Where do disabled people fit into George Osborne's "aspiration nation"?

From 1 April, six different cuts to support started affecting disabled people. The result will be disabled people losing their independence, struggling to heat their homes and forced to withdraw from communities. What part can they play under such conditi

George Osborne has been talking about building an "aspiration nation". It’s left disabled people scratching their heads. They’re wondering where they fit in.

Life simply costs more if you’re disabled. But in 2013 disabled people are struggling to pay the bills. They’re feeling more keenly than most the effects of flat-lining incomes and spiralling living costs. We know many disabled people are turning to loans to pay for essentials.

What’s the Government’s response?  At the last count, cuts to thirteen different pieces of financial support that give disabled people the chance to do things everyone else takes for granted.

We asked the think-tank Demos to make sense of impact this will have on disabled people – many of whom are already struggling to make ends meet. We released the results; they paint a bleak picture.

Their research showed that by 2018, disabled people are set to lose an astonishing £28.3bn worth of financial support. These changes are going to affect up to 3.7 million disabled people in total.

What’s more, the research also showed that thousands of disabled people are being hit by different cuts to support over and over again.

For example, it’s very possible that someone could see their Disability Living Allowance taken away, see their Employment Support Allowance capped at one per cent and have to pay the bedroom tax.

We have spoken to disabled people who are going to struggle to pay their bills, heat their homes and buy food.

But that’s not all. There is a real danger we make it impossible for disabled people to be part of the community.

Councils – facing huge cuts – are rationing the basic, practical support they offer disabled people to get up, get washed, get dressed and go out.

Sue from London who has emphysema, asthma and is doubly incontinent told me that she’s being hit by care bills, the bedroom tax at £16 a week, bills for her incontinence pads and council tax at the same time.

She says “There’s no hope for me. I’m looking down a long dark tunnel with no light at the end. Unless they get rid of Cameron and revoke all of the cuts, I don’t think I’ll see this year out. I can’t afford to put my heating on. I don’t use my oven any more. I’m scared to run up any bills. By 7pm, I’m huddled up in bed with my dog. I have a halogen heater in there which goes on at night - I can’t afford to heat the whole house.”

The Government is writing this research off as scaremongering, arguing that some disabled people may be better off after the benefits changes.

But as Claudia Wood from Demos argues, how can the Government know? It has so far refused to do any cumulative impact assessment of the impact of welfare changes on disabled people. This is no longer acceptable.

But for Scope there’s also a broader point. This is about the kind of country we want to live in.

At the moment it’s not the done thing to say the state needs to spend money. But if we want to live in a country where disabled people can pay the bills, can live independently in the community, where they can work, have relationships and ultimately be visible then that’s exactly what needs to happen.

For instance, if disabled people are to live independently – and not be shunted away, out of sight and out of mind – we need properly funded social care.  However, the Government continues to insist that simply capping costs and introducing a new means testing threshold will solve the social are crisis. It won’t.

The Government needs to decide if it wants disabled people playing a part like everyone else, or side-lined, out of pocket and more or less invisible. I know which one I want.

Richard Hawkes is the Chief Executive of disability charity Scope 

The solution to the care crisis is not simply capping costs and introducing a new means testing threshold. Photograph: Getty Images

Richard Hawkes is chief executive of the disability charity Scope.

OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images
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Harriet Harman: “Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister”

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party urged women to unite across the divided party.

The day-long women's conference is usually the friendliest place at Labour party conference. Not only does it have a creche and a very clear emphasis on accessibility, but everybody who attends starts from a place of fundamental agreement before the sessions have even begun. For that reason, it's often ignored by political hacks in search of a juicy splits story (especially since it takes place on Saturday, before the "real" conference action really gets underway). But with the party divided and the abuse of women on and off social media a big concern, there was a lot to say.

This year, kick off was delayed because of the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the leadership election. The cheer for the renewed leader in the packed women's conference hall was far bigger than that in the main hall, although not everybody was clapping. After a sombre tribute to the murdered Labour MP and former chair of the Labour Women's Network Jo Cox, Harriet Harman took to the stage.

As a long-time campaigner for women's rights, veteran MP and former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harman is always popular with women's conference - even if her position on the current leadership and her status as a former Blairite minister places her out of sync with some of the audience. Rather than merely introducing the first speaker as the agenda suggested, Harman took the opportunity to make a coded dig at Corbyn by doing a little opposition of her own.

"Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister," she declared, going on to describe the way that May, as shadow spokesperson for women and equalities under William Hague, had been a "drag anchor" on Harman's own efforts to enact pro-women reforms while Labour were in government. The Thatcher comparison for May is ubiquitous already, but Harman made it specific, saying that like Thatcher, Theresa May is a woman prime minister who is no friend to women.

Harman then turned her attention to internal Labour party affairs, reassuring the assembled women that a divided party didn't have to mean that no advances could be made. She gestured towards the turmoil in Labour in the 1980s, saying that "no matter what positions women were taking elsewhere in the party, we worked together for progress". Her intervention chimes with the recent moves by high profile former frontbenchers like Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper to seek select committee positions, and Andy Burnham's campaign to become mayor of Greater Manchester.

Harman's message to women's conference was clear: the time for opposition to Corbyn is over now - we have to live with this leadership, but we can't let the equalities legacy of the Blair years be subsumed in the meantime. She ended by saying that "we have many leaders in the Labour party," pointing to Jess Phillips, the chair of the women's PLP, and Angela Rayner, shadow minister for education, women and equalities. Like Burnham, Cooper et al, Harman has clearly decided that Corbyn can't be unseated, so ways must be found to work around him.

Rayner followed Harman onto the stage. As one of Corbyn's shadow ministerial team, Rayner is far from in agreement with Harman on everything, and rather than speak about any specific policy aims, she addressed women's conference on the subject of her personal journey to the front bench. She described how her mother was "born on the largest council estate in Europe and was one of twelve children" and "never felt loved and didn’t know how to love, because hugs, cuddles and any signs of affection just wasn’t the norm". She went on to say "mum won't mind me saying this - to this day she cannot read and write". Her mother was in the audience, attending her first Labour conference.

As a former care worker who became a mother herself when she was just 16, Rayner is a rarity at the top of Labour politics. She told the Guardian in 2012 that she is used to being underestimated because of her youth, her gender and her northern accent: "I'm a pretty young woman, lots of red hair, and everyone expects me to be stupid when I walk into a meeting for the first time. I'm not stupid and most people know that now, but I still like to be underestimated because it gives me an edge. It gives me a bit of stealth."

The mass shadow cabinet resignations in June propelled Rayner to the top sooner than an MP only elected in 2015 might have expected, and she has yet to really prove her mettle on the grind of parliamentary opposition and policy detail. But if Labour is ever to win back the seats in the north where Ukip and Brexit are now strong, it's the likes of Rayner that will do it. As Harriet Harman herself shows, the women and equalities brief is a good place to start - for even in turbulent, divided times for Labour, women's conference is still a place where people can find common ground.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.