The European Union referendum and three years of wrangling over Brexit has seriously divided people, write Left Unity Disabled Members’ Caucus, but the vast majority of disabled people supported the Remain campaign because they understood the dangers behind Brexit not only in economic terms but also in social ones as well. Brexit was viewed as a backdrop for dismantling civil and human rights and the negotiated deals by May and Johnson would indicate this is a likely outcome in a post-Brexit landscape. Left Unity Disabled Members however do not see ‘disability rights’ as being solely about legal protection against forms of discrimination as experienced by disabled people. In employing the social approach towards disability, we recognise how the structures, systems, cultures and values of capitalist societies transform people with impairments into disabled people by subjecting them to unequal and differential treatment.
Disability politics therefore are about the juxtaposition of disability (social restriction) with emancipatory engagement – the struggle to remove the disabling barriers which exclude or marginalise disabled people from active participation within society. We view disability rights as being demands made by disabled people in order to further self-determination and in opposition to their social oppression. The Age of Austerity has not only resulted in the destruction of services, the reduction of living standards and the wrecking of communities, it has paved the way for a rightward shift within society. Disabled people have witnessed an increase in hate crime and utter contempt for their right to social inclusion through private companies and public sector organisations showing total disregard for the 2010 Equality Act. Left Unity Disabled Members believe Disability Rights need to be very visible during the 2019 General Election.
Making Disability Rights visible during the 2019 General Election
Left Unity Disabled Members acknowledge that since the 1990s the ability of disabled people to self-organise has been severely hit by a lack of resources and an abandonment of radical disability politics. It is important therefore to ensure we support any attempt to regenerate the Disabled People’s Movement and at the moment the Reclaiming our Futures Alliance (ROFA) is the platform for taking this forward. ROFA will be producing its own 2019 General Election which can be located here:
Left Unity Disabled Members believe the majority of the positions taken by ROFA in its manifesto can be supported but here we will highlight central issues that are viewed by Left Unity as vital to promote. Given the negative impact of neoliberalism and its role in cementing the unequal and differential treatment disabled people have experienced, we fully understand why ROFA want to see the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People (UNCRDP) become part of domestic laws in United Kingdom. However as disabled activists we must caution against putting all our eggs in one basket and becoming over reliant on the legal system as the means of challenging social oppression.
Clearly, as disabled people, we are looking towards the Labour Party to reverse our fortunes and to engage with us in challenging not just discriminatory practice experienced by individuals but also the institutional social restrictions that exist in the labour market, transport, housing, education, etc. Left Unity Disabled Members call for a Labour victory, but we also give notice that we expect more from Labour. We stand with our sisters and brothers to demand: Nothing About Us, Nothing Without Us! Labour must up its game on disability issues or face the consequences. We need to fight for a just society where all people are valued and to take a stand against those who only favour the elite at the expense of the many.
Disabled people not only expect Labour to tackle the inequality and social injustice we experience, but to also break with its paternalistic approach. The current Labour leadership while more in tune than the oppressive Blair government nevertheless still fails to understand disablism and as a result gets things seriously wrong in key areas of policy development.
Key areas of policy Labour need to engage with
Improving Welfare Support:
- There must be an end to the neoliberal assault on the welfare system which includes halting paying private firms massive amounts of public money to carry out degrading assessments which are not fit-for-purpose. It is inadequate for Labour to hold the position that all it needs to do is overhaul the Work Capability Assessment or Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and ensure that sick and disabled people are involved in reviewing its effectiveness. We support disabled people’s demand that the Work Capability Assessment be scrapped and replaced by an assessment process that has both health and social contexts in relation to ill health and impairment. This should include policy recognition that there will always be disabled people who are unable or too ill to work.
- We would expect an immediate end to punitive benefit sanctions which have led to deaths and increasing poverty. Ensure that the detrimental changes to how people within the Work-Related Activity Group are stopped and ensure there is no conditionality of JSA or ESA WRAG on seeking treatments and no linkage with treatment and receipt of benefits.
- We reject completely the continuation of the Personal Independence Payment which was always ideologically driven and inherently oppressive. The methodology of PIP promotes body fascism and is at complete odds with UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People. The basic principles behind the Disabled Living Allowance remain valid and should inform the basis of assessing the extra cost incurred while living with significant ill health and/or impairment.
- We call into question the failed policies of countless governments who have wasted public money on scheme after scheme to support disabled people into work. The major benefactors of these schemes are not disabled people, but the voluntary sector, local authorities and charity organisations that run them. Without a fresh appraisal of what constitutes work, the nature of work-place environments and identifying the means of supporting disabled people into, and maintaining their place at, work; any new scheme will simply repeat the pattern of past practice which sets disabled people up to fail.
- Left Unity Disabled Members wishes to express concern about the interest shown by the Labour Party and sections of disabled communities in discussions around Basic Income and some form of a disabled persons citizens’ income; we believe this would be a disastrous route for disabled people.
- We call upon Labour to scrap Universal Credit. Left Unity Disabled Members support a fully support a state funded benefit system and we would oppose any attempt to introduce insurance schemes as a replacement.
Independent Living and Self-Determination:
Left Unity supported the campaign by disabled people to stop the closure of the Independent Living Fund. However we recognise that this was only accessed by a minority of disabled people who want support to live in their own communities and have control over their lives. We call upon the next Labour government to work with disabled people’s organisations to address the issue of disabled people having the legal right and means to live independent lives. Left Unity Disabled Members support the positions within the ROFA Manifesto:
- Announce a legal right to independent living and commit to developing a National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS) within 2 years https://www.rofa.org.uk/independent-living-for-the-future/ Launch a resourced NILSS implementation group, with Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) in line with article 19, UNCRDP.
- Commit to establishing and providing strategic funding to DDPOs and Centre’s for Independent Living (CILs) in each local authority area to monitor and deliver the UNCRPD responsibilities and lead on NILSS development and delivery.
Access to Health and Support Services:
- National Health Service funding must be protected and all forms of privatisation of our NHS should end with immediate effect.
- Within the commitment to develop a National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS), the Labour government needs to also open a public dialogue around the issue of transforming Social Care into a meaningful support service and its future relationship with the NHS.
- Funding for mental health services including crisis teams should be protected and, where necessary, increased to former and safer levels. There should be an end of rationing of primary Mental Health care services and treatment tailored to needs.
- More funding and investment for children’s adolescent mental health services is needed.
- GP and nurse training should include compulsory training on mental health conditions and treatment.
- An end to zero hour contracts for home care staff.
- Changes to the system also need to be made in order to provide better support to family carers both financially and practically.
- We call upon Labour government to scrape the Quality Care Commission and replace it with a body that is more accountable and proactive.
- LU Disabled Members call upon Labour to take urgent action with regards to the Acute Treatment Units (ATUs) and institutions for people with learning difficulties and autism and establish an implementation group which will coproduce a deinstitutionalisation action plan with DDPOs. This will include the reinstatement of community-based resources closed since 2010 so that there is support for people leaving hospital.
In line with the national policy of Left Unity, the Disabled Members believe a Labour government needs to tackle head on the country wide chronic shortage of social housing and a rise in homelessness and to put an end to landlords and property developers profiting from the housing crisis.
- We call upon Labour to initiate a massive expansion of the publicly owned and democratically controlled housing sector, and for social housing to be available for all who require it. This strategic and sustained programme of building social housing must be to the standards of universal design and accessibility.
- Labour’s new council or social housing building programmes must be funded by government at very low interest rates.
- Axe the bedroom tax and the Benefit Cap.
LU Disabled Members supports ROFA’s position:
- The national SEND funding crisis must be ended and the increase in segregated education for disabled children reversed. The Government will commit to implementing Article 24 UNCRPD and producing an action plan in co-production with the Alliance for Inclusive Education.
- The Disabled Students’ Allowance needs to be restored to a level where it fulfils its original aim and supports all disabled students who encounter extra cost within learning.
Left Unity Disabled Members calls upon Labour to break with its patronising and ineffective methods to address the restrictions disabled people face when either seeking or maintaining employment. We acknowledge the views held by ROFA in their Manifesto:
- Commit to working with Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) to re-focus employment of disabled people to removing disabling barriers and ensuring workforces in public and private sector reflect the diversity of the community by age, disability, race, gender, sexuality. Carry out an independent review of Access to Work and expand its remit and scope.
- In addition, Labour should begin the process of re-evaluating the whole notion of “work” and the oppressive ethics which surround it within our capitalist society. The normative values associated with “work” are a major factor in the oppression of disabled people as well as other sections of society, e.g. women.
Access to Justice:
- All legal aid changes must be repealed and disabled people’s rights to access justice must be restored.
- Our Disabled Members believe the issue of Disability Hate Crime remains a major concern and calls upon an incoming Labour government to review the legal definitions associated with Disability Hate Crime as we believe they are too narrow and ignores key aspects of why disabled people have become targets for hate.
- A Labour Government should not only reverse the watering down of the Equality Act 2010 since its introduction but look to strengthen it. The UNCRDP need to be brought into UK laws.
- Ensure restoration of funding for advice advocacy services such as the Citizens Advice Bureau.
- Provide funding to Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations and Centres for Independent Living, to provide information, advice and advocacy to disabled people.