Ed Miliband has talked of building a One Nation Britain in which everyone’s rights are respected, everyone’s contribution recognised, and in which everyone has a responsibility to play their part. Nowhere could the notion of One Nation be more tested than in the way we treat disabled people – whether at work, at home, in the community and in our democracy.
Last year, the eyes of the world were on the UK as we hosted the successful and joyous Paralympic Games – and celebrated dozens of medal wins. There’s no question the Paralympics brought disabled people into the spotlight. According to a recent survey from the charity Scope, most think the impact on public attitudes was very positive.
But today, as we mark the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we must acknowledge that there’s still a long way to go. Scope’s survey also found that more than half of disabled people report continuing discrimination in their daily lives as the Paralympics effect begins to fade. As set out in Labour’s own report, Making Rights a Reality, disabled people experience unacceptable levels of disadvantage, exclusion, stigma, abuse, violence and hate crime.
Our failure to build an economy in which disabled people can play their full part leaves us all the poorer. Many disabled people work, and more want to. But they’re less likely to be working than non-disabled people, and when they are in work, they earn less, and they progress less.
Labour believes all disabled people who are able to work should work, and should have the chance of decent employment. That’s why we want to make work work better for disabled people, developing better support to help them gain the skills they need.
Luckily, good employers, like Sainsbury’s, which we’re visiting today, or Central Manchester Hospitals, already recognise the potential of disabled people, and the value they bring to their business. Imaginative employers work with their disabled staff to adapt their workplaces, and to give real chances to disabled people.
Beyond the workplace, disabled people fulfil many other roles in society – as family members, friends and neighbours, and as volunteers, citizens and campaigners. We should recognise and celebrate all these roles - yet too often we exclude people, judge and condemn them.
Volunteering is important to many disabled people. But too often cuts to services, like local community transport or day centres and lunch clubs, or rigid and unfair benefits rules, shut them out. And the vicious and unfair bedroom tax risks tearing many away from the roles and relationships they have developed.
The government’s lobbying bill – now "paused" for six weeks in response to widespread opposition to proposals to limit the activities of campaigning groups – could have dire effects for disabled campaigners. It is simply is unacceptable that additional obstacles should be placed in the way of disabled people.
It is the very worst and most shocking cases, like last week’s horrifying story of the murder of Bijan Ebrahimi, or the scandal at Winterbourne View, that ram home the message that every barrier we put in the way of disabled people’s participation, every derogatory comment that’s made, whenever undignified or demeaning treatment is tolerated, ultimately lead to, and help to legitimise, the most unspeakable and evil cruelties.
No civilised society should tolerate that, and Labour never will. We pledge that we will always speak out against dishonest, stigmatising, hurtful and offensive portrayals of disabled people, and that we will celebrate their lives and their contribution to our communities. And today, as we mark UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we are proud to do just that.