Left Unity disabled people

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Left Unity Disabled Members Caucus

This Left Unity Conference reaffirms its belief that the Left Unity Disabled Members Caucus exists to support and help educate disabled members whilst working with the wider organisation to understand that the dominant definition of disability is an oppressive social construct.

To assist the work of the Caucus disabled members of Left Unity will invite other disabled people who are non members, but nevertheless simpathetic to the broad aims of Left Unity, to work with us on our policies and campaign strategies.

Conference encourages disabled members to support and participate in the Caucus and its work.

Conference also reaffirms the policy areas identified by the pre-conference discussion that took place via the
Left Unity Disabled Members Group Facebook page and the LU National website.

The LU Disabled Members Caucus’s starting position is that:

At our recent Conference Left Unity reaffirmed its belief that the Disabled Members Caucus exists to support and help educate disabled members whilst working with the wider organisation to understand the oppressive nature of disablement; and how dominant definitions of disability are oppressive social constructs.

To assist the work of the Caucus disabled members of Left Unity will invite other disabled people who are non-members, but nevertheless sympathetic to the broad aims of Left Unity, to work with us on our policies and campaign strategies.

Conference encourages disabled members to support and participate in the Caucus and its work.

The LU Disabled Members Caucus’s starting position is that:

Disabled people, internationally and nationally, have redefined disability as the social restrictions imposed on top of impairments by the nature of given societies. This is the social approach – which is also intersectional by nature – is supported by the Left Unity Disabled Members Caucus and informs our practice.

Below is a  broad outline of the key areas that the Left Unity Disabled Members Caucus will be seeking to develop as policy.

Access, Social Inclusion and Full Participation for Disabled People     

  • We believe past and existing legislation on anti-discrimination and equality has failed to address the denial of access, social inclusion and full participation of disabled people into mainstream. This failure Is the result of a culmination of various ideological and practical factors including: the individualistic legal approach to redress, the existing definition of disability and the absence of enforcement for protecting disabled people from discrimination and systemic social exclusion.
  • The UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People offers a framework for the betterment of the lives of disabled people and should be used to replace the oppressive elements of the Equality Act 2010.
  • Social inclusion and the full participation of disabled people into mainstream structures and activities will always be problematic in an exploitative market economy. As socialists we should sow no illusions, but nevertheless fight for inclusive policies and practice that challenge social restrictions, forced segregation and inequality. We need to ensure that our own policies and practice as Left Unity do not exclude or marginalise disabled people. Measures need to be taken to increase the representation and participation of disabled people in all avenues of life. The slogan, “Nothing about us, without us” must inform our praxis.

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 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 Caucus notes the interest shown by the Labour Party and sections of the disabled communities in discussions around Basic Income and some form of a disabled persons citizens’ income. LUDMC would urge extreme caution in going down either of these routes.
  • We fully support a publicly funded benefit system and oppose any introduction of insurance schemes.

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. The neoliberal agenda under three governments has changed the meaning of independent living and has locked it into the capitalist market economy.

  • 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. More attention has to be paid to the UNCRDP method of ensuring human rights and the 12 pillars of independent living need to be central goals underpinning new policies on independent living. Labour needs to clarify its understanding of the relationship between independent living and current social care provision and policies. Labour’s current position is unacceptable and is likely to have a detrimental impact on elderly and disabled people who fail to fit into the policy’s outdated thinking.
  • There should be a root and branch review of all aspects of social support given the acute crisis within social care. Labour should halt the Sustainable and Transitional Plans (STPs) and bring to an end localism and the current postcode lottery that exists.
  • 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.

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.

  • 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 is needed for children’s adolescent mental health services.
  • GP and nurse training should include compulsory training on mental health conditions and treatment.

Left Unity Disabled Members Caucus agrees with the position of Disabled People Against Cuts in their 2015 Manifesto that ‘there must be changes made to the Mental Capacity Act which is failing people it is supposed to protect. The Best Interests concept means that substitute decision making has become the default position rather than supporting people who are disabled or have Learning Difficulties to make their own decisions.’ (https://dpac.uk.net/2015/03/manifesto-asks)


In line with the national policy of Left Unity, the Disabled Members Caucus believes 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 in the first instance to be allocated according to need. 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.


  • The Disabled Members Caucus is not currently able to express a position regarding the educational needs of disabled children and adults beyond a rejection of an education system which unnecessarily excludes and marginalises them. We believe a future Labour Party needs to reverse the harmful policies of both the Coalition and Conservatives governments which have increased segregation and basic rights to educational choice.
  • 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.

Employment and Socially Meaningful Activities:

Left Unity Disabled Members Caucus would expect an incoming 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 view held by DPAC in 2015 that:

  • A comprehensive plan of action is developed with disabled people and their organisations to tackle the discrimination and exclusion disabled people face in employment and the labour market.
  • Access to Work (AtW) must be extended to include unpaid voluntary positions and the changes that limit and reduce the support provided through AtW should be reversed.
  • The policy of charging fees for taking an employer to Employment Tribunal must be repealed.
  • There is an urgent need to acknowledge that employment is not an option for all disabled people. Disabled and nondisabled socialists should consider what constitutes ‘work’ beyond the confines imposed by the capitalist system. To look at ways of increasing disabled people’s social worth and seek acknowledgement of their existing contributions to society. This requires a better understanding of what is meant by ‘socially meaningful activities’.

Access to Justice:

 All legal aid changes must be repealed and disabled people’s rights to access justice must be restored.

  • The Disabled Members Caucus believes 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 ignore key aspects of why disabled people become targets of hate.
  • An incoming Labour Government should not only reverse the watering down of the Equality Act 2010 since its introduction but look to strengthen it. Key aspects of the UNCRDP need to be brought into UK laws.
  • Ensure restoration of funding for advice and advocacy services such as Citizens Advice

Why Access Is A Political Issue?


Since 2010 disabled people through campaign networks such as Disabled People Against Cuts have been at the forefront of the fight against Austerity, yet the experience of disabled activists within the political arena still mirrors that of disabled people in wider society where we find ourselves excluded from or marginalised within activities. DPAC’s Paula Peters expresses disabled people’s frustration when she writes:

“We are not getting the support from large sectors of the Left that we should have. Many ignore our access needs on marches [and within] meetings on a regular basis. The amount of times meetings are held in inaccessible buildings with no lifts, etc.”

A key slogan of the Disabled People’s Movement has always been ‘Nothing About Us, Without Us’ – recognising how nondisabled people in a variety of capacities disempower disabled people by making decisions on our behalf or simply by ignoring our needs and interests. Disabled people are often made to feel as if they are ‘burdens on society’ or have the sense that they are ‘invisible’. Rory Heap, former chair of UNISON Disabled Members, said recently in relation to disabled people’s political engagement:

“… how uncomfortable it can feel constantly having to be the            whinging outsider, or the retro pedant going on about the finer points of language, or being once again “accidentally forgotten” on that list of oppressed groups?”

There is an increased awareness of racism, sexism and homophobia within the trade union movement, political parties and society; but the issues surrounding disablism are rarely entertained.Disabled people are part of the resistance movement, but we deserve to be respected, acknowledged and better supported. At times it feels as if our oppressors and allies have more in common than we and they would like. Only through inclusive practice and engagement with disabled people’s experience of disablism will ‘unity is strength’ really mean something. Disabled people wish to end situations where we feel by-passed or forgotten.

Why Access Is A Political Issue?

The materialist based social model sees disability as the creation of social restrictions which result from and contribute to the oppression of people with impairments via systems and structures which serve in the interest of capitalism. The nature of this treatment – often discriminatory – is experienced in a myriad of ways. People with physical impairments and mental health service users, for example, can encounter very different disabling barriers due to how, historically, society has determined the social relations of the membership of these groups. This includes the use of pejorative labels. At a micro level of society, disabling barriers can be viewed as the failure to introduce inclusive practice but this fails to tell the whole story. It is necessary to recognise that at a macro level disablism exists within structures of society and takes on the character of institutional discrimination – e.g. the labour market, legal system, government policy, etc.

The emphasis within all social approaches to disability is simple: look at ways of changing the social organisation of society in order to accommodate people with impairments. This has resulted in an array of ‘interpretations’ of the social oppression approach to disability ranging from reformist to revolutionary. Whilst Left Unity Disabled Members Caucus believes that only a radical transformation of society can put an end to disablement, it acknowledges that our immediate task is to seek ‘betterment’ for disabled people by campaigning for action to introduce forms of ‘inclusive practice’. The emphasis is on reducing or removing unnecessary social restrictions that are disabling barriers to disabled people’s participation within both society and our own Party. Mike Oliver offered a simple framework to work within:

“For me disabled people are defined in terms of three criteria;

(i)   they have an impairment;

(ii)  they experience oppression as a consequence; and

(iii) they identify themselves as a disabled person.

Using the generic term [disabled people] does not mean that I do not recognise differences in experience within the group but that in exploring this we should start from the ways oppression differentially impact on different groups of people rather than with differences in experience among individuals with different impairments.”

This primarily works for developing policies, procedures and practice however on a day-to-day engagement level it may be necessary to invite disabled people to identify specific needs they may have. Branch organisers need to invite people to identity their support needs in a confidential manner if required in order to ensure they are catered for. Key to understanding disability politics is the ability to develop awareness and strategies to identify and address social environments which exclude or marginalise disabled people. Holding a meeting on the second floor of pub is creating an inaccessible environment – a form of apartheid – and this impacts on various social groups not just disabled people. Social justice and addressing the equalisation of opportunity cannot be achieved by taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach; consideration of the diversity of needs is required.

Access is a major issue for a variety of groups of disabled people; those with visual impairments encounter different disabling barriers to those who are learning disabled or have limited mobility. Only by addressing these issues can we develop an inclusive practice. Disabled people’s oppression stems from how society and people fail to take their needs and issues into account. Ignorance is a political weapon against disabled people.

What needs to be done? 

Consider the above points in relation to the meetings and events Left Unity organise or are involved in:

  • How can disabled people find out about our activities? Is our material accessible?
  • Do our activities prevent or discourage disabled people’s participation?
  • What are the social environments we work within like for disabled people – level access, easy access toilets, transport systems available, parking, noise levels, clearly signed?
  • Do you know how to contact local Disabled People’s Organisations for support and advice?

Left Unity Disabled Members Caucus has produced a comprehensive guide called, Inclusivity and the Left Unity which should be available to ALL Branches and members who organise meeting and events. [Provide a link?] Here are the key points for addressing access as a political issue and developing inclusive practice:

It is necessary for Left Unity to pay particular attention to five activity areas:

  • Organisation and running of meetings
  • The production of documentation – including leaflets
  • Accessibility of the Left Unity websites
  • Accessibility of demonstrations and other activities
  • Good practices when communicating with disabled people

What is inclusivity?

An inclusive product, service or environment does not exclude any section of society. Inclusive solutions consider all users, including disabled people, and is a positive step towards a holistic, universal system.

The Principles of Inclusivity

  • Acknowledge individuals have unique and particular needs in learning, social and work environments.
  • Respect each individual’s right to express and present themselves relative to their religion, culture, ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender-identity, identity as disabled people.
  • Promote inclusivity by reasonably adjusting procedures, activities and physical environments.
  • Focus on the learning or support needs of the individual without assumptions or labels.
  • Be inclusive in all forms of communication.
  • Serve all with sensitivity, respect, and within boundaries of social justice.

Organisation and running of meetings

When considering an accessible and inclusive meeting, there are 3 aspects you need to think about:

  1. Planning and preparation
  2. The equipment and information
  3. The conduct of the meeting.

All this and more can be found in our guide. Remember, if you can’t afford meeting people’s rights then you can’t afford to hold that meeting or event.

Left Unity on Disablement: Understanding the Issues

Left Unity has members who have a history of belonging to the Disabled People’s Movement and disabled and non-disabled members who have had no involvement with disability politics. Knowledge about and experience of disablement is uneven, therefore, there is a steep learning curve among many within our ranks. We are committed to challenging the social oppression faced by disabled people, both internally and externally, through the development and implementation of all its policies, the organisation’s practice and within the campaigns and bodies Left Unity is involved in. In order to undertake these tasks Left Unity must have a more rounded understanding of the history of the Disabled People’s Movement and the key features underpinning what is known as ‘disability politics’. Sandra Daniels and Bob Williams-Findlay are willing to deliver to Branches a presentation which addresses both disability politics and wider issues.

At both a national and local levels we should consider as part of our practice ways in which to attract and support disabled people and their organisations who want to be involved with the party and its campaigns. With the support of the caucus of disabled members Left Unity should identify key priority areas to be discussed with disabled people and their organisations. In adopting this approach it is necessary to recognize that political disagreements will exist both internally and externally, therefore, policy decisions will need to be made through democratically agreed processes. The training on offer will help us in developing this approach.


14 responses to “Left Unity disabled people”

  1. Paul Johnson says:

    Finally. Great news, the right thing to do and hopefully a strong voice for the wrongs being done by conservative and lib dem to vulnerable adults and families effected by the cuts in funding. Hear bloody hear.

    • Kathrine Brannan says:

      I agree. In my mind this is more than a good thing to do. The creation of a ‘sub-human’ caste by the media and the government is the tip of the iceberg for what is to come–preparing the way for the perception of other ‘useless eaters’ like the elderly ( already one conservative proposes retired people should work for their pensions) and for the ‘unfit’ youth, the NEETs who must do workfare for free. Fighting alongside the disabled is to fight for all society, which is why I will sign up.

  2. Knarky Badger says:

    Good. Hopefully it will be a success! Avoiding the good v bad disabled debate the government the media love to have.

  3. Joanne Hughes says:

    Great news as a member of the disabled community I feel completely betrayed by the three main parties, deeply concerned now that the gagging Bill has passed its third reading and we are on the brink of losing all of our human rights. Left Unity and the Disability Action Groups are the only thing keeping me sane at the moment.

  4. Terree Selby says:

    Am very pleased at this initiative. We are pretty much all under attack from this vile government but they seem to have singled out us, meaning disabled people, as scapegoats. We may not be able to fight them on our own but by working alongside other activists gives me a lot more confidence. Let’s go get ’em!

  5. Merry Cross says:

    I’m really happy with these responses. We’ll be able to support each other, develop policy to feed in to the Equalities Commission and also keep Left Unity on track to be a major force for good for our communities.

  6. Bob Williams-Findlay says:

    This is a very unique opportunity for disabled people to influence and shape the future political agenda both inside and outside Left Unity. I fully endorse the approach offered by Terry and Merry.

    Listening to Penning (new Minister for Disabled People) and Kendall (Shadow spokesperson) outlining their ‘visions’ for disabled people brought home to me how little has changed politically for disabled people over the forty years. I totally agree with Joanne, the three major parties have shown utter contempt for the disabled community – our lived experience, our knowledge and our right to self-determination. All three parties display ignorance, arrogance and a commitment to ideologies that oppress our people. It is time to break the mould and together help fashion a better destiny.

    • terry conway says:

      Its great to hear from other disabled people – we have grown the caucus from 10-14 in 2 days – and while I dont think that rate of growth can possibly continue its exciting. We have a discussion list at ludisabledpeople@lists.riseup.net which is our main way of talking to each other – its more accessible than a discussion forum here which is difficult to navigate to. We are clear that we are open to people who self-define as disabled and include visible and non-visible disabilities.

  7. Pete b says:

    I was wondering what position left unity are taking on disabled access to left unity meetings branches as well as national meetings. Can we encorage venues to achieve disabled access when they dont have it and work with disability groups to establish a list of accessable venues. I think this is in a smsll way would help us to make ourselves relevant to activists fighting discrimination. Excellent work for left unity to have this caucus. All organisations should do this. Lets try and make this a new tradition of the left. Pete b

    • Chris Marsh says:

      I agree wholeheartedly about LU taking action over the practical aspects of disability. I have concerns though about disability as an identity or ‘caucus’ – a bit like AA where you have to stand and say ‘I am an alcoholic’; maybe I should (sit and) say ‘I am disabled’. I’m resisting that, I didn’t ‘tick the box’ to get special treatment when at uni doing my doctorate because I’d ‘confessed’ and accepted help earlier when doing my BA and MA with the OU and felt uncomfortable with the label. Not so incidentally, I did raise the matter of LU doing something practical to help people over the expense of travelling to London…

      • Bob Williams-Findlay says:


        Within Left Unity there are people who make a firm distinction between the label, which has been employed to both define and exclude people with impairments via dominant oppressive ideologies and practice, and the political identity we have come to embrace through seeing disability as an external social situation where people with impairments are subjected to unequal and differential treatment.

        Within this context, the caucus has the function of bringing into Left Unity the lessons learnt within the Disabled People’s Movement over the last forty years, our own personal/political/social/cultural experiences as disabled people to feed into creating a better understanding of intersectional issues and, of course, to influence the policies and practice of Left Unity itself.

  8. Pete b says:

    2I agree chris I think that those wishing to attend such a caucus should attenf / participate there shouldnt be any barriers. But initially branch meetings will be the first committment so I think accessability and having discussion on “disability” would be a start.
    I think thatt

    The Care Bill is in the House of Lords for consideration at present ,the Government & Media BS are on a propaganda exercise of Elderly Care-they are trying to brain wash us that the Elderly are better off staying with a relative and how lonely they are.So you can guarantee when passed the Bill will release the Government of their Duty of Care they have at present and the onus of cost and care put on the Recipient and their Families.
    This is the last piece of the jigsaw in Dismantling Welfare as we know it .The Liverpool Care Pathway became Public too early where they were legally starving elderly people to death only supplying their bodies by a driver syringe containing diamorphine, midazolam and cyclizine.to “give them a dignified end” so it was terminated so we are told.
    People don’t realise that is all Hitler did was put a plan into operation without Public Knowledge and nobody was any the wiser until it was too late it had become the ‘norm’ by then.
    We give £12 Billion in Foreign Aid.£54 million to the EU daily but they want another £4 Billion the Media & Cameron have kept quiet on that ,so will they get it.
    “Could we be spending £40 to £80 billion on things that would be of more benefit to the economy, I’m pretty sure the answer is yes.” That was a comment from Henry Overman, professor in Economic Geography at the London School of Economics concerning the New proposed Rail Line.Even academics nothing to do with Welfare Economics feel that Government priorities are wrong.

  10. Heather Downs says:

    have we already seen the SAD code? It looks useful


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