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?  

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.