My name is Jean Withers and I am the Disability Officer for Morecambe and Lunesdale CLP. A task I have taken on only recently and therefore, am still finding my feet.
I first joined the Labour Party in 1966, yes I did say 1966, I was just sixteen years old. My father, who had died four years earlier, had been an active member and I used to enjoy going to all the children’s activities provided at our local Labour Hall in Walkden near Manchester. The Christmas Parties were wonderful, I remember.
My paternal grandmother was also a very enthusiastic supporter; in fact, I think my first task for the party was to help her stuff envelopes, during the 1959 General Election, at her home in Birkenhead. She would tell me all about the ‘bad old days’ the grudging handouts paid to the poor, the soup kitchens, and the casual labour system, very prevalent in the docks on both sides of the River Mersey. We were so thankful that such times were past, gone for good. How wrong we were.
So this is how I first came to be a member of the Labour Party. It all seemed to make sense. The remarkable work of the 1945 Government in setting up a Nation Health Service and a Welfare State seemed something to be proud of; something I never thought could be in any danger.
I remained a member, sometimes active, sometimes not, for the next three decades or so, till the Blair years. Then like so many others I left, disillusioned by the direction the party was taking. Why was a Labour government, with a large majority not repairing the damage done by the pernicious Tory’s? It seemed that there was little to choose between them.
I came back after the election of 2015, appalled at what the Tory and Lib Dem co-elation had done to the country. We might not have soup kitchens but we do have food banks, what is the difference? And zero hours contracts, are they not just another form of the casual labour system my grandmother had told me about? Something we thought had gone forever. Even our wonderful NHS, without which, I would not be here, is in danger. The Tories would like to privatise it. I cannot stand back and do nothing; I have children, grandchildren and great- grandchildren to think of. So I have re-joined. I attend meetings, both at branch and constituency. This year I did what I could to help in both the Local and General Elections. Because I my disability, I have arthritis and can’t walk very far, I could not go door knocking, like I used to do. However I sat at the polling station taking numbers for most of the day at the local election and ran a committee room at the general. Both tasks were very interesting and I really enjoyed being back in the swing of things, after so many wilderness years. Only going to vote. I never stopped voting Labour, by the way.
One group that has been especially harshly treated since 2010 is the disabled. The policy of austerity, which is a policy not an economic necessity, has had a disproportionate impact on disabled people, especially those of working age. In August 2015 the government, reluctantly released data that showed that around 90 people a month are dying after being declared fit for work by the iniquitous Work Capability Assessment. I personally know individuals who live in fear of the ‘brown envelope’ requesting their attendance at one of these assessments. I know, as I former volunteer with Samaritans, that many suicides are directly linked to W.C.A. The closure of The Independent Living Fund deprived 20.000 people of the help they need. These are sick people and we are one of the richest nations on the planet.
Disabled people continue to face barriers in their daily lives. However, I believe that it is society at large that places those barriers. I see it as my job to make the local party as barrier free as possible. I am not just referring to physical and sensory disability. Often those with ‘hidden problems’ are forgotten. I am thinking of the difficulties caused by poor mental health, such as depression, anxiety and other problems. Long term health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease or epilepsy for example. And problems caused by specific learning difficulties, I have dyslexia and dyspraxia, without a computer I would not have been able to write this, even with one it has taken me twice as long as someone without such conditions. Other SLD would include autism and ADHD among many others. We must remember, not all disabilities can be seen.
Those of us who face the daily challenges of disability, I also have arthritis, whatever the cause are equal citizens deserving equality. We are not a problem that needs fixing, it is society that needs fixing and public opinion that needs changing. Hate crime, against the disable has increased and, I am sad to say, become commonplace for many disabled people. It needs to be recognised and treated for what it is, hate crime. It would help if the media, especially the tabloid press would stop demonising disabled claimants and labelling them as scroungers.
Jeremy Corbyn has been proud to support the actions of Disabled People Against Cuts. This excellent organisation has managed to force the government to backtrack on making further cuts to Personal Independence Payments. Further cuts on cuts, voted for by MPs who can claim more in expenses per year than some people have to live on.
The Labour Party is committed to building a society where everyone can achieve their full potential and disabled people can participate equally as citizens. I am proud to be a member of The Labour Party, and I want to do what I can to ensure that disabled members, like myself, are able to use their individual, unique, talents, skills and experience to bring about what we all want so much. A Labour Government, with a working majority for Britain and a Labour MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale.
Thank you for reading this. I hope you have found it interesting.
Maryland Gov Pics:Flickr.com