We asked Vicky Foxcroft MP (Shadow Minister for Disabled People) a number of questions. Here are her answers and her thoughts.
Vicky Foxcroft MP – Shadow Minister for Disabled People
Here are Vicky Foxcroft’s answers to our questions
Q) What do you see as your main priorities as the Shadow Minister for Disabled People for the rest of the term of this parliament?
A) When we finally start to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, my first priority will be to monitor the Care Act easements which have been taken up by councils and ensure they are removed in a timely but ordered manner and that there are no long term impacts on the standard of care people are receiving. I will work with my colleague Liz Kendall (Shadow Minister for Social Care) to ensure that social care is properly funded. The current crisis has served to highlight the fact that the sector has been neglected for far too long.
Vicky is working with Liz Kendall – Shadow Minister for Social Care
I will also be keeping a close eye on the Government’s promised National Strategy for Disabled People. Ministers have promised that that the strategy will build on evidence, data and insights from the lived experiences of disabled people and that it will increase special educational needs and disability funding and support pupils, students and adults to get careers advice, internships and transition into work, as well as identifying further opportunities to improve things. In the coming months, I will do everything I can to make sure that the strategy is not dropped and that the Government is consulting with a wide range of stakeholders.
I do want to also look at intersectional areas for disabled people, including the links between poverty and disability. Domestic violence is another area I am keen to focus on as we know that disabled, deaf and blind women are at higher risk of gender-based violence. Domestic abuse among these groups is often perpetrated by those they rely on for care, and the barriers to escaping are often even greater. More needs to be done to shine a light on these areas.
Q) What are the real social challenges now facing disabled people during this coronavirus pandemic?
Probably the very first issue that came to the fore when I took up the role was access to priority online food shopping. I know from my casebook that some people are still struggling with this, and there are concerns about people who have been left off the list (such as blind and partially-sighted people and those with motor neurone disease).
Access to PPE is also of paramount concern at the moment. The Government needs to guarantee that all care workers get the PPE they need; this applies to domiciliary care workers and Personal Assistants employed via Direct payments, as well as staff in residential care.
It is also clear that we need to respond to people’s fears over the temporary Care Act ‘easements’ which have been brought in to help local authorities prioritise care and support. These easements have created uncertainty and concern that the quality of care will be compromised during this pandemic. I am keeping a close eye on this.
Disabled people’s organisations having the funding and resources they need is also a key priority. In my previous role as Shadow Minister for Civil Society, I pressed the Chancellor on funding for charities during the crisis. Although the Government announced an extra £750 million of funding, it is nowhere near enough, and many charities and organisations are concerned about their future. We should also be looking at other ways of supporting the sector, such as allowing furloughed employees to return to work in a volunteer capacity.
Q) What changes would you make to the benefits system?
While I welcome the fact that the Government has increased Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits payments in the wake of the current crisis, it is unacceptable that there has been no corresponding increase in other benefits for the unemployed, disabled people and carers. My shadow work and pensions colleagues and I are pushing for a) increases in Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment Support Allowance and Carer’s Allowance; b) the suspension of all sanctions and a clear commitment not to impose any new sanctions during the current crisis; c) increases in DWP capacity to cope in the current crisis.
We also need to replace the Work Capability and Personal Independence Payment assessments, following significant consultation with those who have to engage with the system. I have seen too many constituents having to apply for a Mandatory Reconsideration of their claim before it is granted, often in cases which appear to be straightforward. This is humiliating, time-consuming and unnecessarily stressful for claimants and their families.
Q) What do you believe the Labour party can do to make life more inclusive for disabled people?
First and foremost, we must ensure that disabled people are at the heart of our policymaking. This is not something that can be contained within one department or ministerial brief: disabled people’s needs must be considered across all departments if we are to develop a more genuinely inclusive society.
I know you’re probably fed up of politicians talking about the need for stakeholder engagement, but it is crucial that we not only speak to a broad range of people – from charities and policy advisers to disabled people and their carers – but also listen and act on what they tell us.
Finally – and perhaps most importantly – we must fight hard to ensure that we win the next election and can put our fantastic policies into practice.