Below is the text of the speech made by John Hutton, the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to the TUC Disabilities Conference on 24th May 2006.
Thank you Mandy.
I’m grateful to Brendan and the TUC for giving me the opportunity to join you this morning.
Last year we set out our ambition to deliver substantive equality for disabled people by 2025. It’s a vision that goes to the very heart of what I believe the Labour Party and Trade Union movement are about. An equality of opportunity that goes beyond basic civil rights; that stretches back to Beveridge in seeing the right to work as fundamental to tackling poverty and building aspiration for everyone in our society. An equality that brings recognition and respect for all – from the workplace to the high street – whether as consumers of goods and services– or as workers and citizens.
It’s a vision that we as a Labour and a Union movement have been working towards for many years.
Progress since 1997
In the last few years – thanks to the campaigning work of the TUC and many others we’ve come a long way. Last year the Disability Discrimination Act completed the most far-reaching programme of disability rights legislation that any European country has so far put in place. Among its many provisions – was a duty on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people – a real milestone in helping to eliminate the institutional disadvantage that many disabled people still face.
The Act fulfilled our manifesto commitment to deliver enforceable and comprehensive civil rights for disabled people. I hope people will see it as a major landmark on the road to a world in which disabled people can be empowered to live independently – fully recognised and respected as equal members of society.
But for all the legislative progress we have made – we know we will not reach our long term goals while many disabled people remain unfairly excluded from the workplace – or poorly supported within it.
Over the last few years – thanks to our investment in Jobcentre Plus and the New Deal – the employment rate of disabled people has risen twice as much as for the population as a whole. The New Deal for Disabled People has seen over 83,000 job entries since its launch in 2001 – with nearly 300,000 disabled people helped into work through the total package of New Deal programmes.
And through the Minimum Wage and tax credits we’ve tried to ensure that work pays.
But for all this progress – we know that we still have very much further to go if we are to achieve our goal of substantive equality for disabled people.
Disabled people are more than twice as likely to have no educational qualifications as non-disabled people. They are over three times as likely to be economically inactive – and when they are in work, they earn less on average than their peers. Indeed, around a third of young disabled people actually expect by age 30 to be earning less than non-disabled people of their own age.
Disabled people are still more likely to be trapped in poverty than non-disabled people; and a quarter of all children living in poverty have long-tem sick or disabled parents.
We simply can not accept these outcomes in our society today.
We share the belief that for those who can – work is the best route out of poverty. It’s the bedrock of personal responsibility, dignity and wellbeing. The challenge we face today is how to build a modern welfare state that allows people to exercise this fundamental right to work, when our national economy is changing more rapidly than at any time since the industrial revolution.
And it is not only our economy that is changing. We are confronted by a rapidly ageing society and a falling birth rate. Soon, and for the first time in our history, there will be more people over the age of eighty than under the age of 5.
We have to respond positively to these challenges. That’s why we have set ourselves the ambitious goal of an 80% employment rate. I do not underestimate the scale of this challenge. It will mean a million fewer claiming incapacity benefit, a million more older people in work and 300,000 more lone parents off benefit.
But its achievement will be critical for the nation and our economic and social well being – for individuals; for families and communities; for wealth creation and economic competitiveness; and crucially – for true equality and social justice.
Meeting the challenge
Our Welfare Reform proposals are designed to help us meet this challenge. They are underpinned by clear principles – the development of a modern welfare state that responds to individual need, balances rights with responsibilities and invests for the long term. That provides work for those who can and security for those who can’t.
A new benefit system founded on the concept of measuring and building up each individual’s capacity rather than writing people off as incapable – and a radical extension of the support available for every Incapacity Benefit claimant – underpinned by the extension of Pathways to Work to every part of Britain by 2008 – bringing new hope and opportunity to some of the most disadvantaged members of our community.
We know the difference that Pathways can make. In the first year of the pilots the number of recorded job entries for people with a health condition or disability had increased by around two-thirds compared with the same period the year before. Their continued success has driven a significant increase in the proportion of people leaving Incapacity Benefit in the first six months of their claim compared with non-pilot areas. And this early success has underpinned our achievements in helping people off Incapacity Benefit – with new cases down a third since 1997.
And with the first falls in the total count – now down 61,000 in the year to November 2005 – we know that the support available in Pathways can make a difference for existing claimants as well as new claimants.
By October this year – around 900,000 Incapacity Benefit claimants will be eligible for the support provided by Pathways – and by 2008, every claimant will be able to access this support if they choose to do so.
And it doesn’t stop there. Our new approach to delivering welfare and employment support services in cities, together with the new Deprived Areas Fund will help to tackle the remaining pockets of poverty and worklessness in our most deprived areas.
But let me make one thing clear. We will never forget our obligations to provide security for those who can’t work – and as we pledged in our manifesto – our reforms to Incapacity Benefit ensure that these people will receive a higher level of benefit while being able to access employment support on a voluntary basis.
So the extension of support that is on offer with these welfare reforms represents a huge opportunity to help all those on Incapacity Benefit who want to work, to exercise their right to do so.
But we can’t grasp this opportunity alone. Every partner must play their role – working together to drive a lasting change in public attitudes towards disabled people. Employers need to see the benefits, opportunities – and frankly economic necessity of employing disabled people.
And within and across Government – we need a properly joined up approach. That’s why we have set up the Office for Disability Issues to co-ordinate and drive forwards our work to deliver substantive equality for disabled people. A new national forum will enable the views of disabled people to be heard by policymakers at the highest level; and, along with the new Public Sector Duty, ensure that disabled people really are at the heart of public policy – able to influence the development of policies and service delivery that affect every aspect of their lives.
The Office for Disability Issues is also bringing Departments together to test practical new ways of delivering services such as through the piloting of “individual budgets” – and it’s championing a genuinely “joined-up” approach to delivery disability equality right across Government. Because disabled people – just like everyone else – do not divide their lives into separate silos – and we can’t properly tailor our services to meet their needs if we do.
But I do recognise the sensitivity of this issue and the important of ensuring that the detail of our reforms help deliver our objectives in practice.
That’s why we’re working with the Disability Rights Commission in developing a joint “prototype” disability impact assessment of our proposals for Incapacity Benefit.
Later next month we will produce our response to the consultation ahead of introducing legislation to Parliament. I’m committed to engaging with and listening carefully to all who have responded to our Consultation; and to all of you who share our commitment to improving the employment prospects of those currently living on benefit.
And I believe that with your help we can shape the development of our welfare state so that it better responds to individual need, balances rights with responsibilities but provides security for those who need it.
So the time for action is now – to drive forwards that change in public attitudes; to refine and deliver new employment support for disabled people in the most efficient and most effective way; and to enable each and every disabled person to fulfil their ambitions and make their contribution to society – whether that means getting into the workplace – or developing and progressing within it.
Substantive equality for disabled people is our ambition – nothing short of this will do. If we work together we can achieve it – and in doing so build a truly fair society of equal rights and opportunities for all.