This column appeared in the Friday 4th February 2022 edition of the South London Press.
With the publication of Sue Gray’s report shining a light on everything that went on at Downing Street during lockdown, it’s fair to say that the Prime Minister and his government are having a pretty bad time of it (and deservedly so).
One downside of the wall-to-wall coverage is that it has drowned out some other significant news stories, in particular the outcome of a High Court case brought against the Government regarding its new disability strategy.
South London Press readers may recall that I’ve written about the Government’s National Disability Strategy before. After lengthy delays it was finally released in July 2021, just in time for summer recess (which ‘coincidentally’ meant we had no chance to scrutinise it in the Commons).
The strategy contains 100 pledges and is backed by £1.6 billion in funding. Ministers say it will deliver more accessible housing, easier commuting and better job prospects for disabled people. But disabled people do not think the proposals are bold enough and neither do I.
So how are things going? Not brilliantly. By January 2022 the Government has already failed to meet at least half a dozen of its targets and progress on many others is somewhat murky.
Welfare levels and processes also continue to be wholly inadequate and unnecessarily stressful. The Government is due to publish its plans for benefit reform later this year, and I know many are concerned it will be a missed opportunity to overhaul the system.
And now to the court case, which was brought against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions by a group of disabled people. On January 25th the High Court found that the ‘survey’ the Government carried out as part of its strategy development process in fact amounted to a consultation, and that the consultation had failed to fulfil its stated purpose as it did not allow respondents to submit sufficient information. In other words, the Government failed to consult people properly.
As I write this (on Monday), we are waiting to see if the Secretary of State will come to the Commons to give her response to the judgement and clarify how her Department intends to urgently correct these failings.
The Government may have failed disabled people yet again, but the Labour Party is determined to do things differently. As we develop our policy we are consulting widely and ensuring we work cross-departmentally, right from the outset. I am eager to work with as many disabled people, charities, disabled people’s organisations, unions and other civil society organisations as possible to co-produce our proposals.
Over the next six months, I will be holding a series of virtual roadshows. Details of how to register are on my website: https://www.vickyfoxcroft.org.uk/regional-disability-roadshows/
I hope to see many of you there. A future Labour government will create real change for disabled people, not just warm words.