Why this election is personal
The disability vote and why it matters
The UK is now in the midst of a General Election campaign. I have been a political activist in the UK and US since I was 14, and this time is no different. I’m involved in organisation and campaign strategy. I also manage several social media accounts to support our local candidates.
I’m doing all of this because I want a change of government.
But for me, this is not just about voting Labour, a party I passionately believe in. A party that has the best policies to give us greater equality. In Jeremy Corbyn we have a leader who seeks a great distribution of wealth, and goverment for the many, not the few. The election is also about what this cruel and heartless government and the two preceding ones have done to disabled people.
Almost 19% of UK citizens have a disability. For most of us, we were either born with the disability, or we have become disabled having worked for many years. Those of us who have congenital conditions often suffered as children. Sometimes through neglect and sometimes through ignorance. Those of us who have acquired disabilities frequently find that even though want to work again, even part-time, that option is not possible.
I have one friend, A GP who used to work with drug addicts. He has had a stoke, and as a result needs a wheelchair to get around. But his home is not wheelchair accessible, so he is denied a wheelchair. If he had a wheelchair, kept in his car or in a garage, he would be able to work again. But this is now denied him. All his years of training and expertise have gone to waste. He cannot afford to move, as he can’t get a mortgage because he’s not working.
I have another friend, she has a congenital condition, and experienced a abusive childhood. She has trained as an actor and voice coach. Most of her work opportunities are in London. But she can’t afford to live here. So she struggles to survive on part-time hourly paid jobs with no security. She is also in constant pain and cannot afford ‘time out’ for the surgery she needs.
These storied are replicated all over the UK. I know other people who could work part-time, but cannot get the care support they need to enable to be employable.
So this election is personal for me and for my disabled friends. We are asking to become valued members of society again. It is wrong to view us as scroungers or cheats. We have skills aplenty – but need accessible transport and work environments. We need employers to treat us, and all workers, fairly. Did you know most people who use food banks are actually in work?
We need an NHS, free at the point of delivery that is run for the benefit of patients, not for managers or private companies bidding to run services. We need more nurses, especially in mental health, who are paid properly for the work they do. We want properly funded schools for our children and grandchildren. The money this would take can easily be found if companies and Tory backers no longer have ‘sweetheart tax deals’.
The only way that can happen is if people vote out Theresa May and her cronies.
Disabled people are becoming more involved in this election than ever before. My next post will give the story of what’s happening.
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.