Left Unity Disabled Members Caucus
The decision of Theresa May to call a snap General Election for the 8th June 2017 has caught everyone by surprise. The Left Unity Disabled Members Caucus were in the process of using the Spring Conference to launch a discussion on the type of policies we believe are necessary after successive neoliberal led governments have attacked the basic civil and human rights of disabled people. Our discussion would have taken place within the context of:
The prospect of a strengthened May government is frightening and for huge numbers of disabled people the memory of a New Labour government’s carrot and stick approach still lingers. Under the present circumstances the Disabled Members Caucus believes we have little choice but to outline the basic policy areas we would want a Labour government to develop during its first term in office. The outline will draw upon the framework offered above plus a critique of existing policy positions put forward in the Labour Party’s mini manifesto of 2015. We acknowledge that over the past twelve months Labour have held a Disability Equality Roadshow led by Debbie Abrahams MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. However this has not gone beyond its consultation phase and therefore there is no clear shift in policy direction as yet. Many disabled activists have expressed concern about the appointment of Maria Rimmer as Shadow Minister for Disabled People because of her perceived lack of awareness around disability politics. Currently, the Labour Party shows little or no understanding of the social approach towards disability and therefore provides no indication of a willingness to break with the traditional deficit approach found in its existing policies.
Improving the lives of disabled people?
In 2015 Labour’s mini manifesto stated:
“[…].Britain will only succeed when everyone has the opportunity to achieve their potential, and where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. We are proud of the progress we made under the last Labour government to remove barriers to equality and to improve the life chances of disabled people.”
This view of the Blair government is in sharp contrast with the assessment of many disabled people. Disabled People Against Cuts had written four years previous to this view:
“Disabled people in Britain had already become a target under the Labour Government’s welfare reform programme and its chief advisor crossed over to the Conservatives shortly before the General Election.”
Like many nondisabled people, large numbers hoped that the election of Corbyn as Labour leader would mark a decisive break with the past and the influence of the American insurance company UNUM on welfare issues would be ended. What can still be adopted and taken forward from this Blair era is the policy document, “Improving Life Chances of Disabled People”, which was written by disabled people. Although dated, it does offer a reasonable framework, and many activists question why the Disability Equality Roadshow hadn’t made more use of it. What is vital over the next month is that Labour can demonstrate to disabled people that they can be trusted; that what they can offer is more than ambiguous rhetoric around equality and removing barriers. The last twenty years has seen disabled people face increased poverty, the loss of independence, and reduction or loss of services and support. As disabled people we are looking to the Labour Party to reverse our fortunes and to engage with us in challenging not just discriminatory practice experienced by individuals but the institutional social restrictions that exist in the labour market, transport, housing, education, etc.
Disabled people expect Labour to tackle inequality and social injustice
So what are some of the key areas of policy Labour need to develop?
Improving Welfare Support:
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.
Access to Health and Support Services:
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.
Left Unity Disabled Members Caucus 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 view held by DPAC in 2015 that:
Access to Justice:
This is a broad outline of the key areas Left Unity Disabled Members Caucus will be championing in the run up to the General Election and beyond.
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