How will disabled people be affected by the Spending Round 2019 decisions?

06 September 2019

Business Disability Forum’s Head of Policy, Angela Matthews, summarises the disability relevant elements of the Spending Round and 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, “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.

Employment

It was good to see £36m allocated partly to making “straightforward and accessible” DWP application processes, as well as £7m to expand Job Centre Adviser support in schools for students with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND). This  money will also fund extending Access to Work eligibility to internships. There are other projects planned within DWP’s marginally increased budget (see section 2.18 here), but there is no great detail.

Education

A further £400m has been allocated to further education. Further education remains understated as a sector in terms of how it can often be the most local, accessible option for many young disabled adults to develop their independence and life skills, and transition into jobs or further study. We also heard last week that there will be £700m available to further support children with SEND. This is double the amount that was made available for the same purpose in December last year.

Social care

Social care has a huge impact on disabled people’s independence and is an enabler allowing disabled people 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 they need; and those listening carefully may have heard a cry from the audience 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 frustrating 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).

High streets

We were interested in the £241m available next year from the new Towns Fund (announced this morning) available to help develop high streets. The in/accessibility of the high street is a huge issue to many disabled people across the UK, as they are a local lifeline to many. We hope such developments will take into consideration the needs of many different groups of people in terms of ensuring accessible, safe, and inclusively designed spaces and infrastructure.

Transport

We heard how Javid’s father was a bus driver and he therefore understood how crucial 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. Given the prominence of the Department for Transport (DfT)’s Inclusive Transport Strategy at the moment and the emphasis DfT have put on involving disabled people in its implementation, the same needs to be true of the expansion of buses and bus services Javid referred to. Section 4.16 of the Inclusive Transport Strategy gives the Government’s vision for the future of bus services, which is for “all passengers to be able to plan journeys which meet their needs as easily as non-disabled passengers do at present”. This project is the perfect opportunity for the Government to demonstrate their living commitment to this vision.

NHS

Frontline NHS staff development was a focus, and we heard in announcements earlier this week citing frontline NHS staff will have a professional development budget of up to £1000 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 (particularly in relation to inclusively and accessibly communicating with disabled patients and service users). A better NHS service for people with specific conditions - such as mental heath, dementia, people who are Deaf, and people with learning disabilities - must not be ignored. We are therefore keen to see some of these specific professional development priorities ear-marked within the overall increased £36.2bn NHS spend. Money for professional development though is a good step forward as we know formal education fees often fall to frontline NHS employee themselves, which is clearly already having an impact on the skills and qualified medical professional gaps we are now seeing across the sector. Even in the Government’s recent Health is Everyone’s Business consultation, we see questioned the quality and sustainability of the occupational health nursing profession which too often relies on nurses self-funding courses to become qualified and specialise in this important area of nursing (see paragraph 149 of the consultation here).

Closing comments

Overall, some crucial elements were missing, such as:

  • An investment in the NHS did not address how waiting times would be decreased, how the availability of GP appointments would be increased, or how hospitals and other NHS centres will ensure an inclusive experience to disabled people;
  • The increase in spend on Access to Work was specific to internships, which we second, 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 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 focussed on how people with protected characteristics would be ‘positively’ impacted by the Spending Round. There was no demonstration that the Government had considered what the potential negative impact could be; particularly in the design, development, and implementation of each initiative that was spoken about, and not just in the directly 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 at the very centre of every project at each stage, from design and development to delivery and continuous review. 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 put into practice.

 

Contact Angela Matthews, Head of Policy, at policy@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk or on Twitter @BDFPolicy.