Labour launch their main manifesto. Photo:Getty
Show Hide image

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?  

Getty
Show Hide image

Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.