Emma speaks about Disability and Devolution

May 23, 2016

Emma disabled members


Emma was delighted to speak at the Unison regional disabled member’s policy weekend at the Radisson Blu Hotel Durham on Saturday.

Emma spoke about the Governments poor record on disabilities and how the devolution agenda in relation to health and social care might affect people living with disabilities.

Afterwards, there followed a lively debate where members acknowledged that devolution and integration of health and social care can provide positive opportunities but only if done properly, with careful planning, good community engagement and the right resources.

Many of the delegates were deeply shocked that this meeting was the first time they had heard about such fundamental changes to the health and social care services they rely on. Many felt aggrieved that despite being politically engaged, they had not been given a chance to have their say on important decisions that will effect services for decades; that decisions were being made without the public’s knowledge by people who, in some instances, had little knowledge of both health and social care.

You can read Emma’s speech here:

Good morning everyone and thanks for asking me to come to speak to you today about the devolution agenda and disabilities.

I wanted to say a few words about how awful this Governments record is on disabilities, since 2010 there has been one assault after the other on disabled people and despite repeated calls for a cumulative impact of these retrograde polices they have refused to do so.

First we had the bedroom tax which affected thousands of disabled people up and down the country, then we had the discriminative work capability assessments, where people with severe disabilities were deemed fit for work and had their income slashed as a result.

Then we had cuts to Employment Support Allowance where we saw the unedifying spectacle of Tory MPs desperately queuing up to vote to reduce further entitlements to disabled people by £30 pounds a week. Despite Labour MPs efforts and with the support of Labour Peers, the Tories were able to force these horrible cuts through. 

Next came changes to Personal Independence Payments, which would have seen up to 290 thousand disabled people lose four thousand one hundred pounds a year. This was around the time Iain Duncan Smith suddenly found a conscience, quit his position and began to campaign for the Brexiters. Thankfully as a result of the hard work by Labour MPs, Labour Peers, Trade Unions and the huge public backlash, the Government were forced to scrap their plans.

And whilst we all welcome the living wage, albeit not a real living wage, I have discovered that in some cases this will raise the threshold of carers allowance meaning that carers will lose their allowance payments if they wish to remain in employment so the assault is not only on those with disabilities but for those who need carers, on their carers also.

This week the Queens speech showed no signs of the Government changing tack, there was supposed to be a White Paper on improving employment prospects for the disabled but it was nowhere to be found, in fact disabled people were not mentioned at all in the Queens Speech.

Now as you all know I am a shadow minister in the communities and local government team, part of that remit is devolution. Devolving of services down to communities and letting the very people who use those services have a say in how they are delivered and shaped is something that is to be welcomed. But the Tories’ version of devolution is starting to look a bit like a transfer of powers from big government to little government.

A transfer of powers from one group of people to another with little democratic engagement taking place with the wider public,

The deals have been controversial and whilst we are right behind our councils who have worked hard to get the best deal they can for their areas, the Government has bullied its way through a succession of back-room deals in what has been a shameful, opaque and undemocratic process. It is no coincidence that the Labour regions who bore the brunt of the government cuts have been the first to accept the Government’s take it or leave it offer.

In the North East Combined Authority and Tees Valley deals there is not a single mention or reference about disabled people, however there are provisions to devolve transport, housing and the Work Choice programme but in the time I have I would like to focus on health and social care integration because I feel it is this aspect of the devolution deals which is likely to have the biggest impact on people with disabilities.

Integration and devolution of health and social care is a great opportunity for us to properly shape our health and social care services for the future.

Messages coming from Manchester who are further down the road on this process, indicate that we need to show caution. Under this Government we have a crisis in adult social care and our NHS, local authorities are predicting a 4.3 billion pound gap in adult social care by 2019-2020 and in 2013 NHS England and the Nuffield Trust estimated the NHS funding gap by 2021 could have grown to 30 billion per year.

Greater Manchester, devolution health deal will devolve the ENTIRE £6bn NHS budget for the region placing it in the hands of 37 stakeholders, who will have control for every penny spent on public health; social care; GP services; mental health; and acute and community care.

There will be no additional funding and the chancellor and health secretary will be only too happy to lay responsibility for rationing at the door of the devolved authorities. In this way a Tory government with a mission to run down the role of the state will have effectively removed the ‘N’ from the NHS and paved the way for a disjointed healthcare system across the entire UK.

Instead of formally transferring powers and accountabilities from NHS bodies to local authorities, NHS functions and resources are ‘delegated’ to combined authorities or joint commissioning boards who will be making decisions about professions they know very little about and add yet another level of bureaucracy in an already complicated system.

The NHS and local government is being transformed at pace and scale, yet most people have no awareness of this, have had little consultation and even less involvement.

In terms of the North East I have been advised that there has been a health and social care devolution “listening event” in each locality, in May. However it is disappointing that these were invite only events rather than public meetings, again we see the voices of the very people whom this matters to the most being side-lined. I have been assured further engagement with the public will take place and I will be pursing this.

Worryingly there is no requirement for the Government to conduct impact assessments as part of the devolution deals. David Cameron in his wisdom abolished this policy claiming it caused unnecessary red tape.

It is hardly surprising that there are already divisions between different services and different authorities who, quite naturally, have vastly different opinions about how the money should be spent. There is a legitimate anxiety from social care professionals over how their profession can remain distinctive when integrated with Health.  Similarly, Local Authorities on the outskirts of cities fear the lion’s share of the budget going to the City and rather than being given power, they will actually have local power taken away.

The Kings Fund, the British Medical Journal, GPs and other health care experts have expressed concerns about the devolution of health and social care, they are right to, done properly this can be a great opportunity to harness the talent and ability we have here in the North East and this room, done to a rushed Tory timetable we risk our further decimation of our NHS and social care services with nowhere to go when the wheel falls off.

Friends I have been continually dismayed, but sadly not surprised from the very first day I entered Parliament at what total disregard the Conservatives have for the people in our country, I have been even more outraged when I see how they behave towards people with disabilities, we all need to keep using our strong voices to expose their hateful agenda, I know I certainly will.








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