General election 2015: what will the Liberal Democrats do for disabled people?

General election 2015: what will the Liberal Democrats do for disabled people?

There’s no getting away from it, the general election 2015 is coming, and all the political parties are working hard to win your vote on the 7th May. But what we at Disability Horizons want to know is what are the parties going to do for disabled people if they win and why should we vote for them? Writer Raya AlJadir put these questions to her local MP candidate for each of the political parties – keep your eyes peeled for more this week. Here, find out why the Liberal Democrats think you should vote for them.

(NOTE: This is not an endorsement for the Liberal Democrats or anybody else; and we at Disability Horizons are in the process of finding out policies from all major parties to help you make your own mind up.)

What is your party’s disability policy? Is there a specific section outlining it in your manifesto?

Yes there is and it is in our manifesto. We have few people with a disability who are standing at the election, our party chairperson, Sal Brinton, is a wheelchair user. A friend of mine, another wheelchair user, is also running in the parliament election and he and I have been working closely on disability issues.

We want to recognise BSL as an official language of the UK and the first video I did for my campign was in BSL as I think sign language is often overlooked. I can only sign enough to do the video but I am eager to learn more as I found it really interesting.

Recent research shows disabled people feel marginalised from political decisions, in your view why should they vote?

That is part of the problem, people who do vote get represented and those that don’t won’t have a say in who gets into parliament. Part of democracy and what makes it powerful is precisely that each one of us has equal right to vote, but it is up to us to use that vote.

Many people see politicians and think; “what is the point in voting, they are just going to do the same old thing.” One of the reason why I put myself forward is because I come from a campaigning background in equality and a disabled people interest group. We need to engage with disabled people and to have more disabled people in parliament – we need a parliament that is reflective of the people.

I certainly hope all polling stations are accessible if physically you can’t vote then that is not equality and would be a very serious problem and I really hope if people find a polling station not accessible then they report it.

If elected to be MP how would you improve the life chances of young disabled people?

I think it is hard to box all disabled people together as people are so different, but if I am aware of all the issues that people with disability face, then I will certainly address and deal with them. We are part of democracy and want equal opportunities for everyone, so we as the Liberal Democrats need to ensure there is a society that caters for that.

Elected or not as a person involved in politics I would like to investigate the issue of accessibility further. I been working in education for the past 8 years and I think that this is part of the solution – getting people before prejudices are formed because I don’t think we are born prejudiced, but is instead something we learn.

Over the past few years, disabled people have been faced with many cuts: changes to the Disablilty Living Allowance, social care and the Disabled Student Allowance, to name a few.  What is your view on these changes and is your party looking to alter any of these?

It has been a really bleak time for the country economically; we have been bankrupted and we needed to cut public services, which has had an effect on a lot of people. As such it has been necessary to make some cuts, but it is a Conservative-led government and the Limberal Democrats want to make a lot less cuts in our manifesto.

The cuts have affected the weakest, but that is what happens when you are a junior partner in a coalition with 56 Liberal Democrats against 200 odd Conservative MPs – we have not been able to get through policies that we wanted to get through. But the Liberal Democrats have successfully fought to protect most disability support while we have been in government.

We are reforming the welfare system to make it fairer, more sustainable and better able to tackle poverty and unemployment. Throughout the process, we have looked closely at the impact of decisions on different groups. The Liberal Democrats have drawn red lines to protect disabled people, such as stopping an outright benefit freeze.

We were able to deliver a 2.7% increase in payments such as Disability Living Allowance (DLA), the Support Group component of Employment Support Allowance (ESA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Incapacity Benefit in 2014-15.

In 2014, the government also provided an extra £1.1 billion to councils to help ensure they continue to be able to deliver good social care services.

We prevented further welfare cuts from being made at the Budget. George Osborne wants to cut £12 billion more from welfare spending, but the Liberal Democrats have made it clear that this will not happen. We recognise that welfare spending has to be brought under control, but we are ensuring that this is not done at the expense of the most vulnerable.

Our manifesto sets out a commitment to invest to clear the backlog in DLA and PIP.

In Government, Liberal Democrats invested just over £1 billion in the Disabled Facilities Grant through to 2015-16, which funds adaptations to allow people to stay in their homes safely for longer. This grant has paid for around 44,000 adaptations a year.

We have introduced PIP to replace DLA from 2013 for new claimants and for eligible claimants of working age (16 to 64) already receiving DLA.

DLA is an outdated, complex benefit introduced over twenty years ago. PIP better reflects modern attitudes towards disability and focuses on what people can do, rather than what they can’t.

PIP is a non-means-tested, tax-free benefit, payable whether in or out of work, to help with the extra costs arising from ill health or disability.

PIP focuses support on those disabled people who face the greatest barriers to leading full, active and independent lives. The latest proposals suggest that PIP will reduce the working age caseload by around 500,000 claimants by 2015/16.

Liberal Democrats have been fighting hard to make sure that PIP is right for sick and disabled people. Liberal Democrat pressure:

  • Led to the reduction in the qualifying criteria for PIP, meaning a person must only have a condition for 3 rather than 6 months before applying
  • Ensured that there will be a series of independent reviews of PIP, beginning in 2014, to ensure that the process is working properly
  • Had the terms ‘reliably, repeatedly, safely and in a timely manner’ (on whether an applicant can walk 20 or 50 metres) inserted directly in the assessment regulations.

Our manifesto makes clear that we want to support people with disabilities to live full lives and achieve their potential. As part of this we will improve the benefits system for disabled people, based on the principle of one assessment, one budget.

This will bring together support such as PIP, Employment Support AllowanceE, a replacement for the Independent Living Fund and health and social care entitlements.

Disabled people face too much bureaucracy in the form of multiple assessments and benefits or care payments. We want all disabled people to have more choice and control over their care and be enabled to live more independently.

That’s why Liberal Democrats will:

  • Simplify and streamline the system of back to work support we provide for people with disabilities, mental or physical health problems. We will aim for the goal of one assessment and one budget for disabled and sick people to give them more choice and control over their support.
  • Improve the benefits system for disabled people, based on the principle of one assessment, one budget. This will bring together benefits such as PIP,  Employment Support Allowance, a replacement for the Independent Living Fund (ILF) and co-ordinating better with health and social care entitlements.

The ILF was created as an independent body to provide personalised care and support for severely disabled people to help them live independent lives. The fund was first set up as a transitional arrangement more than 20 years ago.

In 2010, the Trustees of the fund took the decision to close it to all new applicants. The Government announced in March 2014 that the ILF will close to existing users from 30 June 2015.

Our understanding of disabled people has changed over the past 20 years, and there have been significant developments in how we provide social care to disabled people so they can live independent lives.

Nearly 1.6 million disabled people in England alone already receive support through local authority social care arrangements. In future ILF users in England will receive all their support under the same system.

Funding will be kept at the same rate as the ILF would have been. £262 million will be made available to local authorities and devolved administrations in 2015/16 to take the place of the ILF.

The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland will decide how ILF users in their areas will be supported.

The Government, local authorities, the devolved administrations and the ILF will work closely with disabled people to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible for current ILF users.

We will also involve ILF recipients in our plans to develop this new approach to joined up support for disabled people at a local level so that disabled people are able to live independently with more control over the support they need.

We have also fought to ensure most disability support is protected. In 2014-15 we ensured payments such as DLA, the Support Group component of Employment Support Allowance, PIPt and Incapacity Benefit were all increased by 2.7%. This year they will rise again by 1.2%.

During the last 5 years, the Access to Work budget has been slashed. Do you agree with this change? How will you support disabled people who are getting into employment or are currently in employment?

We are improving Labour’s Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and have more than doubled the number of people put in the support group (who are not expected to find work). Overall the government has spent more than £40 billion each year to support people living with disabilities. This is 20% more as a proportion of GDP than the EU average.

Thanks to Liberal Democrat amendments to Labour’s Welfare Reform Act 2007, the government is required to conduct five annual independent reviews of the WCA. In government, we have acted upon these reviews to improve the system. Liberal Democrats have said that we will simplify and streamline the system of back to work support we provide to people with disabilities with the goal of one assessment and one budget to give people more control and more choice

Would your party commission independent research on the number of people using food banks and in particular the number of disabled people who are in food poverty?

It was the Liberal Democrats who introduced the new legislation monitoring and measuring the number of people using food banks, which includes disabled people. Without us no one would know how many people were using food banks, so yes, I support this research.

There are currently only 4 disabled MPs in the UK, what would your advice be to young disabled people who are interested in getting more involved in politics but don’t know where to start?

First of all you have to be a party member – you can stand as an independent but it is easier to be part of a party, so identify a party that you agree and relate with the most and join them.

Then declare your intention to stand as an MP. I had to take a full day of tests to see what kind of person I am and whether I am capable of doing this job. As well as team working tests, I had a test on my resilience, knowledge of Liberal Democrat policy and of other parties’ policies.

Afterwards, I had selected a local party so I chose Hammersmith and Fulham, but so did other people. It was then down to local party members to decide who should be the MP, which involved me debating against the other candidate.

Liberal Democrats chose their MPs democratically and therefore I had to win the votes of local members. I gave up my job to do this as I want to invest all my time to it. I had to savedenough money to be able to support myself financially without a job for 8 weeks, the period of the election campaign. I am not in it for the money I just want to do this properly and be here for the people of Hammersmith.

By Raya AlJadir interviewing Millicient Scott, Liberal Democrats candidate for Hammersmith.

Before you make your decision on which party to vote for, visit the Liberal Democrats website to understand how its manifesto could affect disabled people across the UK.

Your vote is important – visit About my Vote to find out more about how to access voting in your area. 

Check out…

Disability and housing: choices, choices, choices
Employment and disability: the advantages for being disabled
Access All Areas: visiting Northumberland

Tell us what you think about the election 2015 – get in touch by messaging us on Facebook, tweeting us @DHorizons, emailing us at editor@disabilityhorizons.com or leaving your comments below.

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