Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 January 2022
… attempts to ‘protect’ disabled people within a much reduced welfare state have not been effective and have in any case had the unwelcome consequence of increasing the scrutiny and control exercised by professionals…. This stands in contrast to the alternative policy agenda articulated by disabled people themselves that stresses autonomy, integration, an end to discrimination, and rights to equal chances in employment, to an adequate level of income, and to services which enhance personal choice and facilitate independent living. (Glendinning, 1991, p 3)
Despite considerable progress, disabled people are still experiencing disadvantage and discrimination, barriers - in attitudes, the design of buildings and policies for example - still have to be overcome by disabled people … too many services are organised to suit providers rather than being personalised around the needs of disabled people. (Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreword to PMSU, 2005)
The weight of historical disadvantage experienced by disabled job seekers and workers is now well documented (Barnes, 1991; Burchardt, 2000; DWP, 2001; ONS, 2002a, 2002b; Burchardt, in Millar, 2003, pp 145-66; DRC, 2004a; PMSU, 2004). The principal policy response has been an increased governmental emphasis on ‘welfare through work’ and ‘work-based welfare’ (Giddens, 1998).
The focus on paid work as the primary source of social well-being has been further emphasised by New Labour policies (DSS, 1998a; HM Treasury, 2001). The continued rise in sickness and disability benefits from 1997 has been a key driver of policy reform, while the changing rationale for reducing claimant numbers is that of the human cost of long-term absence from the labour market (DWP, 2002, 2004a; PMSU, 2005). Paid work has become the leitmotiv of New Labour welfare policy and for many, social inclusion the natural corollary of engagement with paid work.
The genesis of disability welfare reform can be traced, however, to much earlier reforms of the Conservative governments of the 1980s and 1990s. This is somewhat paradoxical at first sight. The neoliberal governments of the 1980s did sanction the increase in invalidity benefit (now Incapacity Benefit) by re-designating some unemployment benefit claimants. However, the decade 1980-1990 also witnessed a growing emphasis on rationalising the benefits system for disabled people.