'The Battle for Hearts and Minds - Gaining Social Justice and Inclusion"
The world is not and sadly never will be entirely fair or equal but true "Social Justice" should, and must be, achievable in any civilised society.
If you are listening Mr Blair, that is a legacy worth having, demonising those unable to obtain or simply incapable of work through illness and disability is not.
What you, and government as a whole, seem to have forgotten is that the value of an individual is not diminished by an inability to obtain, let alone be capable of, paid employment. Each and every one of us contributes something to the whole regardless of our situation in that regard.
The problem then is how we achieve acceptance, rather than merely lip service, to the notion that we should all be seen as equal members of society, each contributing according to their ability and each supported according to their needs.
What is needed, and I would argue Equality 2025 and the EHRC must be about, is not just establishing equality of opportunity in work and other aspects of society but, perhaps more importantly, ensuring an acceptable degree of minimum outcome sufficient to ensure true social inclusion for all.
Equality of minimum outcome is therefore how I would define "Social Justice" as it is the only definition that includes the need for full "Inclusion" as the ultimate goal of that "Justice".
Yes it is true that removing obstacles to work is the best chance for all disadvantaged groups, but especially the disabled, to escape from poverty.
Gaining decently paid, meaningful employment provides not just the financial resources necessary for social inclusion, but also helps individuals gain self respect and promotes the acceptance of their worth by society as a whole.
Removing disincentives to work is thus clearly part of the solution, but only a part. Other less obvious obstacles need to be overcome first. Not least of these is the need for such solutions to be applied in a way that doesn't serve to discriminate against those still unable to obtain, or are simply incapable of, such gainful employment.
The social inclusion of those able to gain paid employment can not and must not be at the cost of the social exclusion of those that can't.
The reality of Britain in the 21st century is that entrenched attitudes to the disabled will not disappear overnight. It will take years and maybe decades even to get those that can work into work.
It therefore is imperative that any welfare reform recognises this and that the disabled in or out of work are provided with the minimum funds required to allow a reasonable degree of social inclusion.
I believe this minimum level of support for all working age adults with disability whether working or not should be at least equal to that provided under the Pension Credit guarantee arrangements for those over 60, as in many ways our financial and physical situation is often on a par with non-disabled pensioners.
Working Tax Credit already achieves this for those fortunate enough to be both able to work and also the help a few receive to overcome some of the hurdles in finding and maintaining meaningful paid employment.
But what of those for whom these two vital criteria do not apply?
Interestingly, even before the detail of the Welfare Reform Bill became public last year (2006), I had proposed the following solutions as part of my contribution to the then DRC "Debate" forum. (The Disability Rights Commission now part of the new EHRC)
1. For those considered able to work, but as yet unable to overcome the barriers that already exist because of their disability, maybe what is needed is a special 'Disabled but looking for work' premium which reflects the desire to work but recognises it may take time to remove the barriers preventing that desire being fulfilled.
2. For those with no realistic prospect of ever being able to work, even if all the barriers could be removed maybe what is needed is a special category of disability that encompasses this added difficulty and adds a 'Disabled and unable to work' premium.
The reality is disability covers a broad spectrum of ability and there will always be individuals at every point on the scale from able to fully unable to gain paid employment due to that disability and so focusing just on getting people off incapacity benefit and back to work will never be a cure all.
3. Maybe what is needed instead is a new way of looking at individuals that recognises the disabled are, more often than not, simply doing the best they can, so perhaps a 'Disabled and doing the best I can' premium could also be introduced.
Welfare reform should also recognise the many other forms of direct contribution the disabled make to society as a whole particularly when they are parents. This includes the love they give their children but also the voluntary work they so often do for others.
For all groups though, the key welfare reform needed is a work and benefits system that truly allows the disabled and their children to fully participate as equal members of society with nobody left behind simply because of being unable to obtain paid employment particularly when this is due to disability.
The simple fact the current Welfare Reform Bill has the need to "protect" the benefit levels of those currently in receipt of Incapacity Benefit clearly indicates that neither the "conditional" work related activity supplement or the "support" element of the new ESA will make it equivalent to, let alone higher than, current levels of Incapacity Benefit.
Even this would still be nowhere close to the Pension Credit Guarantee figure I proposed earlier should be the absolute minimum considered as appropriate for working age individuals with what the DRC would call "Severe workplace disadvantage".
Sadly we already know, from your earlier refusal to answer my earlier simple questions about reforms that you are not prepared to even guarantee the net effect of the reforms will not simply be that individuals such as me actually continue to go backwards in terms of our social inclusion rather than forward as full and equal citizens of the UK.
Peter J Farrington ."
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