The Chancellor's Budget provides one of the set piece events of the parliamentary calendar. The anticipation, the lobbying and the commentary, combine to reveal one of the great theatrical political shows.
Central to the latest instalment of Budget theatrics was the government's commitment to increase the number of disabled people who are entering employment in the UK. The Budget book is littered with references to how the government's overall goal of 'full employment', hinges on their ability to find improved pathways to employment for disabled people.
As the Red Book states; 'The number of disabled people in employment has increased by 150,000 to over 3.25 million people over the last year'. This is a welcome increase.
The government wants to achieve a figure closer to one million by 2020. However they have to ensure the rhetoric matches the reality. In other words, they have to back up the commitment with the policy proposals that act as a guarantee for success.
Just last week disability charity Papworth Trust proposed a potential solution that the Chancellor could easily roll out in relation to Employment Support Allowance (ESA) We know that the cut will not be reversed. But we believe that more needs to be done to overcome the inbuilt fear that some disabled people have when they accept a job. To that end, we propose that the DWP looks to introduce an automatic re-entry route back onto ESA for any disabled person who has come off the benefit but who loses their job within the first year of getting into work.
This could be a crucial incentive for thousands of disabled people, worried about entering work - often for the first time - but who are concerned that if things don't go to plan, they will then have to be re-assessed for ESA which could mean losing out on their benefit for up to a year. We know that the fear factor around that can be enough to stop some people taking a job. What we are proposing is a practical step that could make a real difference if the government is serious about delivering on its commitments.
Clearly, as with any Budget, from any government, of any colour, we have significant questions that are buried in the small print. Examining the effects of these measures on disabled people will form the basis of our work in the hours to come.
I'm clear that I want to understand better the impact that a reduction in business rates will have on council budgets and in particular on social care at the tail end of this parliament. We know from the Local Government finance settlements announced before Christmas that councils will no longer receive central government funding from 2019/20 but instead, will pay for their services through the retention of council tax and business rates. If business rates are to be cut, will that have a consequent impact on councils budgets. Does this amount to a cut in social care budgets by the back door?
Further, the line in the Budget book suggests that the government is 'considering the case for long-term reform of disability benefits' over and above the £1.2 billion cut in the Personal Independence Payments. This will leave many people uncertain about what their medium to long-term future holds. The sooner we can get clarity on this the better.
At Papworth Trust we are determined to ensure we do everything we can to support disabled people to live more independent lives. History tells us that one of the best ways to make that happen is to find ways of helping disabled people into work. That is why we welcome the commitment in the Budget today and will work with the Chancellor to ensure the government's rhetoric becomes disabled people's reality.
Chief Executive, Papworth Trust