Labour shadow ministers have been accused of “paying lip service to disabled people”, after the party commissioned a report on breaking the link between disability and poverty and then refused to publicise its conclusions.
The Disability and Poverty Taskforce was set up by the party last June, and was chaired by Sir Bert Massie, the former chair of the Disability Rights Commission.
The work was carried out on a shoestring budget, with none of the six members paid for their work, but their Breaking the Link between Disability and Poverty report was published last week on Labour’s Your Britain policy development website, with no accompanying press release or comment from the party.
Labour had originally suggested a joint press conference to mark the launch of the report, then downgraded that to just issuing a press release, and finally decided not to publicise the report at all.
The party acknowledged its publication only with a brief message on the website from the “policy development team”, which stated: “Dear Bert Massie. Thank you for posting a new submission. All submissions go forward to the relevant policy commission for discussion as part of our policy development programme, Agenda 2015.”
Sir Bert told Disability News Service (DNS): “There is some anger that it has not been given some prominence by the Labour party.
“I think it would have been more respectful to the taskforce. All of them put a lot of effort into the report.”
Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Kate Green, failed to share a link to the report on Twitter, although she did find time to tweet a picture of herself welcoming the arrival of the Easter Bunny in her constituency, and a report by the disability charity Scope.
Sir Bert said he had not been expecting the party to accept immediately all of the report’s recommendations, but he was still “disappointed” by the response.
He said: “What the party could have done was say that this report was not by some casual member of the public. This was a taskforce set up at the instigation of the Labour party.
“I think the report should have been given more status than it was given, and I have said this to them.”
He added: “We have had a government which has been truly beastly to disabled people and I think many people are looking for an alternative… and this gives the wrong message out.”
But he said he had been given an assurance that the report was “not being buried” by Labour.
Kaliya Franklin, a member of the taskforce, said the failure to publicise the report “sends a clear message” that the party was “paying lip service rather than genuinely believing that it should make disabled people a priority”.
Neil Crowther, another member of the taskforce, said: “There is a deep sense of disappointment that, after all of our hard work on a report which the party had actively sought, we haven’t even been shown the courtesy of our proposals being formally publicly acknowledged or given the promise that they will be responded to.”
He said he hoped that this did not signal that the report was “dead in the water”.
He added: “I’d simply like them to publicly welcome the report and without making any commitments at least say that they will give our ideas active consideration in due course.”
One Labour party member, Jane Young, a leading disabled consultant, said she was “disgusted and furious” with how the report had been posted on the Your Britain website as if it was an “unsolicited contribution”.
In a post on the website, she said: “The level of discourtesy is off the scale.
“This bears the signs of a deliberate intent to bury and belittle the hard work undertaken by the Task Force to produce a reasonable, well-argued report to help Labour develop credible, effective policies to support almost one-fifth of the population they seek to represent.”
Green apologised for the way the report’s publication had been dealt with.
She told DNS: “I am very sorry if anyone feels there has been disrespect to Bert, for whom I have a great deal of admiration, or anyone else on the taskforce, because I think they put in a huge amount of effort, attention and care, and really shared their knowledge and expertise very generously.
“It is absolutely not my intention to have caused offence or disrespect and I am very sorry if anyone feels that that is the case.
“I take Bert’s remarks on board. I understand that people did have offence and disrespect and for that I very much apologise and very much regret. I’m very grateful for all the work that was put in.”
She said that publishing the report on the Your Britain website meant that it was now “in the mainstream of our policy-making process”, and that it was important that there was now a “substantive, detailed discussion, with disabled people very much at the heart of the discussion”.
She insisted that much of the report was “absolutely the kind of policies we want to develop and explore”.
She eventually published a blog about the report, seven days after it was launched.
Labour has also been criticised for refusing to ensure the taskforce’s report was available in easy-read format, to make it more accessible to people with learning difficulties.
Sir Bert said the taskforce told the party two months ago that this was crucial.
He said: “There should have been an easy-read version. They know my views very clearly, I think.”
Franklin said she even obtained a quote from a charity to do the work for less than £300.
She added: “I can’t understand why you would commission a report about disabled people, by disabled people, for disabled people, and not realise the importance of accessible formats.”
Crowther said the party’s failure to produce an easy-read version sent a “deeply damaging signal”.
And Anne McGuire, who played a key part in commissioning the report, as Green’s predecessor as shadow minister, said on Twitter: “Unsure why no ‘easy read’ Disability & Poverty Report & needs fixed. I know folk are angry but hope excellent work of Task Force is not lost.”
1 May 2014