Business Disability Forum’s Head of Policy, Angela Matthews, considers the implications.
It was a spending round that Chancellor, Sajid Javid declared put an “end to austerity”. Although those listening to the debate would have heard John McDonnell (MP, Shadow Chancellor) declare in his response that “austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity”.
While no department was subject to spending cuts, some topics Business Disability Forum currently has its eye on were missing, and for some things that were present, questions remain.
It was good to see that £36m will be allocated, partly, to making “straightforward and accessible” application processes, as well as £7m to expand Job Centre Adviser support in schools for students with SEND. The money will also be spent on extending Access to Work eligibility to internships. There are other projects planned within DWP’s marginally increased budget (see section 2.18 here ), but no great detail.
A further £400m has been allocated to further education. Further education is often the most local, accessible option for many young disabled adults to develop their independence and skills – and transition into jobs or further study. We also heard last week that there will be £700m available to further support children with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND). This is double the amount that was made available for the same purpose in December last year.
Social care has a huge impact on disabled people’s independence and is an enabler allowing disabled people to be participatory, equal citizens in social and economic life. Local authorities will receive £1.5bn for social care which, Javid said will be the largest increase in local government spending power since 2010.
This seemed a small amount, and we later read in The Guardian that this was actually the “bare minimum councils have suggested was required to stop parts of the adult social care system in England from collapsing over the next few months”. McDonnell responded to this announcement by reminding us that 1.4 million people are currently not getting the care that they need; and those listening carefully may have heard a cry from the assembled at this point highlighting that there is “still no green paper” on social care, which the Government has been promising since March 2017. It was disappointing that, in the Government’s statement on the spending round, the section on social care refers only to “older people”: disabled people are not mentioned ( section 1.2 ).
We were interested in the £241m available next year from the New Towns Fund available to help develop high streets. The accessibility of the high street is a huge issue to many disabled people across the UK and we hope such developments will take into consideration what many different groups of people need from our high streets in terms of accessible spaces and infrastructure.
We heard how Javid’s father was a bus driver and he therefore understood how critical decent bus services are to local communities, particularly in areas where other ‘mainline’ transport links are limited. This is an interesting observation, since our recent research on inclusive transport showed that buses are the mode of transport disabled people use most often next to trains. £200m will be allocated to transform bus services across the country.
Frontline staff development was a focus, as we heard in announcements earlier this week indicating that they will have a professional development budget of up to £1,000 each. It is not clear how this budget will be prioritised; for example, whether disability-related knowledge and skills gaps will be mandatorily addressed through these budgets. A better NHS service for people with specific conditions, such as mental health issues, dementia, people who are Deaf, and people with learning disabilities, must not be ignored. We are therefore keen to see some professional development priorities ear-marked alongside the overall increased £36.2bn NHS spend. Money for professional development though is a good step forward as we know training fees often fall to the frontline NHS employee themselves. Even in the Government’s recent Health is everyone’s business consultation, we see questioned the robustness of the occupational health nursing profession which relies on self-funding for people to become qualified to move into the profession.
Overall, some crucial elements were missing:
- An investment in the NHS did not address how waiting times would be decreased or how hospitals and other NHS centres will ensure and inclusive experience to disabled people;
- The increase in spend on Access to Work was specific to internships, which we approve of, but it does not address the reductions in awards disabled people continue to experience; and
- although transport spend was focussed on buses, there was nothing to emphasise how spend would or could support the expansion of the Government’s wider Inclusive Transport Strategy.
In addition, the lack of a robust and thorough equality impact analysis was disappointing. The analysis focused on how people with protected characteristics would be ‘positively’ impacted by the spending round, and there was no demonstration that the Government had considered what the potential negative impact could be – particularly in the design, development, and implementations of each initiative that was spoken about, and not just in the disability-specific projects.
Therefore, while we were pleased to see increased spend for the NHS, transport, and SEND education, we hope to see disabled people present in every project at each stage, from design to delivery. We recognise these announcements were made in unique and uncertain times but, in spite of this, we hope the participation of disabled people will not be overlooked as this spending round is applied.