It was rather disappointing last week reading Jenny Willot MP’s article on LDV last week about the Harrington report and about the motion on the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) which was unanimously passed at autumn conference.
The article seems to imply that, by accepting the Harrington recommendations, the government is complying with the ESA motion and that a big round of applause is in order. We spotted a problem, passed a motion about it and then our ministers and MPs fixed it. Job done right?
Well, no. Despite that being what the article seems to imply, the situation is far from resolved.
By fully accepting the recommendations of the Second Harrington report this government has taken a step in the right direction and there’s no denying that. But the fact is that implementing the Harrington report is only mere tinkering when you look at the much deeper and endemic flaws in the disability welfare system.
And, while the flawed system we have at the moment is a big problem, that wasn’t the main point of the motion. The main motivation behind it was to get the government to scrap proposals to make a bad situation much worse by arbitrarily limiting to 12 months the amount of time disabled people can claim contributory ESA. And the time limit isn’t something inherited from Labour – its a terrible idea which this government came up with all by itself.
And yet, in the article, the time limit isn’t mentioned at all.
Also unmentioned are the parts where the motion called for disability services to be exempt from the legal aid cuts – as legal aid is pretty much the only thing that allows the CAB to support disabled people going through the appeals process – and criticism of the failure of the assessment system to look properly at time variant conditions – an issue this government has actually taken a step backwards on.
These are issues which affect two million vulnerable people, issues about government proposals that could potentially put 200,000 disabled people into poverty.
The motion makes quite clear that some of the government‘s proposals are unacceptable to Liberal Democrats. Yet, despite the Welfare Reform Bill containing the proposals currently going through the Lords, Jenny’s article is the first time anyone from the leadership has ever publicly acknowledged the existence of the motion.
And even then, Willot’s article airbrushes out the key parts of the motion, not even bothering to mention the time limit, and acts as though, by implementing the Harrington report, the government has listened to the motion.
Well, I’m afraid that’s simply not good enough. Conference unanimously passed a motion which quite specifically called for scrapping the time limit. Scrapping any arbitrary time limit is now party policy. It is the duty of our parliamentarians to fight for that policy. For a senior party figure to not even mention the issue of the time limit when writing about the motion is deeply, deeply disturbing.