Labour launch their main manifesto. Photo:Getty
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Labour's disability manifesto: why are disabled people an afterthought?

 Labour will get the disabled vote if only to keep the Tories out. However, the crux of disabled living issues is that currently, disability inherently means poverty. I want to see plans for a country where I can earn like my my non-disabled peers, own my own home like my non-disabled peers - have a life, a family, a future like my non-disabled peers. This election, this vision of equality seems too much to ask.

For the past five years disabled people across the UK have been living in fear of the gentle 'phut' of a brown DWP envelope on their doormat. Benefit cuts, evictions, and ATOS assessments declaring people 'fit for work' have led to misery and poverty for the disabled population. As up to 16 per cent of working age adults, we represent a significant proportion of the electorate, so when the Labour party finally published ‘A better future for disabled people: mini-manifesto’ I thought we were in for a treat.

With five years in opposition to develop their position, however, the best it can be described as is cautious. Rather than policies paving the way for ‘a better future for disabled people’ this document is, as one DPAC member put it, “limp” - a paper promising to undo some of the reign of terror experienced by disabled people at the hands of the coalition but having few aspiration for the futures of disabled people beyond this.

One very welcome policy that stands out as a firm promise in a sea of wishy-washy proposals with no real action plan is the abolition of the under-occupancy penalty. Two thirds of the people penalised under the so called ‘Bedroom Tax’ are disabled people who needed their extra bedroom for their overnight carers or bulky medical equipment. Many people have faced the painful choice of losing their homes or going into debt. The discriminatory policy will not be missed, however the manifesto does not address how it will make amends to those who have gone into debt due to the policy and for people who have already been forced out into bedsits and smaller properties there is the question of what they can do now? In short, this policy is ‘too little, too late’.

A not so welcome policy claims to ‘overhaul’ the Work Capability Assessment. The WCA has made regular headlines over the course of the coalition, with the deaths of disabled people found ‘fit for work’. It has caused endless stress and worry to all ESA claimants and for some, has meant hunger and severe poverty. The voice of disabled people on this issue is united: reforming WCA is not enough. We want it scrapped.

Work is a central theme of the Labour party’s main manifesto so unsurprisingly there is much talk of getting 'into work' and support - but what will this support look like and what does 'support' even mean? Again we are left to fill in the blanks with our own imaginations. All parties want to get disabled people into work but little mention is made of finding us meaningful employment and fulfilling careers. ‘Work’ gets people off the more expensive benefits, whereas meaningful employment going beyond low and unskilled opportunities is where equality truly lies. As experts in illness why aren’t we supported to train as clinicians? Or as victims of injustice helped to train as lawyers?

A key message of the mini-manifesto is that Labour want to work with us in finding the solutions, yet I can see no evidence of them having consulted any disabled people’s organisations in the making of this document. Granted the authors have impairments but as MPs have not been subject to austerity measures and have escaped the poverty and disrespect that prevents us from achieving equality.

It's not hard to ask people what they want. The people I've spoken to want protection for the Independent Living Fund, an admission of our suffering and scapegoating throughout the cuts process, and the end of Work Capability Assessment in any form. These will be a start in getting us back to what we had achieved towards equality in pre-austerity times.

In terms of the big three parties (is that the big four now? Or five, six, or seven?) Labour will get the disabled vote if only to keep the murderous Tories out. However, the crux of disabled living issues is that currently, disability inherently means poverty. I want to see plans for a country where I can earn like my my non-disabled peers, own my own home like my non-disabled peers - have a life, a family, a future like my non-disabled peers. This election, this vision of equality seems too much to ask. With a new wave of hate and ‘scrounger’ rhetoric to combat, aiding disabled people is a potentially risky political move. Indeed, the most notable thing about the mini-manifesto is that is exists at all – why don’t disabled peoples’ issues make the grade for the “real” manifesto?  

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

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

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