David Cameron announces new policy discussion on disability rights

Cameron promises disability benefit shake-up

Cameron promises disability benefit shake-up

David Cameron has today promised to shake up the benefits system to make it easier for disabled people to get help and find work.

The Conservative leader said the series of benefits available to disabled people, including the disability living allowance, the wheelchair service, and the severe disability premium, should be scrapped in favour of a single assessment and perhaps a single benefit.

He also argued benefits should not be conditional on whether someone works – if they had a medical condition that meant they could manage limited periods of work, they should be able to go back to the same benefit entitlement each time they needed to stop.

“When millions of our fellow citizens are locked out of the workforce, we all lose,” he said. “They lose the quality of life – the wealth and fulfillment that comes from work.

“Taxpayers lose because of the benefits that have to be paid to the unemployed. And the economy loses because huge productive opportunities are wasted.”

Mr Cameron today launched a new website, thedisabilitychallenge.com, which the Conservatives hope will inform their policy on disabilities. The issue is a highly personal one for the Tory leader, who has a severely disabled son.

In a speech at disability organisation Capability Scotland in Edinburgh, he rejected the government’s claim of almost full employment, saying five million people of working age were out of work – 40 per cent of them disabled.

He insisted more needed to be done to help disabled people into work, which included reviewing the benefits system, particularly the maximum of hours someone can work before they lose their entitlement, and ensuring disability discrimination laws are kept.

However, employment minister Jim Murphy disputed Mr Cameron’s figures, saying those he considered “ready for work” included the seriously ill and lone parents whose children were only a few weeks old.

He insisted Labour was committed to helping people back to work and had cut the number of working age people on out-of-work benefits by a million since 1997. New proposals in the welfare reform bill would cut the numbers on incapacity benefit.

“Cameron’s gaffe today shows the Tories have no credibility on changing the welfare state so it better supports people to find a job,” he added.

The Conservatives have joined up with disability organisation Scope to assess how the party could improve its employment policies and access at Conservative headquarters, and Mr Cameron also pledged to introduce a similar audit across government.

“And if we win the next election, we will make the employment of disabled people a priority for recruitment policy throughout Whitehall and the public sector,” he said.

“If we’re going to change attitudes in our country, government needs to set an example. That is what social responsibility means.”