Labour will always defend the rights of the disabled

Our failure to build an economy in which disabled people can play their full part leaves us all the poorer.

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.

Rachel Reeves is shadow work and pensions secretary and MP for Leeds West
 
Kate Green is shadow minister for disabled people and MP for Stretford and Urmston
Demonstrators protest against the bedroom tax outside the High Court on May 15, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

Rachel Reeves is shadow work and pensions secretary and MP for Leeds West

Kate Green is shadow minister for disabled people and MP for Stretford and Urmston

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.