With a general election likely this year, Shadow Minister for Disabled People Vicky Foxcroft MP, emphasises the importance of “working with disabled people to get our policies right.”

Interview by Lauren Hunter

Can you outline the Labour Party policies that will be of most interest to disabled people as we approach the next general election?
Co-production is very important. I know that’s a bit of a buzzword, and not everybody understands it, but it’s about working with disabled people to get our policies right. I’ve been Shadow Minister for four years now, so started the role during the pandemic, and one of the things that was really important to me was to hear from disabled people about the issues [that affect them]. Part of this was during Covid, and things that they needed to happen, but also in terms of the Government’s national strategy for disabled people, and then into the future of our policymaking process.

I have no doubt that at times in government, things won’t necessarily go right; but there is really, genuinely, that drive to make sure that this is delivered.

Currently, the role of Shadow Minister and Minister for Disabled People sits in the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), but I’ve found disabled people don’t just want to talk to me about work and benefits, they want to talk to me about everything. And quite often, one of the barriers, in terms of work disabled people point out to me, is about societal barriers – be that regarding transport, housing, social care, and beyond. 

What are the main priorities you are working towards?
Reforming Access to Work, to make it properly accessible but also to make sure that people get decisions in a timely fashion. People should be able to take their award through their line of work, as well as making sure that reasonable adjustments are delivered as they should be. 

It’s also about helping support more disabled people into work, making sure that we have disability pay gap reporting and employment reporting, so it’s known how many disabled people are in a workplace, as well as reforming the Disability Confident scheme. 

The scheme isn’t working for anybody at the moment. It needs to be reformed so that when people see ‘Disability Confident’, they know they employ disabled people and treat them well in their workplaces. 

In terms of benefits and assessments, we don’t think that moving limited capacity for work-related activity into another flawed system, such as PIP, is the right thing to do. We need to relook at that, look at what the descriptors are and actually work with disabled people to get it right, and thoroughly reform it so that disabled people don’t fear the DWP but see that they get financial support, because we know the cost of living is far more expensive for disabled people. 

What can people expect from the Labour Party, either in government or if they continue in opposition?
You’ve heard our commitments on the NHS and people getting more appointments, getting seen quicker, and so forth. But we also want around 8,000 more mental health support workers, because that’s a big and increasing issue and people need to receive that support in a timely fashion. Very recently, and very unusually for us, we all signed a pledge to the National Care Service, which will be worked through in co-production with disabled people. It is something that has been raised with me a lot around knowing what support people can get, and knowing where to go to make sure they get it.

I guess I need to add the caveat to some of that stuff with the fact that we need to grow the economy. Public finances are not in a great state but we know we can do things differently. 

We have a government who say they want to get more disabled people into work yet have a backlog in excess of 24,000. Some people are waiting a year for their awards, which just isn’t good enough. 

We also want to change the DWP culture. Why do people worry about visiting a job centre, rather than somewhere that’s seen as a support to go and get the kind of employment that they want; be that working for an employer, freelancing, or setting up their own business? 

One of our big policies is energy. We talk about investing in more renewable energy, and tackling climate change, but it’s also about bringing down prices – and we know that energy is one of the biggest bills that disabled people pay for. It’s really important we make sure we do that, as well as tackling glaring things in terms of prepayment meters being installed on people, and putting up their prices, when actually, they weren’t able to afford the bills beforehand. That’s just going to lead to people not using the energy they need and not putting the heating on when they need to.

What do you regard as the biggest issue facing disabled people currently?
So many things are linked together. The cost-of-living crisis is difficult, but also getting access to support. We know that a lot of organisations that gave advice in the past have been struggling with their finances, which means it’s harder to find. 

I feel like things have gone backwards so much over the years. The fact we have buildings going up that are inaccessible is just ridiculous. Pre-existing buildings need to put in as many access arrangements as they can – Number 10 built a new press room during Covid, and they built it so it was inaccessible for some disabled people, which is a disgrace! Or when wheelchair users need to go to Number 10, they don’t necessarily have the right ramps for them to be able to get in. It’s just not good enough. It sends the message that a lot of disabled people feel and hear from the Government, which is that ‘You’re an afterthought, you’re not the top priority’. 

We want to say that you’re not an afterthought. I can’t name just one thing, but there’s never just one thing that disabled people raise with me, it’s everything: social care, transport, housing, the cost of living, access to work; and I don’t just mean the scheme, I mean accessing work entirely! 

What’s your message to disabled voters? 
Have some hope that if you elect Labour, you really will see a difference. We won’t be able to do everything overnight, but we’ll work together on that journey to improve stuff, not just for you, but for future generations’ lives. We’ll have a ruthless focus on trying to ensure that everything we do can’t be reversed in the way that we’ve seen over the last 14 years.