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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To heal Britain’s cracks, it’s time for us northern graduates in London to return home

Isn’t it time for people like me, who’ve had privileges and experiences not open to everyone, to start heading back to our local communities, rather than reinforcing London’s suffocating dominance?

I’m from Warrington. The least cultured town in the UK. My town.

I moved to London almost exactly five years ago. Not because I particularly wanted to. Not because I wanted to depart the raucous northern town that I still call home. Because it was my only choice, really. I’d done my stint in the call centres and had some fun. But that couldn’t, surely, be my lot?

After university, I’d already started feeling a little weird and out of place back in Wazza. There were fewer and fewer people who didn’t look at me like I’d just fallen off a futuristic space flight that’d given me a different accent and lofty ideals.

Of course, that’s because most people like me had already skipped town without looking back and were all in the capital trying to strike beyond the ordinary.

The young, the cities, the metropolitan elite are still reeling after last week’s vote and wondering how people, half of our people, have got it so horribly wrong. We’re different, divided, done for.  

One thing I’ve clung onto while I’ve been in London is the fact that I’m from Warrington and proud. It might not be a cultured town, but it’s my town.

But I wasn’t proud of the outcome of the EU referendum that saw my town vote 54.3 per cent to 45.7 per cent to leave.

To be fair, even in my new “home” borough of Hackney, east London, the place with the third-largest Remain vote, one in five people voted for Brexit.

Yes, in one of London’s hottest and most international neighbourhoods, there are quite a lot of people who don’t feel like they’re being taken along to the discotheque.

Perversely, it was the poorest places in the UK that voted in largest numbers to leave the EU – that’s the same EU that provides big chunks of funding to try to save those local economies from ruin.

In many ways, of course, I understand the feelings of those people back in the place I still sometimes think of as home.

Compared to many suffering places in the UK, Warrington is a “boom town” and was one of the only places that grew during the last recession.

It’s a hub for telecoms and logistics companies, because, ironically, its good transport links make it an easy place to leave.

But there are many people who aren’t “living the dream” and, like anywhere else, they aren’t immune from the newspaper headlines that penetrate our brains with stories of strivers and scroungers.

Warrington is one of the whitest places in the UK, and I’m sure, to many locals, that means those immigrants are only a few towns away. There’s already a Polski sklep or two. And a few foreign taxi drivers. Those enterprising bastards.

We have never seriously addressed the economic imbalance in our economy. The gaping north-south divide. The post-industrial problem that politicians in Westminster have handily ignored, allowing the gap to be filled by those who find it quick and easy to blame immigrants.

When schemes like HS2, which is plotted to smash right through the place I grew up, are pushed against all of the evidence, instead of a much-needed, intercity Leeds to Liverpool investment to replace the two-carriage hourly service, it’s like positively sticking two fingers up to the north.

But I am also a big problem. People like me, who get educated and quickly head off to London when things aren’t going our way. We invested in ourselves, sometimes at state expense, and never really thought about putting that back into the places where we grew up.

There weren’t the right opportunities back home and that still stands. But, rather than doing something about that, people like me lazily joined the gravy train for London and now we’re surprised we feel more kinship with a 20-something from Norway than we do with someone who we used to knock on for when we should have been at school.

That’s not to suggest that our experiences in the capital – or mine at least – haven’t made us a thousand, million times better. 

I’ve met people who’ve lived lives I would never have known and I’m a profoundly better person for having the chance to meet people who aren’t just like me. But to take that view back home is increasingly like translating a message to someone from an entirely different world.

“You know, it’s only because you live in a country like this that a woman like you is allowed to even say things like that,” assured one of my dad’s friends down at the British Legion after we’d had a beer, and an argument or two.

Too right, pal. We live in what we all like to think is an open and tolerant and progressive society. And you’re now saying I shouldn’t use that right to call you out for your ignorance?

We’re both Warringtonians, English, British and European but I can increasingly find more agreement with a woman from Senegal who’s working in tech than I can with you.

It’s absolutely no secret that London has drained brains from the rest of the country, and even the rest of the world, to power its knowledge economy.

It’s a special place, but we have to see that there are many people clamouring for jobs they are far too qualified for, with no hope of saving for a home of their own, at the expense of the places they call home.

It’s been suggested in the past that London becomes its own city-state, now Londoners are petitioning to leave the UK.

But isn’t it time for people like me, who’ve had privileges and experiences not open to everyone, to start heading back to our local communities, rather than reinforcing London’s suffocating dominance?

We can expect local governments to do more with less, but when will we accept we need people power back in places like Warrington if we want to change the story to one of hope?

If this sounds like a patronising plan to parachute the north London intelligentsia into northern communities to ensure they don’t make the same mistake twice... Get fucked, as they say in Warrington.

It was Warrington that raised me. It’s time I gave something back.

Kirsty Styles is editor of the New Statesman's B2B tech site, NS Tech.