The Welfare Reform Bill Committee met on Tuesday for its 9th and 10th sitting. Parliament is now in recess and the Committee will not meet again until the 26th of April.
When it does there is hope, primarily due to this statement by Margaret Curran, Shadow Minister for Disabled People:
I caution him that in any discussion about disability, the disability movement will say, assertively, “Yes, of course you must look at the needs of the most severely disabled, but you must be very careful how you define that.” If we do so at the expense of those who have moderate disability, such as learning difficulties, or those who are, perhaps, autistic—I shall provide examples as I make my comments—we do them a profound disservice. We should look at disability in the round rather than simply at the most severe cases.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Does she also agree that one of the reasons for ensuring adequate financial support for people with less profound disabilities is that they are precisely those who may be able to enter paid employment? To remove the extra financial support that might enable them to make that move—because they are required, or choose, to do so—seems short-sighted in the context of the universal credit.
The mountain we have to climb was summarized by Chris Grayling, Minister for Employment, who said:
The focus of our support, and the place we have chosen to invest the resources available, is the support group. There are a small number of cases where, as a result of programmes such as Work Choice, which is operated by the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), some people have the opportunity to get back into work despite having a severe disability, although there is no obligation on them to do so. People in the work-related activity group are judged to have some potential to return to work, either now or in future, and they have an obligation to take part in work preparation activities.
We have made a conscious policy decision to concentrate our support on people in the support group, to increase the resources available to them and create a simplified and more streamlined system. Where adjustments must be made because people are moving around between different categories of support, we have put in place transitional protection to ensure that nobody loses out in cash terms. That is our approach and we have made provision in the Bill to help the most severely disabled people.
The Government's narrow-mindedness was further underlined when Kate Green proposed that the new claimant commitment for universal credit should be bipartite, with commitments from the Secretary of State as well as the claimant. Chris Grayling replied that:
My view is straightforward: we are providing claimants with significant financial support; in return, we want them to make a real effort to get into work. That is what lies at the heart of the claimant commitment. Of course, Jobcentre Plus and Work programme providers have an obligation to provide satisfactory support to claimants as they look for work.
I am very disappointed with that response. It is an extremely narrow view of what an enabling welfare state should look like and the principles on which it should be based. It appears to ignore the common human interest that we all have in a welfare state that adequately supports people and in which we all have a stake. Irrespective of our circumstances, we have a right to appropriate support.