A Very Reasonable Adjustment
The Speaker of the House of Commons ruled recently that male MPs need not wear a tie when in the Chamber. There has been much fuss made in various newspapers about this. As well as ill-informed comments by MPs themselves. Many correspondents to letters pages seem to regard it as a lowering of standards.
The House of Commons is a strange and at times, eccentric place of work, with its old traditions and rules. All MPs still have a ribbon attached to their coat hook for hanging a sword on. Less than 20 years ago MPs still had a wear a collapsable top hat if they wanted to raise a point of order. MPs are also never referred to in the Chamber by their own name. My MP, for instance, is the Honourable Member for Vauxhall. MPs who are members of the Privy Council or have a knighthood are addressed as Right Honourable.
Such old style forms of address hardly sit well within a 21st century House of Commons. Many new MPs find themselves baffled by the procedures and customs. They do not make for a welcoming work environment. Some have likened it to going to Public School for the first time or even arriving at Hogwarts.
The Speaker, John Bercow gave no specific reason for his decision about ties other than it was for him as Speaker to decide what was “seemly and proper”. He continued saying that in his view; “a tie was no longer an essential part of business attire”.
But there is another story behind this announcement. That of making a “Reasonable Adjustment” at work for disabled people, as required by the Equality Act 2010. The new Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam, Jared 0’Mara has cerebral palsy and is unable to do up buttons on a shirt or fasten a tie. He had previously indicated that he may need to ask for such an adjustment.
John Bercow, like any manager in a workplace has had to make a sensible and pragmatic decision. And not wanting to cause embarrassment to a new MP who has a disability, he made a general announcement. Would it have been better to give a more specific reason? I think not. As disabled people we do not what to be called out for our differences. But we do need employers to make suitable and reasonable adjustments so we can do our jobs easily and well.
This is precisely what John Bercow has done. He has also handled his decision with tact and sensitivity. I wish all employers would behave in the same way.
Many City firms, still require their female staff to wear skirts and high heeled shoes to work. This sexist and outdated attitude should be long gone. It was at the end of the 1960’s that the then Speaker Dr Horace King decreed that women could wear trousers in the House of Commons.
Surely this too, is a change that all employers should be making? Women should have choice in what they wear to work.
The law requires reasonable adjustments for disabled people. I can see no reason to restrict dress codes just to those of us that need them, they should be equally valid for all.
This post first appeared in my Blog on the Huffington Post UK site, where more of my writing can be found.
My previous post was about the formation of two new campaigning groups within the Labour Party. However it did not give the back story as to why Project 125 and Party Participation and Disabled People were formed. This post explains why.
The “official” Disability group within the Labour Party is called Disability Labour (DL). It has a constitution and is recognised by the NEC, Labour’s governing body.
The way the group works, however, is bizarre. Whilst there is a committee consisting of a Chair, 2 Vice Chairs, a Secretary and Treasurer the people elected to these posts at the last AGM were not elected by the membership of Disability Labour as a whole. The electorate consisted of a small group of people who could afford to travel to Manchester to a venue that was not fully accessible. They elected members to an Executive Committee. The EC then agreed officer posts within themselves. Hardly democratic. There were requests for the meeting to be streamed to allow others members such as myself to participate. This was refused by the Chair. There were also calls to allow officers to be directly elected by the entire membership. This was also refused, despite it being allowed within the constitution.
Many members, including myself did not receive the calling notice for the AGM until 2 weeks before. This is a breach of the 28 day rule for calling a DIsability Labour AGM. The irony of the AGM being held on 1st April was not lost on us!
There is another absurd issue. All correspondence to members of Disability Labour can only be sent out via Labour HQ. The Officers do not have membership information and are reliant on others to send out mailings. I cannot fathom any reason for this. I’m a membership officer for a ward in my local Party. I receive the full membership list for that ward together with regular updates. Of course, I have to sign a confidentiality and proper use agreement. Why can the same system not operate within Disability Labour?
I cannot ascertain the number of members DL has. There are 97 members in their Facebook group. The majority of this group are vociferous in their dissatisfaction of the way the organisation is currently run.
The committee does not appear to meet at regular intervals. Members of DL are rarely given details of these meetings and in two years I and other members have never had sight of any minutes or decisions taken. There do not appear to be any audited accounts either.
Two of the current officers tell members that they have tried to resolve the issue of the membership list. However when some members have offered to assist with this process they have not received any response from the officers.
A recent thread on the DL Facebook page has asked if members are happy with the way DL is run. Not one person responding to that post is satisfied with the current arrangements.
I am also a member of LGBT Labour. Their membership system is totally different. No data is held by Labour HQ. Members who are eligible to join the group apply directly to the group and membership records are kept securely by the Secretary and Membership Secretary. There is absolutely no reason why the same system cannot apply to DL membership keeping. Nothing in the constitution of DL prohibits membership data being held by DL officers.
If membership data were to be transferred to DL officers, all that would be required is to inform members of the change and given them the opportunity to decline to have their personal information transferred.
There is nothing in the DL constitution that prohibits members from attending an EC meeting as observers. Previously members have not been given any information about when or where the EC is meeting. This week is the first time I’ve seen the date of an EC meeting. One officer broke ranks and chose to disclose it. As yet we do not know where the EC will meet. I have asked for details, I hope I will be given them, but I’m not holding my breath.
All of this bureaucratic nightmare has a major consequence. DL is not able to represent disabled people within the Labour Party. Many of us experience discrimination and side-lining. This is not acceptable. All sections of the party must comply with the Equality Act 2010.
Party Participation and Disabled People and Project 125, have been launched as a direct consequence of DL’s failure to advocate for its members. We wanted to bring these changes through DL, but that doesn’t seem possible at the moment.
DL should also be supporting the new Labour Shadow Secretary for Disabled People Marsha de Cordova in her role of challenging Tory policies thst cause misery to disabled people.
250 Labour Party members have joined Party Participation and Disabled People and Project 125 has 275 Labour members, both groups more than doubling the DL Facebook group membership.
The two new groups are buzzing with ideas and have committed volunteers wanting to contribute. The skills we have are welcomed and the collaborative working is a joy to be part of. Websites are under design and campaigning materials are being produced.
The Labour Party seeks to be ‘For the many and not the few’, but within its own ranks disabled people are often marginalised or ignored. Many people with disabilities cannot attend ward or constituency meetings. Venues are inaccessible to wheelchair users, there is no loop system or microphones to enable deaf people to participate. This breaches the Equality Act 2010. As yet, no one has sued their local Party. Some are entitled to, as the EA 2010 applies to any organisation with over 25 members. Thus it applies to the vast majority of Labour Party Constituency Organisations.
The current situation is a disgrace. As a Labour Party member I’m ashamed that DL is so badly run, and that it seems impossible for ordinary members to have any meaningful involvement. Change is needed. Change will happen, either within DL itself or by involvement from MPs and the leadership.
The question is when and by whom? It can’t come soon enough for me.