Disability policy should not be written without listening to the wants and needs of those affected, says RABINA KHAN
Politicians from across the spectrum talk about the need for people to stand on their own two feet. The founding idea of a democratic society, whether you’re on the left or the right, is that people should be able to go about their lives with dignity, fair treatment and independence.
But reality doesn’t often match up with lofty ideals.
The Tories’ decision to axe the independent living fund is one such example. Independent living does what it says on the tin — equip disabled people with the resources they needed to lead happier, healthier, freer lives. Not any more, if this government have their way.
What the ILF cut shows is that the powers that be don’t care too much about people standing on their own two feet, or even about saving money — cuts like this fund or the bedroom tax make only a small change to national finances.
Tory governments have been happy to let the benefit bill soar by institutionalising unemployment, underemployment and pitifully low wages, and let the housing benefit bill soar by breaking up social housing.
Nonetheless, anger at the Tories’ seemingly thoughtless assaults on the services and support we depend on is hardly new.
Working in local government and hearing that once again our budget has been cut by several orders of magnitude than the budget of wealthy Tory-controlled authorities has been standard practice for nearly five years now. What’s more shocking is Labour’s refusal to commit to blocking it.
In the very week of their campaign launch, Labour are botching it. We’ve seen their press team boast that, contrary to the Tories’ attack dossier, they would in fact be keeping all cuts to the arts budget.
We’ve seen the shadow education secretary softly saying that schools in certain regions should have their funding equalised with London ones, rather than stridently saying that this government’s programme of cuts and stealth privatisation is hammering our education sector into the ground and investment is needed across the board. And we’ve seen a heartfelt letter from a lifelong Labour voter begging his leader to save the independent living fund.
This isn’t a “quitting the Labour Party” note — I did that five years ago. But I still hope they win in 2015. And I know that up and down the country there are councillors, activists and MPs who believe in the same vision I do — a future where we apply the values of community and solidarity to invest in empowering our communities, tackling rabid inequalities and destroying the narrative that says “there is no alternative to austerity.” I just don’t trust the hollowed-out bureaucratic inner circle straddling the labour movement to do much of substance.
Instead of a plan to end austerity and put social and economic power back in the hands of ordinary people, we have a “35 per cent strategy,” “one nation” and “the politics of a new generation.”
There could be another long-winded theory debate about Blairism, social democracy and socialism. That’s not what I’m interested in.
The weary defeatism of Labour’s leadership is a matter of concern because right now there are tens of thousands of disabled people relying on them, and being shamefully let down. Those IFL claimants are being told they’ll have to seek help from local authorities instead.
We’re a high-performing, independently run council and people like me will do all we can to provide help. But with £100 million slashed from our budget alone, and councils such as Newcastle possibly being unable to provide even services they’re legally required to, it won’t be easy.
The government knows that and they’ve cynically passed the buck to councils while pulling the rug out from under us. They’ve slashed £10 billion from councils and want to take another £10bn. And Labour have promised to restore only £3bn of that.
When writing disability policy we should start by listening to the wants and needs of those affected. It’s that which guided me when working on a project to deliver specialised homes for disabled residents.
We should listen to people such as campaigner Jane Campbell who says that ILF “was a beacon of good practice that placed the independence of disabled people at the heart of its purpose.” That’s something the main parties seem to have forgotten to do. And I was inspired by disability protesters blocking Whitehall earlier this week in protest against the cut. That, I suppose, is one example of independent living.
Rabina Khan is an independent — former Labour Party — Tower Hamlets councillor