Breaking the Link Between Poverty and Disability

01/05/2014 17:21 BST | Updated 01/07/2014 10:59 BST

Last week the independent taskforce on poverty and disability reported on its findings and recommendations for Labour's policy review. The taskforce, which was commissioned by Liam Byrne and Anne McGuire, and chaired by Sir Bert Massie, former chair of the Disability Rights Commission, was asked to make recommendations on the best use of existing resources available to support disabled people in order to address the poverty they face.

Labour supports an overall cap on benefits spending, but that means tackling the root causes of poverty among disabled people - low employment and the failure of government employment programmes such as the Work Programme to help them into jobs, rising living costs and the squeeze on family finances, and the pressures on public services that prevent them from participating fully in society. The taskforce has produced a wide-ranging report that makes a powerful case: These pressures help create a vicious circle that means poverty and disability are mutually reinforcing. Labour is determined to break that link .

The taskforce suggests a number of measures to tackle the heightened risk of poverty disabled people face. In particular, the report identifies the need for work to provide a far more effective route out of poverty for disabled people, for measures to address the cost of living crisis which for disabled people is exacerbated by the additional costs associated with disability, and for a renewed commitment to equality that is underpinned by a legal framework that recognises and protects disabled people's rights.

Labour agrees these are the right areas for action. We know that disabled people themselves have the best knowledge of what needs to change in their lives. So now we're launching a programme of discussions with disabled people right across the country to hear their ideas and views about the taskforce's suggestions. You can join the debate on the Your Britain website, and later this month, we'll be giving details of more events for disabled people to give their views.

We know disabled people in the UK face a significant employment penalty, and we've already begun to look at how we can reform employment support for disabled people. As the taskforce notes, in 2012, the rate of employment among working age disabled people was 46% compared to 76% among working age non disabled people. A recent report by the charity Scope showed that 220,000 more disabled people left work than moved into it last year. Yet many disabled people not in employment say they want to work.

Earlier this month, we outlined how we would reform the Work Capability Assessment so that it becomes properly focused on identifying how a health condition or impairment impacts on someone's ability to work.The taskforce suggests that improving the employment rate among disabled people also means we need more localised, more personalised support, skills and training for disabled people, alongside a renewed effort to ensure that employers are playing their part. We want to hear what disabled people think of those ideas.

We also want to hear how the cost-of-living crisis that's engulfing disabled people can be addressed. Labour has already pledged to abolish the vicious and unworkable bedroom tax which has a disproportionate effect on disabled people and their families. We're pleased the taskforce has welcomed this commitment. But there are also innovative ideas in the report about other ways we could reduce living costs, and we want to know how these could be developed.

Ed Miliband has spoken about how Labour will be a one nation party, that brings everyone together. Nothing would be better proof of that than proper moves to empower disabled people to live their own lives to the full. Ensuring that disabled people's voices are heard as we take forward our thinking in response to the taskforce's report and recommendations and develop Labour's policies goes to the heart of inclusion and equality for disabled people. It's the way we want to do business. I very much hope you will join the debate and discussion, so that together we can find the ways to break the pernicious link between poverty and disability that a Labour government is determined to achieve.