Stabbed in the back by Thangam

By Linda Burnip

Over the past 11 years Labour have always supported, or claimed to, the need for a national social care scheme fit to allow disabled people to live independently in the community with the support they need to take part in society in the same way their non-disabled peers can.

Labour Conference has adopted as policy that social care should be free at the point of need and funded through taxation. Implicit in that is the need for an end to care charging as it currently exists.  In England, only Hammersmith and Fulham council do not charge for social care. Personal care is free in Scotland where they still maintain an Independent Living Fund.

Care charging is basically an additional tax on disabled people, penalising them just because they are disabled. This applies whatever their age, and while it is well known that many older disabled people are forced to sell their family homes to pay for residential care, many people are not aware of this regressive additional taxation on disabled people.

At this current moment in time, most councils have increased their care charges to unaffordable levels. Some people face increases from about £20 a week to well to over £100 a week or even more, leaving many disabled people unable to afford to pay for their much-needed social care and still be able to afford to heat their homes and eat.

Before his election as Labour leader, Keir Starmer reiterated his support for a national independent living support system, with the provision of social care being free at the point of need. Disabled people are now asking whether this was untrue.

Last week Thangam Debbonaire announced that a motion calling for free social care, which was due to be raised at Labour Women’s Conference on Saturday, couldn’t be supported, as if Labour supported free social care, it would give the Tories a stick to beat them with. She also quoted the most ridiculous figure for the cost of this which to date Labour HQ have refused to divulge the source of  – no doubt because this is a totally imaginary figure dredged up from some disreputable source.

Coupled with this, only last month Disability News Service reported how Labour had refused to explain why a major speech by its shadow social care minister, Liz Kendall, had ignored disabled people’s-led proposals for fundamental reform of social care including it being free at the point of need.

Looking further at Thangam’s voting record, however, this seems to be part of a pattern of behaviour. When shadow housing minister during the pandemic last year, she warned that a blanket policy of rent forgiveness being pushed for by MPs and campaigners would be “completely unnecessary” and “really regressive”. If this policy had been adopted, it could have saved thousands of families from eviction for rent arrears allowing them up to two years to clear any arrears built up due to Covid.

Rachel Reeves, I believe, was responsible for the loss of over 50 Labour seats in Scotland in the 2015 General Election, due to her ‘tough on benefit claimants’ stance. These were seats that it seems unlikely Labour will ever win back.

Now this apparent betrayal by Labour has led to mass outrage throughout the disabled people’s movement. Thangam has certainly stabbed us in the back, but may also have done the same to Labour, as we make up around 20% of voters, and whatever Labour may want to think, we don’t have to vote for them in the next election.

Do Labour really need such backward-looking MPs? Obviously my view is that they don’t, and it seems time for Thangam to be rapidly relegated to the back benches where she will have little influence over policies.

Meanwhile, we’d like to thank the many more progressive Labour MPs, who do think we need a social care system fit for the 21st century, for their support on twitter.

Linda Burnip is co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts.

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