We asked a number of people for their thoughts and views regarding disabilities.
“We asked them whether they thought the austerity cuts are making us a more mercenary country – and that sharing, volunteering and ‘looking out for each other’ has become less of a priority.
In their general views we asked them if they could address the following issues:-“
- How can we help the most vulnerable in our society?
- Can religion help?
- How can Government help?
- Is the ‘Big Society’ dead?
- Are we now a less caring community?
Here are their replies
Nigel Farage MEP
Please find enclosed the relevant pages from our 2015 General Election manifesto. In particular, you may be interested in our policies on increasing carers’ allowance, protecting the rights of disabled people and improving carers’ access support.
Thank you for taking the time to write.
Nigel Farage MEP
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
The Chief Rabbi has voiced his views with us and shared some thoughts on Jewish approaches to disability.
“We have a shared responsibility to actively seek out ways to create a level playing field in our society, so that any person with a disability need not be defined by that part of their lives. The Chief Rabbi has pointed that we need to look no further than our most prominent Biblical role models to understand what God expects of people with disabilities. Both Issac and Jacob were blind during the latter stages of their lives and yet their greatness was never diminished. Most strikingly, Moses suffered an injury in his childhood which left him with a significant speech impediment. He relied upon the support of his Brother, Aaron, in leading the Children of Israel from slavery to freedom. And Moses remains, without any doubt, the single greatest leader of the Jewish people who has ever lived.
That is the Jewish vision for those with a disability – that with the necessary support from those around them, there is no limit to what they can achieve. The Chief Rabbi is extremely proud of the wonderful charitable organisations within the Jewish community who set such an outstanding example to us all and will continue in his efforts to support their worthy endeavours”.
Tim Farron. Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Q. How can we help the most vulnerable in our society?
“This is a task for all of us. As individuals we must be aware of situations where we can help and do so. Through organisations that we are part of or can influence we must make sure that disability rights are embedded and that disability policies are transparent and are genuinely empowring for individuals.”
Q. Can religion help?
“As a committed Christian I believe that religious organisations have a significant part to play in helping the most vulnerable in society. There are many organisations that have a strong existing presence in this work, such as Christian Aid and the Salvation Army. This work should be in addition to adequate state and local authority provision, not instead of it.”
Q. How can government help?
“By simplifying benefits for disabled people bringing Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Employment Support Allowances (ESA) into one easily accessible fund.
By ensuring tenants who need an extra bedroom for genuine medical reasons are entitled to one in any assessment of their Housing Benefit needs.
By tackling hate crime by ensuring proper monitoring of incidents by police forces and other public authorities.
By encouraging employers to shortlist any qualified disabled candidate and provide advice about workplace adaption.”
Q. Is the big society dead?
“The idea of the ‘Big Society’ was never implemented. The principle of having joined up thinking and action to create an integrated society where the disabled are fully supported is what we should work for.”
Q. Are we now a less caring society?
“At the community level there are numerous examples of help and support being offered. In terms of official statistics, the Institute for Volunteering Research reported that 41% of people volunteered during 2015-2016 with 27% involved in voluntary work at least once a month. This seems to indicate a real willingness to help others.”
Diane Abbott. MP Labour Party
“Austerity cuts have devastated the lives of disabled people up and down the country. I endeavour to have an understanding and be sympathetic towards disabled people’s fears. The Conservative government’s approach and distain towards the disabled community is a stain on our conscious.
What I try to do, is to remind myself and colleagues that it is now more important than ever, in the face of Brexit, to ensure that disabled people retain their protections in employment, services and directives.
In my constituency of Hackney North and Stoke Newington, I am exceptionally proud of the disability groups and schools that stand out in the national arena.”
Andy Burnham. MP Labour Party
“It is clear to me that the spending cuts of recent years have hit disabled people the hardest. Alongside the direct impact, some politicians have actively sought to stigmatise people receiving benefits.
The combined effort of this onslaught has had a detrimental impact on the wellbeing of many disabled people. But, there are signs of hope amidst the gloom.
The strong public support that forced a U-turn on cuts to benefits earlier this year should give people hope that society has not become less caring. And, the recent climb down on Work Capability Assessment suggests things are moving back in the right direction.
There is much more we need to do to challenge the Government to ensure disabled people are supported in living a full, active and independent life, building on the progress of recent months.
But I have hope for the future, particularly when I see a younger generation who have much more positive views on disability than any which came before them.”
Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP
“My own view, taking into account the points you make, is that we’ve made huge advances in our society to ensure that the skills and talents of disabled people are not squandered and that each individual is afforded the rights in law to pursue their ambitions without their disability inhibiting them in any way. Disability discrimination legislation was particularly important, as was the introduction of Disability Living Allowance and other practical legislative measures.
I don’t think we’ve become a more mercenary country but I do think that much of the progress made has been undermined in recent years. The Bedroom Tax is possibly the most pernicious piece of legislation I’ve ever dealt with. The effects on disabled people have been particularly profound. The introduction of Personal Independence Payments has, in my view, been a backward step, although I know of no disability charity or organisation that doesn’t believe that disabled people should have the opportunity to use their ability rather than be defined by their disability, so ensuring that disabled people can access the workplace is not the problem: the various ALL WORK tests which have become increasingly severe.
In reference to the Big Society, it was still-born, an ides used during 2010 General Election campaign that was never pursued meaningfully at all. I think we are in danger of becoming a less caring society, and I would hate us to go back to what I regard as the barbarity of the early’50s when all terminology around disability was pejorative”.
Frank Field. MP Labour Party
Thank you for inviting me to contribute to Disability Talk.
There are three main areas of the benefits system in which I think the Government could improve its current offer to people with disabilities.
The first is the process the Government uses to decide whether somebody is eligible for certain components of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Clearly the current process is frustrating both for people making a claim as well as the Department for Work and Pensions.
A not insignificant number of decisions made at the beginning of this process are subsequently challenged and then overturned on appeal. I therefore believe that the Department should begin monitoring the characteristics of those people who tend to be successful on appeal. It should then act on the results of this exercise by amending the initial decision-making criteria, thereby improving the chances of a correct decision being made in the first place. This could prevent the need for some people to go through an appeals process of weeks and weeks and weeks without an income. Moreover, the introduction of a time limit on the on the initial stage of the appeals process for those people who do require this option would keep delays to a minimum.
A second reform is required, I believe, to help those people who are deemed ineligible for ESA, but are then subjected to ping pong between ESA and Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). This all too common scenario affects those people who try to claim ESA and then are found fit for work. When their benefit payment ceases they may be advised to apply for JSA. Weeks later and with nil income, they may then be told by Jobcentre Plus that they are not fit for work and are therefore ineligible for JSA. Such claimants may subsequently be advised to reapply for ESA. They are often left hungry.
To fix this particular problem, the Government should begin recording how many claimants are left stranded with no income, and for how long, during a transfer between ESA and JSA. It could then pay a minimum rate of benefit, perhaps at the ESA Assessment Rate, right up until eligibility for JSA has been established and a new claim has been set in train.
As a third, longer step, I believe the initial decision-making stage for ESA should be reformed into a gradual process of learning about each claimant’s strengths and ambitions as against those factors which have limited their efforts to work.
A more gradual test could determine benefit eligibility through a regular set of appointments, in which those conducting the assessment can gain a better idea of the factors that may enhance or limit a claimant’s ability to look for, and undertake, some sort of work.
The outcome of this process could be a contract which sets out a series of mutual obligations; the opportunities that could be opened to people with disabilities, as well as the duties, buttressed by a set of rights and support, that are bestowed upon them while they search for some kind of work, ideally linked to a budget to provide the help they need.
The following comments were from Dan mason of the Correspondence Unit of the Labour Party
Thanks so much for writing to Jeremy in his capacity as Leader of the Opposition about rights for disabled people. At this point in time his mailbag is full so he has asked me to reply on his behalf. I will ensure that your comments and contributions as passed on. Apologies foe ant delay in getting back to you, we really do appreciate you taking the time to share your views with us – this will help us in the fight for a fairer, kinder and more just country.
Labour’s new direction will offer a real alternative to the Tories damaging cuts to public services and lack of investment in our economy and our people. 2016 is the start of a journey to elect a Labour government in 2020: a government that will deliver a fairer, more prosperous society that we can all enjoy – a society that works for all, not just a few.
The contents of your letter have been noted. Contributions like yours are vital as we look to build the policies to win the next election so we can build a better Britain for everyone. You can get involved in the debate and find out more about how we make policy at yourbritain.org.
If you’re not already, I’d encourage you to like us on Facebook (facebook.com/LabourParty) or follow us on Twitter (twitter.com/uklabour) so you can stay up-to-date with breaking news.
Dear Christopher Jordan
My information around disability really concerns those with dementia and their carers. Though through the Alzheimer’s Society always says what is good for people with dementia is good for society as a whole. So I hope my comments will have relevance for you.
I think the best way to help most vulnerable in society is to ensure that society as a whole is informed and aware of what it means to be disabled or disadvantaged. So education and awareness is key. Its why at the Society we have placed such importance on working with schools throughout the country to create a Dementia Friendly Generation. So that young people are aware of what it means to live with dementia – a disease that will most likely affect members of their own family or a circle of friends in some way as they grow and mature.
Our Dementia Friends programme and the series of Dementia Friendly Communities we are establishing nationwide are all helping to make society as a whole more aware of the needs of the must vulnerable within their communities.
Whilst some people may have little or no compassion or humanity, I do believe that they are in the minority and that most people in society really do care. And given the opportunity will respond to help and support those vulnerable members of society in whatever way they can.
Let’s face it – a world without humanity is not one that any of us would like to contemplate. Especially as none us know when we might need that support and “care” ourselves.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols – Archbishop of Westminster.
The following comments were from Alexander DesForges who is Director of News – Bishops’ Conference and Press secretary to Cardinal Vincent Nichols.
“The Church teaches that all people are made in God’s image with innate and equal value, irrespective of any disability.
The work of so many excellent faith-based and secular charities to help disabled people reach their potential, is a clear demonstration of society at its best. However there is always more to do and we recognise that, particularly in the current economic climate, for many of those with disabilities life is harder than ever.”
“While the government has a duty to ensure that public policy maintains a basic level of support for the most vulnerable individuals and families, we all have a responsibility to ensure that disabled people are treated with dignity and can participate fully in society. The Bishops’ agency Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN), coordinates both practical action and advocacy in support of vulnerable people in England and Wales.”
Eileen Grubba – Hollywood Actress
Eileen Grubba is an accomplished actress, writer and producer. She is on the new NBC series “Game Of Silence”. She’s worked on Bones, Criminal Minds, Sons of Anarchy, The Five Year Engagement, The Closer, Cold Case, Hung, CSI Miami, The Mentalist, Masters of Sex, Nip/Tuck, Monk, E.R. and many other shows, films and in theater. She is a Lifetime Member of The Actors Studio, an advocate for families with hereditary cancers, children with disabilities, and an advocate for the hiring of people with physical challenges in the entertainment industry.
Q. How can we all better help the most vulnerable in our society?
“We can help them by allowing them in. Stop treating them like they are separate and unwanted. Give them equal opportunity, and whatever support they need to have the same opportunities as everyone else. I believe all of humanity will benefit when ALL people are given the same opportunity to develop their strengths and talents, and share them with the world.”
Q. Can religion help?
“Religion can help in the sense that religious leaders can encourage acceptance among their communities and help the masses understand that all people were created by God. There is a reason and purpose for ALL of us. It is our differences that complete the picture. We cannot leave out the many colors, facets, or challenges of humanity.”
After Chelsey Jay become disabled suddenly at the age of 20 due to a rare neurological condition, POTs, she has since gone on to become a DisAbled Model and Director Of Models With A Disability ( Models Of Diversity)
She is set on changing the fashion industry for good, and believes that with dedication, good values and the lessons her unusual little life has taught her, she will be able to inspire a world that excludes disabled people, into embracing them.
Q. How can we all help the most vulnerable in our society?
“I think the only way to help the most vulnerable in our society, is by making them less vulnerable!
Helping them to have a sense of well being by being safe and supported, aiding them to live their lives as independently as possible, and by focusing on a attitude of respect towards them instead of pity.”
Q. Can religion help?
“I think religion can help all matter of things. It also can hinder all matter of things.
It is dependent on an individuals interpretation of religion that impacts what direction they wish to push it in.
With regards to disability specifically, I have found religion to be a touchy subject matter. People often blame or question if there is a ‘God’ when people become disabled or are born with a disability. Generally people want answers for everything, and sometimes the answers just are not there.
Why did disability come in my life? I was training to be a nurse, didn’t deliberately cause harm to anyone, recycled, always brought the Big Issue, yet boom! Here I am as a wheelchair user 4 years later!
My disability certainly made me more spiritual, but not more religious”
Q. How can we all help the most vulnerable in our society?
“This is a local job. Councils should encourage good neighbour policies. I live in a fairly poor road in a rich area. If you don’t live here you cannot see the result of the present policies. Poverty is made worse by local Councils. They refuse to be responsible for anything, and employ private firms who are out to make a profit. Money is, therefore, wasted on CEO salaries. Those who sell them the contract fail to check on whether their criteria are being met. Why does it take six weeks to assess the needs of someone whose circumstances have changed and they now need a different kind of help? It could be that illness has become a long term thing and so they need disability help. On what should they live before receiving the first cheque? Benefits are often late which results in people being unable to pay rent and/or council tax. They are taken to court and then have court fees added to their “debt”. Why cannot the Benefits office liaise with the housing trusts? Are they trying to make the lawyers richer? Why is it so weighted in favour of the Housing Trusts, with the implication that the claimant is to blame!?”
“When a gentleman in my road with learning difficulties was becoming disorientated and depressed it took two phone calls from the RSPCA (he had a dog) two from the doctor and two from me before anyone from Social Services came to see what the problem was! They did act well then, but the poor man was panic stricken as he did not understand what he had and expected to be evicted any hour. As a member of the public it should be that we can alert those able to help and get some response.! I could not take him to the bank and get his money sorted. I could not find him a more suitable home. I could alert those with the power but it took too long for them to wake up.”