Friday, 4 October 2013

Party Conferences: how they fared on Disability

Party Conferences have been all over the news in the last few weeks, with all UK political parties trying to gee up their activists and get their message across to the nation about why they believe people should support them.
The main highlight of party conferences is inevitably the leader’s speech. We looked beyond that and specifically analysed the content of speeches from the MP with lead responsibility for Work and Pensions in the main parties.
The difference between them all was huge this year. Firstly, we were disappointed that there was no main conference speech at all from the Liberal Democrat lead Steve Webb MP so it only leaves us with speeches from Iain Duncan Smith MP (Conservative Party) and Liam Byrne MP (Labour Party) to analyse.
A quick scan of the speech transcripts sees disability or disabled mentioned once in the Conservative speech and seven times in Liam Byrnes address.

If we were to pick a moment of inspiration from Iain Duncan Smith’s speech, we’d opt for the line, “Our reformed welfare system will once again catch you when you fall, but lift you, when you can rise”. An aspiration I think that all can share with the Secretary of State. We want a welfare system that is there for you when you need it and that helps you and gives you a lift as well so that people can and strive for the best.

Both the Labour and Conservative speeches had a great deal of political bashing. However on the whole, it was heartening to see disability being mainstreamed and given such high prominence in the Labour Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary’s speech. In fact, the Labour speech was much heavier on real policy and proposals, whereas the Conservative speech was much more focused on their record to date in government tackling debt by cutting welfare.   

It’s hard to compare two very different approaches, however there is one main policy difference that was clearly identifiable and comparable: the issue of under occopancy of social housing, and the policy which has been nicknamed the Bedroom Tax. Iain Duncan Smith saw the policy as an achievement and said, “we are ending the situation where taxpayers would have to pay out £1 billion over the next two years for some social housing tenants to have spare bedrooms.” Byrne on the other hand said, “we say the Bedroom Tax should be axed and axed now and if David Cameron won’t drop this hated tax, then we will repeal it” giving a clear commitment to scrap the under occupancy penalty.  So one Party sees it as a success and one clearly doesn’t and has promised to scrap the Bedroom Tax.

I’m sure that more policies will emerge as we draw nearer to the general elections in 2015 but the dividing lines are beginning to emerge, at least, between the two main political parties.

Aspire will continue to try and influence all political parties n issues that affect people with spinal cord injury and want to encourage you all to do so too by contacting your local MPs. If you want help in going about doing this, feel free to contact our campaigns team on 020 8420 6702.

Krupesh Hirani, Policy and Research Officer

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