Listen to disabled people, says Baroness Lister

By Simon Barrow
April 10, 2014

One of Britain's leading academic and policy experts on poverty and disadvantage, and how to combat them, has commended the new Spartacus Network Report, Beyond the Barriers which was produced wholly by disabled and sick people, and co-published by Ekklesia yesterday (9 April 2014).

The report focuses not just on the failure of the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) system, but on the change in thinking, practice and attitude needed to produce an alternative system.

Writing on the House of Lords blog (, Baroness Lister writes: "So what’s new you might wearily respond given the almost daily criticisms of the system in the media? But this is a report with a difference.

"First it is entirely researched and written by disabled people in the Spartacus Network who are able to bring their experiences of the system and of disability to bear on the critique. Secondly this is not just another critique. Instead it offers constructive alternatives, which take as their starting point the everyday experience of disability.

"The report illustrates just how stressful the current work capabilities assessments can be and suggests an alternative system. For me of particular interest was the analysis of a labour market that still creates far too many barriers for disabled people. The report illuminates how difficult it can be for people with degenerative, mental health or fluctuating conditions to sustain employment when the labour market is so inflexible in the face of their needs. There are a number of ideas for how to inject an element of flexibility so as to lower these barriers.

"All in all the report really brings home the value of listening to disabled people themselves when developing policies that claim to support them," she concludes.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett became a Labour peer in February 2011 and is currently a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. She is Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at Loughborough University and is a former Director of the Child Poverty Action Group, and is now its Honorary President. She is currently chair of the management committee of the pressure group Compass, a vice-chair of the Fair Pay Network and on the board of the Smith Institute. She served on the Commission on Social Justice, the Opsahl Commission into the Future of Northern Ireland, the Commission on Poverty, Participation and Power, the Fabian Commission on Life Chances and Child Poverty and the National Equality Panel.

Lister is also a founding Academician of the Academy for Learned Societies for the Social Sciences and was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2009. She received a lifetime achievement award from the Social Policy Association in 2010. She has published widely around poverty, welfare state reform, gender and citizenship.

* Read the full report here (PDF linked):

* Latest news on Beyond the Barriers from Ekklesia:

* Press release - Disabled researchers propose alternatives to failed job tests:

* Blog - An unforgiving environment for thousands of disabled people across the UK:

* Ekklesia comment: Major turnaround needed on ESA, WCA, the Work Programme and welfare:

* Spartacus Network:

* Beyond the Barriers blogsite:

* Twitter: @spartacusreport and #BeyondBarriers

* Facebook:

* Centre for Welfare Reform:


© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. Follow him on Twitter: @simonbarrow

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.