Kate Green, the MP for Stretford and Urmston in Manchester, was giving one of her first interviews since being appointed last month to replace Anne McGuire.
She told Disability News Service that there was an “extra dimension to the cost of living crisis for disabled people”, and that Labour might look at “market solutions” to the extra costs they faced in areas such as energy bills.
She said that the Motability car scheme – set up under a Labour government in 1977, so that disabled people could use their new mobility allowance to obtain an affordable vehicle – had proved to be a “good market response” and was a model “that we could start to think about for other markets”.
Green insisted that she was “just flying kites” and that the idea was not official Labour policy, but she added: “The market has to adjust [or] we will make the market adjust.
“It is already what we are seeing in relation to energy prices [with Labour leader Ed Miliband’s price-freeze policy]. I think you will see more and more of us expecting either that the market does better or that we have to regulate more tightly.”
On policy ideas, she said she was probably furthest ahead with how to design a labour market that fitted better around disabled people.
She said: “There is a lot more we could do with employers: how could employers be enabled and empowered and incentivised to do more?”
She suggested that a Labour government’s industrial strategy would be focused much more on the needs of disabled people, for example by ensuring that if the further education sector was providing training courses in green engineering, disabled people would be enabled to access those courses.
She also suggested that Local Enterprise Partnerships – where councils and businesses decide investment priorities for roads, buildings and facilities – could provide opportunities for ensuring that investment projects benefit disabled people.
Asked if she wanted to see less of a role for the big Work Programme and Work Choice providers like Seetec, A4E and Ingeus in helping disabled people into work, she said she wanted to see “less of an approach that is national, centralised contracting, which is what the programme is”, and more of an emphasis on local provision.
She also said she was particularly concerned about the series of “hostile, punitive” stories about disabled people that have appeared in the media over the last three years, often about “benefit fraud, and a disabled person lounging on the sofa…”
She said: “I see no indication that ministers are seeking to question that narrative. It feeds into hate crime.”
Green – who was chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) before she became an MP – said she wanted to focus on how to enable disabled people’s “full participation” in society, whether through paid employment or voluntary work in their local community.
She pointed to evidence presented to the Manchester Poverty Commission, which she sat on, about a disabled man who had set up a popular drop-in centre, but then had to abandon it because the “bedroom tax” forced him to move out of the area.
On the key question of whether she wanted a Labour government to reverse the coalition’s planned cuts to spending on working-age disability living allowance (DLA) and its replacement, personal independence payment (PIP), she said: “We are not making firm spending commitments until we know how we are going to pay for them,” a line she repeated later in the interview.
But she did suggest that she would want to analyse the longer-term costs and benefits of cutting DLA and PIP, suggesting that she has listened to those campaigners who have argued that the costs of such cuts would eventually outweigh the savings.
Green said: “It is already an argument that has come back from the government [PIP] consultation and so I think it bears investigating, and I do want to see how we could investigate it further.”
She pointed to work carried out by CPAG and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which concluded in 2006 that the cost of not eliminating child poverty was about £26 billion a year.
She said: “I think it would be interesting to look at that, the cost to the health service, the lost economic productivity to disabled people – either they don’t work or they don’t work to their full potential – the cost of care.”
Speaking before the court of appeal announced this week that the government’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund in 2015 was unlawful, she would not say whether she would want to reverse the closure.
But she said she had met people in her constituency who “absolutely loved” ILF, and with the right support they had been “really able to make it work for them”.
She said: “In some way we need to get the essence of what it did, the autonomy that it gave people, but I just can’t say what we are going to do about it. We need to not lose sight of what it was seeking to achieve.”
In contrast with Mike Penning, the Conservative minister she is shadowing, Green appears to come into the job with a clear understanding of the social model of disability.
The problems disabled people face, she said, are not about their impairments but about “the way society is structured that they are expected to fit into”.
Among other areas she is looking at, Green pointed to the “quite shocking fall” in the number of disabled people claiming support in the workplace through the Access to Work scheme, since the coalition came to power in 2010.
Green also said she wanted to look at disabled parents and whether the government was “doing everything to enable them [to be parents] to the very best of their ability”.
Another area she said she wanted to focus on was social care, working with Labour’s shadow care services minister Liz Kendall, because there was now a “once-in-a-lifetime moment to design a system that actually works”.
Green’s priority will not be older people, who have received the majority of attention from politicians and the media so far, but to “make sure we are designing a set of policies that would work for working-age disabled adults”.
7 November 2013