As a very physically disabled wheelchair user with no working hands, I’ve found the last four years campaigning for the Labour Party hugely empowering. Disabled people have been amongst those most affected by the legal decisions in recent decades, both the huge steps forward under Labour governments to promote access and equality and the ravages of austerity.
One reason I’m running for the NEC is to show that someone as disabled as me can, and that our involvement in the party can and should go beyond disability issues. The simple truth is, though, that our party still has a long way to go when it comes to being truly open and accessible, both to people like me and those with other impairments and conditions.
I support Disability Labour in its calls for multiple improvements, from making sure meetings have proper access to ensuring those members who cannot make meetings are able to vote and be properly involved. It is ludicrous that in 2020 most meetings do not allow proxy voting for those medically or physically unable to attend – and the technology now exists to make it much easier to involve all, from online meetings to smartphone-based videoconferencing platforms. As on so much else, we should be a centre of excellence for disability involvement, and we are not.
Click here to see progress against Disability Labour’s 12 point plan from 2018. Significant progress has been made, but there is plenty more to do…
Indeed, some disabled members continue to report serious and unacceptable barriers to their involvement, including sometimes open prejudice and disdain when it comes to standing for election for either internal or external office. Our record on reasonable adjustments is not what it should be. Labour is right to be calling for the government-elected Access to Elected Office fund for disabled candidates to be reopened to provide financial support, but there’s much more the party could do itself.
I believe there should also be much more centrally coordinated effort to support disabled candidates and other minorities, including encouraging and helping them to run for office. Labour fielded five candidates at the last general election with acknowledged disabilities, an all-time record for the party. Still, with up to a fifth of the UK population declaring some form of disability or long-term medical condition, we have much further to go.
Only by involving disabled people in discussions will we truly be able to create disability health and social care policies that work. Disabled people welcomed Labour’s commitment to a National Care Service – but what many, including me, really want is a National Independent Living Service and a clear policy commitment to allow those like me to live independently if they wish. Many of us wish to work, but those who cannot need to be supported and current systems and thinking simply do not begin to manage that dynamic. We want to be more involved throughout the process – but also much more broadly in politics, policy-making and our party’s decision making.
For more information, see the Disability Labour website.