As Labour appoints a new shadow work and pensions secretary, we look at the chances that Liz Kendall will come to the rescue of claimants who are unable to work because of disability.
In his latest cabinet reshuffle, Keir Starmer replaced Jon Ashworth with Liz Kendall as shadow work and pensions secretary.
If, as seems increasingly likely, Labour win the next election, it will be Kendall who will make major decisions about the future of welfare benefits.
Perhaps the most important of those will be the fate of the work capability assessment (WCA), the test used to decide who gets to be in the LCWRA group for universal credit and the support group for employment and support allowance (ESA).
Claimants in these groups do not have to prepare for work and receive an additional amount in their benefits.
Under the DWP’s current proposals, access to the LCWRA and support group will be slashed in 2025 and the WCA will be abolished altogether in a rolling programme beginning in 2026/27. Instead, being in receipt of PIP will lead to an additional payment in UC and decisions on capability for work will be left to unqualified work coaches.
Where the Labour leadership in general and Kendall in particular stand on these issues is yet to be seen.
On the plus side, Kendall supported the uprating of legacy benefits such as ESA and JSA during the pandemic, which was only given to UC claimants.
And when the proposal to make it harder to be found to have LCWRA was announced by the government, Kendall criticised them for failing to look after people’s health in the first place due to soaring hospital waiting lists and failing social care. She told the Commons:
“But if you run your NHS into the ground for 13 years and let waiting lists for physical and mental health soar, if you fail to reform social care to help people caring for their loved ones, and if your sole aim is to try and score political points rather than reforming the system to get sick and disabled people who can work the help they really need, you end up with the mess we have today.
“A system that is failing sick and disabled people, that is failing taxpayers, and failing our country as a whole. Britain deserves far better than this.”
But there has been no promise to reverse or halt any of the Conservative proposals around the WCA.
And in the 2015 Labour leadership election, Kendall said that the party had to support welfare benefits reforms or face being out of power for decades.
She was the only leadership candidate to back the Conservative government’s benefits cap.
More generally, there are question marks over Labour’s commitment to disabled claimants.
During the latest shadow cabinet reshuffle, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan resigned as shadow mental health minister because there was no longer a place in cabinet for the role, suggesting Labour is attaching less importance to the issue.
Even if Labour were committed to fighting to improve the lot of disabled claimants, their insistence that all spending must be costed could prove problematic.
If the Conservatives include any savings from changes to the WCA in their spending plans, it places Labour in a difficult position. If Labour say they will not implement any changes, they will consider themselves obliged to say where they will get the cash from to cover what will now be the additional cost of keeping the WCA as it is.
Taking cash from another budget to cover welfare payments seems likely to be something Labour will be particularly reluctant to do.
So, as things stand, hopes that an incoming Labour government will immediately begin to relieve the pressure on disabled claimants seem slim.
Visit our WCA Changes Latest News page for updates on what's happening to the WCA.