Around Britain, Labour Party

Empowerment, not barriers

Barry Rodin, recently re-elected Disability Officer for Orpington CLP, looks at how Labour can support campaigns for disability rights.

There are over 14 million disabled people in the UK. Yet, according to Scope’s research, nearly half the population do not know a disabled person. In reality, large numbers of disabled people continue to be excluded from many aspects of society.

Even before the pandemic, disabled people were significantly disadvantaged compared with the rest of the population. The number of families living in poverty where someone is disabled has risen by over a million since 2010. Disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people.

The pandemic has highlighted the generally inadequate support given to disabled people, including those with neuro-divergent conditions such as autism, Down syndrome, dyspraxia and dyslexia. Sometimes these conditions are associated with learning disabilities.

The disastrous combination of the pandemic and the social-care crises has resulted in younger people with learning disabilities aged 18 to 34 being 30 times more likely to die of Covid than others of the same age, according to Public Health England.

It has been reported by Mencap that people with learning disabilities have faced alarming discrimination and obstacles to accessing healthcare, with cuts made to their social care support. It was only in late February that the government belatedly prioritised vaccinations to people with severe learning disabilities.

A fundamental problem is that unless disabled people are given sufficient support, they can become disheartened and marginalised from society, and therefore inhibited from leading fulfilled lives.

A positive development in the Labour Party is the recent inclusion of Disability Officers on CLP Executive Committees to help ensure disabled members are involved in the work of the local party and encourage party campaigns to engage and include disabled voters.

Disability Labour, a socialist society, has the mission statement ‘Nothing about us, without us’, which fittingly summarises disabled people and their carers’ call for engagement, full civil rights and to be represented and heard at all levels of the Party. https://disabilitylabour.org.uk/our-aims/ .

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) (https://dpac.uk.net/) was formed by a group of disabled people against the Tory austerity cuts. DPAC believes that disabled people should have full human rights and equality. It has been in the forefront of the campaign to scrap Universal Credit.

Disabilities clearly cover a wide range of conditions and challenges, necessitating campaigns to be structured and publicised for particular categories of disability.

For instance, Neuro-divergent Labour, a representative and campaigning organisation of Labour Party members who are neurologically diverse, has just produced a manifesto outlining ways to effectively support neuro-divergent people and combat the experience of being systematically discriminated and excluded.

They have stated that a fundamental issue is that disability is caused by society creating barriers to the equal participation of impaired (or neurologically different) people, stressing the need to raise public awareness of neuro-diversity, which must be accepted not suppressed.

A whole range of measures have been advocated to achieve independent living, including social housing and accessible, publicly-controlled health and social-care services. The education system needs to recognise diversity in people’s learning style and pace, providing support with social interaction.

Other objectives cover: improving work conditions; greater opportunities for those who can work; reducing prejudice and discrimination against neuro-diverse people; ensuring the justice system is accessible to all neuro-diverse people; and promoting understanding, including neuro-diversity training, for all public service staff, teachers and other key workers.

More details are in the link: www.policyforum.labour.org.uk/commissions/manifesto-for-autistic-and-neurodivergent-people-s-rights?

An overriding objective is to develop a nationwide plan to enable disabled people to lead full and independent lives. The 2019 Labour Party manifesto for disabled people ‘Breaking Down Barriers’ gives such a strategy. This is even more vital today, given the pandemic’s disruptive impact.

The manifesto commits to eliminate disabled poverty. Measures include scrapping sanctions, Work Capability and Personal Independence Payment assessments and significantly increasing allowances, including disabled child benefits, employment support and carers’ allowances. Another key objective is reducing the gap between employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people.

‘Breaking Down Barriers’ pledges to increase disabled people’s employment rights, enable inclusivity in education, improve access to public transport, facilitate running for elected office and incorporate disability hate crime into law.

This manifesto provides a basis to build future strategic policies and campaigns (with disabled members in the vanguard). It is vital to raise public awareness of the diversity of disabilities and also the isolation and obstacles many disabled people endure.

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