The government could be setting itself up to fail with its
constant trumpeting of new visions because people have a habit of
measuring reality against what they remember of the vision. But New
Labour remains undaunted. So far we have had a vision for
children’s services, born out in the Children Act 2004, we’ve been
promised a vision for adult social care, and the latest is a vision
for improving the life chances of disabled people.
The vision is outlined in a report1 which states that by 2025
disabled people in the UK “should have full opportunities and
choices to improve their quality of life and will be respected and
included as equal members of society”.
The report sets out the long-term strategy to achieve this under
four headings: independent living; support for families of young
disabled children; transition into adulthood; support and
incentives for getting and staying in employment.
These four areas are pivotal in disabled people’s lives.
Underpinning many of the recommendations is a proposal, to be
piloted over the next three years, which aims to boost independent
living by amalgamating funding streams into an individual budget,
which the disabled person can decide how to spend.
Putting aside this potentially radical step, there is plenty
more to get to grips with in the report. John Knight, head of
policy at disability charity Leonard Cheshire, says: “The document
is helpful as it sets out a plan of action. There needs to be
greater integration and the ingredients for that are here.”
He has concerns, though. Local government is not included in the
document to the degree he would have wished, leaving him unsure as
to whether the necessary relationships between agencies will work.
“They don’t have ownership of it. It is pitched very much as a
central government piece of work, but service delivery is a local
His unease is exacerbated because the vision for adult care is
still not with us, and Derek Wanless is now carrying out an
independent review of funding for older people’s services. The fact
that these interdependent documents are being drafted in isolation
from one other is regrettable, Knight says.
Nevertheless, the proposals in the strategy are long overdue.
Taking the widest definition, which this report does, of disability
being “the disadvantage experienced by an individual as a result of
barriers that impact on people with impairments and ill health”, it
encompasses about 11 million disabled adults and 770,000 children
in the UK. They are more likely than non-disabled people to live in
poverty; be economically inactive; experience problems with hate
crime or harassment, housing, and transport; and less likely to
have educational qualifications.
So is it fair to expect disabled people to wait another 20 years
before they can be “respected and included as equal members of
society”? While most would want to see some substantial progress
made towards meeting the aims well before then, there is an
acknowledgement that to change such long-standing and endemic
attitudes will take time.
Knight is not so worried about the timescale. He is of the view
that as the new Office for Disability Issues will get going this
September, some “quite quick winds in terms of co-ordination and
integration” will be generated.
First on its to-do list, he says, should be a look at how local
government fits into the strategy in terms of delivery. Others,
however, feel let down by the timescales.
Catherine A’Bear, communications director at the Shaw Trust,
which provides employment services for disabled people, says they
are “unambitious”. “We are disappointed with the timescales they
are talking about when so many of the measures are already under
A’Bear is “not altogether thrilled” by pensions secretary Alan
Johnson’s idea that Jobcentre Plus should be at the heart of the
Pathways to Work programme, which helps those on incapacity benefit
return to work. Plans to roll the programme out further could be
delayed, she says, if Jobcentre Plus is to completely take on the
running of it.
“It is strange because there is a network of private and
voluntary organisations that are delivering job brokering services
under New Deal for Disabled People and they have told the minister
that they can help run Pathways to Work. Our staff already have the
skills and if we want to get it running quickly we are able to help
Ignoring this offer would be a waste of a massive resource as
these organisations are experienced in helping disabled people who
want to find a job. “Although this document has taken on board the
problem, it hasn’t taken on board the work already under way,”
This feeling is mirrored at the Employers’ Forum on Disability
where there were raised eyebrows from chief executive Susan
Scott-Parker when she read the strategy. The forum has more than
400 members employing 20 per cent of the workforce, and it works to
make it easier for employers to employ disabled people.
As well as recommending more business-to-business communication
to raise awareness across companies of the benefits of employing
disabled people, the report also recommends a best practice
standard for employers.
“I was a little surprised to see this as Alan Johnson launched
one with the forum in November,” says Scott-Parker.
The forum’s disability standard means that organisations can
assess their performance on disability, taking into consideration
risk management, customer care, employment, and accessibility of
goods and services.
Despite this, she says: “We are pleased that the government has
made it policy to value employers as important stakeholders in this
system. For a long time organisations have been blamed for not
employing disabled people but there has been nothing to help them
get it right.”
But the best way to effect real change in attitudes is to get
business people to meet disabled people face to face. Scott-Parker
doesn’t feel this is emphasised enough in the report and getting it
to happen will be one of the forum’s priorities.
Another part of the equation is the government’s shake-up of
incapacity benefit and accompanying plan to get more people off
this benefit and back into work. This month it announced that those
with the most severe health conditions or disabilities will qualify
for more money than they do currently, while those with more
manageable conditions will receive less – with plans to remove the
incentives to stay on incapacity benefit.
Scott-Parker says: “One of the reasons we have so many people on
incapacity benefit is the perception that they are not going to get
a fair deal when they look for work – that’s why the benefit was
created. We don’t know why they are on benefit or what skills they
have. We have no reason to believe they are all malingerers. The
message should be that the government is serious about finding work
for those who want it and it should be on the basis of one person
being matched with the right job.”
As for helping parents of disabled children back into employment
– the report does not offer enough, says Jill Harrison, director of
external affairs at charity Contact a Family.
Just 3 per cent of mothers of disabled children work full-time
compared with 27 per cent of mothers overall. It means that 55 per
cent of disabled children grow up in or at the margins of poverty.
Child care which, expensive at the best of times, is even more
expensive when you have a disabled child.
Although Harrison is pleased with many of the recommendations in
the chapter on early years and family support, she is disappointed
that government cannot see the importance of change to the tax
Tax credits help people in work on low incomes but everyone
receives the same amount of money regardless of circumstances.
Harrison wants a sliding scale, so that families with children with
the highest needs have additional help.
“This is a fundamental thing that is needed to improve these
families’ lives because it prevents them going out to work or doing
ordinary things like others.
“It’s about different provision for different groups of people.
We need to sort out the problems now,” she says. “It’s nothing
short of scandalous that there are many women who want to work but
can’t because there’s little suitable, affordable child care.”
Although she can see that the government is aiming for much
better child care by 2025, in the interim she wants to see much
more help for families.
Meanwhile, Knight says: “The government has one last chance to
get it right, otherwise disabled people will be swimming in a sea
of fragmented services for ever more.”
- Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People from www.strategy.gov.uk
- From early 2005: Individual budgets to be piloted, bringing
together sources of funding, services equipment and
- By 2010: each council should have a user-led organisation
modelled on centres for independent living.
- By 2012: Department of Health and other departments should work
towards a new approach to supporting independent living, delivering
support, equipment, and adaptations
- By 2015: Sure Start unit to ensure that all families with a
disabled child under five can access high quality, flexible child
- From 2006: local authorities should consider including the
provision of a keyworker to families as a key performance indicator
of local social care, education and health services.
- By 2006: DfES should identify how local authorities can shift
the emphasis of expenditure towards early intervention. If
transitional funding is needed, DfES could consider a national fund
to cover restructure of services.
- By 2015: all disabled young people and their families will
experience continuity and co-ordination in the services they
receive, as both children and adults.
- By 2015: all young people will have the opportunity to be fully
involved in the personalised planning of their future activities
- From 2005: Department for Work and Pensions and DfES to ensure
that New Deal for Skills and employer training pilots meet the
needs of disabled people.
- By 2010: DWP should restructure the ways of providing in-work
support through Access to Work which provides help, such as
interpreters, and special equipment so that disabled people can