and Secondlife.

I have worked with many organisations of all types since 1992 nationally and internationally and I am also founder and owner of Wheelies, the world's first disability themed virtual nightclub, and star of Channel 4's disability prank show I'm Spazticus, as well as being a blogger for the Huffington Post.

I also have cerebral palsy that affects my speech, balance, hand control and sense of humour (in a positive way). 

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