Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves has caused outrage among disabled activists after declaring in an interview that Labour was “not the party of people on benefits”.
In an interview in the Guardian, Reeves said: “We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, [as]the party to represent those who are out of work.”
She added: “Labour are a party of working people, formed for and by working people.”
Bob Ellard, a member of the Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) steering group, said on Twitter that he had resigned his membership of the party as a result of Reeves’ comments, “as it is clear that non-working disabled people are not wanted within @UKLabour”.
In a blog on its website, DPAC said the remarks were a “huge disappointment” for those who had expected Labour to “take a principled stand against what the coalition is doing to unemployed and disabled people who cannot work, lone parents, carers and pensioners who rely on benefits”.
DPAC also pointed out that Reeves’ comments appeared to suggest – incorrectly – that it was not possible to be both working and claiming benefits such as personal independence payment.
It added: “Is the assumption that claiming benefits only happens to others, slightly apart from the rest of the human race, and who don’t deserve to be represented although they are already the most politically marginalised and unrepresented group?”
Pat Onions, founder of Pat’s Petition, said: “Rachel Reeves is the shadow minister for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
“If she doesn’t want to represent people on welfare then she needs to find another job.
“Sick and disabled people are trying to defend themselves against [Conservative DWP ministers] Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey.
“If Rachel Reeves doesn’t want to speak for them then she needs to get out of the way and let someone who does want to speak for them step up.”
Disabled activist and blogger Steven Sumpter, who tweets at @latentexistence, said on Twitter that it was not possible to “ask for a clearer statement of how Labour aren’t going to help”.
Reeves has so far failed to say whether she stands by her comments.
But the Guardian journalist who wrote the article, Amelia Gentleman, said on Twitter that Reeves had gone on to say in the interview that the welfare state “was always supposed to be there to protect people in times of need, whether that was because they lost their job, or they became disabled, or they had a child who is disabled, to help with the cost of childcare, to help you when you are no longer earning because you are retired.”
And she said Reeves had added: “I want to ensure that the welfare state is there for my children and their children in the future.”
Fellow shadow ministers also scrambled to defend Reeves on Twitter.
Kate Green, the shadow minister for disabled people, tweeted that Reeves believed that “Labour represents everyone whether in work or out of work. That means a strong safety net.”