You may ask why disabled Labour party members feel they need a group at all. The party does not discriminate against the disabled. Labour is an all-inclusive party where all members are valued. We are socialists so how could this not be so? Disabled people should be enabled to participate in all walks of life, including party politics.
Some room for Improvement
Sadly the Labour Party sometimes, unintentionally, disenables disabled people by failing to remove barriers to that participation. One aim of the disability group is to identify such barriers and seek ways to overcome them. We are not just talking about the obvious physical barriers, like holding meetings and other events in buildings with no disabled access, but a whole host of other issues that might not be apparent to a non-disabled person.For instance, even if a building has excellent disabled facilities, it is no good if it has little or no parking close by, is not served well by public transport, or is on a street that is poorly lit, or has narrow and uneven pavements. The group also intends to look at the problems faced by people with hidden disabilities and seek ways to remove any barriers which would prevent them from being active members of the Labour Party. Attending meetings, especially if you don’t really know what to expect can be daunting for anyone, it must be very hard indeed if you have a mental health problem, or suffer from anxiety. Anyone with a specific learning disability, like ADHD, could find LP meetings difficult to follow. Members with sight loss could have difficulties, both with accessing the venue and fully participating, due to minutes and agendas being on paper, often with small print. Meetings can also pose a problem for members with hearing loss, especially if a meeting gets noisy. One task for the disabilities group is to find a way to make all party meetings disabled friendly, whether the disability is physical, sensory, mental, learning or any other.
Another of our aims is to keep disability rights at the forefront of Labour Party policy. We are pleased to note that John McDonnell has told the National Disabled People’s Summit that disabled people and their organisations will determine and implement the disabilities policies of the next Labour Government. We aim to ensure that this promise is fulfilled. It is well known that mental health problems are on the increase and the help available is decreasing rapidly. The Labour Party must put pressure on the Government to halt this decline and ensure that people suffering from mental health issues are able to get medical help in their local area. Our group will strive to keep this issue in the forefront of Party policy. We also aim to keep highlighting, by any means at our disposal, the savage cuts in benefits this government has inflicted on some of the most vulnerable members of our society. While the super-rich hide their wealth in off-shore tax havens, sick people are forced to choose between being warm or being fed. Some are even dying of malnutrition or cold. This is the sixth richest nation on the planet. The switch from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) has been a disaster for the greatest majority of disabled people. Every day disability organisations are reporting more cases of benefits being stopped causing hardship, despair and sometime, even suicide. In an article in the Guardian on 10 November 2017, journalist, Adam Jacques reports how his wife attempted to take her own life after being denied the benefit. Jacques tells how his wife, who suffers with a long standing mental health condition, was awarded zero points at her assessment. During that assessment Mrs Jacques had been in acute distress, her body was rigid, her lips were trembling and her eyes were filled with tears. Her assessor stated that she appeared to be functioning normally. The supporting medical evidence was overlooked. To make matters worse, this year new guidelines for the mobility component of PIP were introduced. Claimants whose mobility is restricted because of psychological problems are no longer entitled to this component of PIP. ‘We want to make sure that we get the money to the really disabled people who need it’ said George Freeman, on behalf of the government.
Recognizing ALL disabilities
This is clearly saying that mental ill health is less disabling than physical ill health. Is a person who is suffering from such extreme anxiety that using public transport or even walking outside is impossible, in less need than a person with an arthritic condition, which makes walking painful? Surely both are in equal need. However this Government continues to stigmatise people with less obvious health conditions, Labelling them ‘scroungers’ and demonising them in the eyes of the general, tabloid newspaper-reading public. It is little wonder that hate crime against the disabled has risen dramatically. Another issue of great concern to disabled people, of working age, is the iniquitous Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Even government figures admit that around ninety people a month are dying, after being declared fit for work at a WCA. This does not include the suicides that WCAs are directly responsible for. Countless numbers of people are living in fear of the ‘brown envelope’ containing their summons to attend an assessment. What sort of damage is all this doing to the health of people who are already sick? It would appear that this government is operating an undercover policy of eugenics, killing of the sick and disabled by stealth. It is well known that stress can cause ill health. This heartless, unfeeling government is causing severe stress to those who are already sick. It is little wonder that a significant number die. According to an Electoral Commission Report, some disabled people were unable to vote in this year’s general election. Some simply could not get inside the polling station, due to poor access or insufficient space for wheelchairs. Others reported that voting literature was difficult to read or understand. Some were unaware that they could ask for help from polling centre staff, or have someone with them. It is appalling that in 2017 people are being disenfranchised just because they have a disability. We must ensure that this is not repeated.
Disability is a problem for everyone
If you are reading this and thinking that disability is a problem for other people, take heed of the poem by Martin Niemoller. First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out. Because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out. Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out. Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me- and there was no one left to speak for me. Anyone can become disabled, no matter how fit they are. It can be sudden, the result of an accident or acute illness. It can be gradual as a health condition worsens. Disability rights should be the concern of everyone living in a caring society. The disability group of the M&LCLP will do all we can to improve the experience of disabled people in the Labour Party. The next election may not be so far away and we want to be able to use our experience and talents to help elect a Labour MP. We have much to offer. The constituency is now in the process of choosing a Labour Party candidate for the election. An all women shortlist will be drawn up soon. The group plan to invite members of that short list to hustings, where we can question them on disability issues. To sum up the main aims of the disability group they are; To ensure that disabled people are not disenabled by the Labour Party, but are able to take part in all activities. To keep disability rights to the forefront of Labour Party policy. To highlight the cuts to disability benefits the government are imposing. We may be a small group, in a small place, doing small things, but remember, Many small people who, in many small places, do many small things.
CAN ALTER THE FACE OF THE WORLD.