The Care Bill presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for disabled rights

The Care Bill returns to the House of Lords this week. The Government has put down some welcome changes. But political leaders have to be visionary, be bold and think beyond the next election. So do councils – and so, too, do organisations like Scope.

Here’s why social care is so important. Disabled people want to live independently. Sometimes they need support to do so. That could be a personal assistant to help them get up, get washed and dressed. In 2013, I think most people would agree that this support should be in place. But independent living also means disabled people having a say in where they live, who they live with and how they go about their day. This means not being forced to get up the same time every day, eat at the same time every day and go to bed at the same time every day. Again, in 2013, I think most people would back that aspiration. Unfortunately, this doesn’t reflect the reality of many disabled people’s lives.

Take Martyn Sibley, a young disabled internet entrepreneur. He runs Disability Horizons and has just trekked from John o' Groats to Lands’ End in his electric wheelchair. He also still has to argue with his social worker about getting support to go to the toilet. This is unacceptable.

During party conferences Nick Clegg talked-up capping care costs; Ed Miliband backed whole person care and Jeremy Hunt championed integration of health and social care. In the summer the Chancellor found £3.8bn in June’s spending review to start to tackle the crisis.

The Care Bill returns to the House of Lords this week. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform the care system. The Government has put down some welcome changes. But political leaders have to be visionary, be bold and think beyond the next election. So do councils – and so, too, do organisations like Scope.

I’m Chair of the Care and Support Alliance, a coalition of 75 organisations working together to improve the social care system in this country, so I know how important these issues are for older people, their carers as well. At the moment, there are two fundamental problems.

First, the London School of Economics estimates that 69,000 disabled people who need support to live independently don’t get it. Cash-strapped councils have been upping the bar for eligibility, with 83% of councils now setting the threshold at a higher level than they once did. Under the Government’s plans, all councils could set eligibility at the higher level. Experts say this will leave 105,000 disabled people outside of the system altogether. The Care Bill gives political leaders the chance to be take bold steps to reform the system.

The second problem is that even if you’re lucky enough to be in the system, it can be a struggle to get support that genuinely promotes independent living. In one recent survey, 40% of disabled people said that local care doesn’t meet basic needs like getting up, getting washed and dressed and getting out of the house.

Getting social care reform right will provide the groundwork. But councils need to place independent living at the heart of commissioning. Every disabled people should have a say in what support they receive, and how, when and where they receive it. Meanwhile, organisations like ours can’t just shout from the sidelines. We have to work together to show what’s possible. This means looking to the future, piloting and testing new ways of working, and making tough decisions about the services we provide.

As an example from our own organisation, Scope runs care homes. Our staff do a great job, but many were opened in the 70s, aren’t located in the heart of the community, and are simply not set up to offer disabled people enough choice and control in the 21st century. In the last five years, Scope has changed or closed ten of these services; last year, we decided to review all of our residential services for disabled adults because of these concerns. We’re now proposing to change or close more over the next three years. This will always be done in consultation with those most affected: disabled people who use them, their families and our staff, and we’ll always do our best to support all of those involved. But if we want to give disabled people the same say over where they live and how they live as everyone else, change is unavoidable.

I believe we can build a society where disabled people can genuinely live independently, but we have to think big. That starts this week with the Care Bill.

Will the Government put their money where their mouth is? Image: Getty

Richard Hawkes is chief executive of the disability charity Scope.

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Could Labour lose the Oldham by-election?

Sources warn defeat is not unthinkable but the party's ground campaign believe they will hold on. 

As shadow cabinet members argue in public over Labour's position on Syria and John McDonnell defends his Mao moment, it has been easy to forget that the party next week faces its first election test since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. On paper, Oldham West and Royton should be a straightforward win. Michael Meacher, whose death last month triggered the by-election, held the seat with a majority of 14,738 just seven months ago. The party opted for an early pre-Christmas poll, giving second-placed Ukip less time to gain momentum, and selected the respected Oldham council leader Jim McMahon as its candidate. 

But in recent weeks Labour sources have become ever more anxious. Shadow cabinet members returning from campaigning report that Corbyn has gone down "very badly" with voters, with his original comments on shoot-to-kill particularly toxic. Most MPs expect the party's majority to lie within the 1,000-2,000 range. But one insider told me that the party's majority would likely fall into the hundreds ("I'd be thrilled with 2,000") and warned that defeat was far from unthinkable. The fear is that low turnout and defections to Ukip could allow the Farageists to sneak a win. MPs are further troubled by the likelihood that the contest will take place on the same day as the Syria vote (Thursday), which will badly divide Labour. 

The party's ground campaign, however, "aren't in panic mode", I'm told, with data showing them on course to hold the seat with a sharply reduced majority. As Tim noted in his recent report from the seat, unlike Heywood and Middleton, where Ukip finished just 617 votes behind Labour in a 2014 by-election, Oldham has a significant Asian population (accounting for 26.5 per cent of the total), which is largely hostile to Ukip and likely to remain loyal to Labour. 

Expectations are now so low that a win alone will be celebrated. But expect Corbyn's opponents to point out that working class Ukip voters were among the groups the Labour leader was supposed to attract. They are likely to credit McMahon with the victory and argue that the party held the seat in spite of Corbyn, rather than because of him. Ukip have sought to turn the contest into a referendum on the Labour leader's patriotism but McMahon replied: "My grandfather served in the army, my father and my partner’s fathers were in the Territorial Army. I raised money to restore my local cenotaph. On 18 December I will be going with pride to London to collect my OBE from the Queen and bring it back to Oldham as a local boy done good. If they want to pick a fight on patriotism, bring it on."  "If we had any other candidate we'd have been in enormous trouble," one shadow minister concluded. 

Of Corbyn, who cancelled a visit to the seat today, one source said: "I don't think Jeremy himself spends any time thinking about it, he doesn't think that electoral outcomes at this stage touch him somehow."  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.