I’ve been struck by several related issues over the past week.
First David Cameron launches a hate-filled attack on disabled benefit claimants – the Prime Minister of the country openly advocating bigotry on national news – and the best Labour can manage is Stephen Timms, Shadow Minister for Employment, wetly agreeing with him that maybe people whose disabilities leave them subject to addictions or obesity don’t deserve benefits. I’m sorry, did I hear that right, a Labour politician endorsing deliberate and calculated advocacy of discrimination against disabled people by the Con-Dem Prime Minister, discrimination that will inevitably spill over to affect all disabled people, obese or not, benefit claimant or not, in direct contravention of the Equality Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People? So you would assume there would be a double outcry from Labour, Ed Milliband staking Cameron through the heart for his bigotry at Prime Minister’s Questions while Timms is rapidly stripped of the Whip and expelled from the Party. But no, nothing.
Now Neil Coyle, Labour councillor and Policy Director of the Disability Alliance, has published a piece at Left Foot Forward, which, while pointing out deliberate distortions in DWP press releases, goes out of its way to endorse ESA, and therefore the WCA, as responsible Labour policies working for the betterment of disabled people. I’m sorry, I must have missed the moment I slipped into an alternate reality….
It’s truly sad to see Labour still claiming that ESA was a positive move for disabled people, whereas the truth is that they, not the Con-Dems, designed the ESA system to deliberately distort the assessment process and force genuinely disabled people out of the disability benefits system and onto the harsher, uncaring, disability-hostile JSA — been there, done that, had to complain to ministerial level just to get JCP to acknowledge my disability. Talk to individual disabled people and they will tell you of their genuine fear of ESA and describe the horrific abuse of the WCA system by ATOS and their tame quacks.
This isn’t a new Con-Dem plot, it is the system working as Labour designed it. Deliberate demonisation of disabled benefit claimants by DWP press-releases coordinating hate-ridden tabloid vitriol didn’t start under the Con-Dems, these press releases have been happening for several years now and disabled people were expressing their concern while Labour were still in power. The farcical plans for WCA and DLA assessments based on an access-all-areas imaginary wheelchair (yes, really!) aren’t something the Con-Dems dreamed up since coming into office, this is another Labour policy idea they are implementing to the detriment of disabled people. And while individual disabled people are banding together in groups like DPAC, Broken of Britain and WTB to fight for their right to be treated as equals and for the system to recognise and cater for the reality of their disabilities, Ed Milliband sits on his hands and does nothing for us beyond occasionally quietly admitting that he agrees with Con-Dem policy on the matter — the betrayal of disabled people by Labour is absolute.
If the Policy Director of the Disability Alliance truly believes that ESA is a positive step for disabled people then it is time for him to resign, because he has forsaken any claim to understanding how disabled people are being affected, to believing in ‘Nothing For Us, Without Us’ and has betrayed the confidence of disabled people in his ability to place their needs above party-political allegiance, and the same can be said for Labour as a whole.
Where is the party that is supposed to stand for everyman, to fight for real equality, to ensure a system that is fair for all regardless of class, creed, colour or disability? Is it sleeping, licking its wounds, is it sacrificing us for the electoral expediency of a good headline about people suffering under the Con-Dems, or is the unpalatable truth that Labour is just as actively disablist as the Con-Dems?