John Hutton – 2006 Speech to Scope Disability Summit


Below is the text of the speech made by John Hutton, the then Work and Pensions Secretary, to the Scope Disability Summit on 9th March 2006.

I’m grateful to Tony and Rachel for the opportunity to join you today and I want to assure you of this government’s commitment to working with you to achieve a Britain free from disablism.

Clement Atlee’s Labour government founded the welfare state not just to protect people, but to empower them. Labour’s Alf Morris, now Lord Morris, led the first drive to change legislation and outlaw discrimination. And last year, through the Disability Discrimination Act, this Labour government completed the most far-reaching programme of disability rights legislation that any European country has so far put in place.

At every stage we have worked to push the agenda forward; to listen to you and to work with you in leading the struggle to root out discrimination and break down the barriers faced by disabled people in our society.

But for all the progress we have made; we still need to achieve a lasting step-change in attitudes towards disabled people. Where meeting the needs of disabled people is seen not as a burden but as an opportunity; where institutional disablism is seen not as an inevitable part of the culture of our country but as a fundamental barrier to our success; And where disabled people themselves must never be consigned to accepting second best but empowered and supported to achieve full equality of opportunity and genuine independence and respect within our society.

So I want to pay tribute to the work of Scope and the DRC for their excellent recent campaigns that have raised awareness to change attitudes – promoting the positive image of disabled people.

Today’s Disablism Audit shows just how important – and how real – those challenges are, despite the legislative progress we have already made.

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.

And on the day that annual figures are released showing the extent of poverty across Britain, it is telling that disabled people are more likely to be trapped in poverty than non-disabled people; and a quarter of all children living in poverty have long-term sick or disabled parents.

We simply cannot accept these outcomes.

So this government is taking steps to tackle institutional discrimination and promote independent living – giving disabled people choice, empowerment and freedom through more joined-up and individualised service delivery.

We have set up the Office for Disability Issues to co-ordinate and drive forwards our work to deliver substantive equality for disabled people.

It will create a new national forum which will enable the views of disabled people to be heard by policymakers at the highest level; and ensure that disabled people really are at the heart of public policy – able to influence the development of policies and service delivery that will affect every aspect of their lives.

The Office for Disability Issues is also working to test practical new ways of delivering services such as through the piloting of “individual budgets”. And it will champion a genuinely “joined up” approach to delivering disability equality right across government. Because disabled people, just like everyone else, don’t divide their lives into separate silos – and we can’t properly tailor our services to meet their needs if we do.

Because it is, we believe, ultimately by tailoring support to, and empowering, individuals that we can achieve our ambition of true equality. And nowhere is this more true than in supporting people to get into work. That is why we are determined to build on the success of the New Deal, which has helped nearly a quarter of a million disabled people to find work.

We will now roll out the hugely successful Pathways to Work scheme across the entire country – so that all disabled people claiming Incapacity Benefit can benefit from extra help and support.

Over the last few years – thanks to the New Deal for Disabled People – the employment rate of disabled people has risen twice as much as for the population as a whole.

Our proposals in the Welfare Reform Green Paper are underpinned by clear principles. The development of a modern active welfare state that responds to individual need, balances rights with responsibilities and invests for the long term. That provides work for those who can but security for those who can’t.

We recognise the sensitivity and importance of getting the changes right, which is why we want to work with you to ensure that we take a fair and equitable approach.

I am grateful to those of you who have already engaged with the current consultation on our Green Paper and I strongly encourage those of you who have not yet done so to contribute your views.

But today I am going further than that – because as part of the ongoing consultation Margaret Hodge has written to Bert Massie and agreed that we will work with the DRC to develop a “prototype” disability equality impact assessment on our proposals for reform of Incapacity Benefit.

I hope very much that you will all feel able to work with Bert in contributing your expertise to this process – and helping us to ensure that when delivered, the package of support and the newly designed system meets the goals we have set for it – enabling all disabled people to fulfil their aspirations in the workplace. That is very much what we want to do.

It’s vital too that we collect evidence about the life chances of disabled people – about the extent of what we are achieving and how much more there is for us to do. That’s why the Government’s Office for Disability Issues is working with disabled people and their representative organisations on ways of measuring progress towards our goal of a fully inclusive Britain. And I expect the ODI to address this in their first Annual Report to the Prime Minister this Summer.

Because we are committed to developing, though consultation, a set of outcome-based indicators to measure progress towards our goal of achieving substantive equality for disabled people by 2025.

So let us measure our progress and let us do this systematically; let us celebrate what we have achieved and let us use that as the catalyst to go further.

Because if we work together we can achieve that step change in attitudes – so people come to view disablism as every bit as corrosive and intolerable as any other form of prejudice and discrimination.

A truly fair society of equal rights and opportunities for all is our goal. With your help, support and encouragement I believe it is a goal we can achieve.