The `Health and Disability’ white paper; an attack on disabled people’s income and independence

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2023 National Disabled Members' Conference
7 July 2023

Conference notes the publication of “Transforming Support: The Health and Disability White Paper”, published by government in March 2023.

The government claims this new set of policies related to welfare benefits will help more disabled people and people with health conditions to start, stay and succeed in work. However, conference believes the opposite is true and that the key changes will push disabled people further into financial hardship, at a time when we are already experiencing the sharp end of a cost of living crisis.

Conference notes that this government has presided over 13 years of policies that have punished disabled people through cutting disability premiums and introducing unfair work capability assessments, conditionality and sanctions. Even for those disabled people in work, the disability pay gap is growing and now stands at a shocking 17.2% or £3,700 less a year than non-disabled workers. Added to this, the government’s National Disability Strategy was found to be unlawful and based on an unlawful consultation.

It’s perhaps only to be expected that the government’s new white paper is mainly a collection of small scale pilots and re-announcements, while its key proposals are about making more disabled people work longer hours, whatever the pay. This is dressed up as ending work capability assessments but in fact it will make matters worse with individual job centre advisors now being able to decide whether you are entitled to benefits or whether you need to find work or work more hours. There is no mention of an appeal process and the system seems even more unfair than work capability assessments.

Conference believes that making Personal Independence Payments (PIP) – and Adult Disability Payment in Scotland – the qualifier to exempt you from looking for work and work related activity is just a ploy to force more disabled people into work whether or not they are ready for it, and to pay them less money in Universal Credit. In any case, we know that PIP is not a fair system and UNISON’s 2018 report “Punished for going to work” makes clear that it needs to be reformed.

Conference strongly believes the proposal to make work coaches the sole decision maker on ability to work is a retrograde step. Work coaches are not disability specialists and the DWP should not be using them to make life changing decisions about disabled people.

The white paper also appears to be changing the nature of PIP so it is about covering the additional costs of being disabled and not about fostering independence. This is a crucial difference and suggests government are trying to get away with a lower cost service that is about disabled people simply surviving rather than thriving.

Conference believes these proposals will drive disabled people further into poverty, compounding the ongoing impact of the cost of living crisis. Disabled people already live on lower incomes as we are more likely to work part-time or be in low paid jobs. With the added cost of increasingly expensive electricity for vital equipment such as dialysis machines, drip machines, oxygen and medicine dispensers, as well as additional costs for dietary specific foods not easily found at a food bank, disabled people do not need further attacks on welfare benefits that help us to survive.

Conference therefore instructs the National Disabled Members Committee to:

1)Seek appropriate opportunities to widely publicise these proposed changes to the benefits system and their potential negative impact on disabled people’s income and independence

2)Work through UNISON Labour Link to lobby the Labour Party to develop a realistic and supportive plan to reform the welfare benefits system so that it puts the needs and independence of disabled people at its heart

3)Seek to ensure the experience of disabled people is included in UNISON’s work on the cost of livings crisis, including through the Labour Link