Labour party conference: Miliband’s radar ignores disabled people… again


newslatestLabour leader Ed Miliband has delivered another snub to disabled people, after delivering an hour-long speech to his party’s annual conference without mentioning them once.

During his much-criticised speech, Miliband found time to mention young people, older people, businesses, entrepreneurs, charities, nurses, teachers, members of the armed services and public service workers.

There were 19 references to “family” or “families”, 12 to young people or young women, and discussion of private sector renters, apprentices, home-owners, NHS patients, doctors, midwives, care workers, the English, the Welsh and the Scottish, as well as LGBT people and charities.

Although he announced that a Labour government would fund 3,000 more midwives, 5,000 more care workers, 8,000 more GPs and 20,000 more nurses, he did so by pointing to NHS patients and “the scandal of home care visits for the elderly restricted to just 15 minutes”, ignoring again the needs of working-age disabled people.

Two years ago, at the party’s annual conference in Manchester, Miliband faced similar criticism when he managed to discuss the social care crisis without referring to working-age disabled people, whose needs make up one third of the social care budget.

During this week’s speech. he even managed to talk about scrapping the “bedroom tax” without mentioning disabled people, even though two-thirds of households in England affected by the removal of what the government calls the spare room subsidy contain a disabled person.

The speech came just three days after Miliband shocked party activists by making a disablist “joke” about being taken away “by the men in white coats”.

A row also developed after several disabled delegates were moved from their reserved seats, apparently because party officials were worried about “safety” issues, as Miliband’s exit route after his speech would pass directly in front of them.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London and part of a group representing the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) at conference, said of Miliband’s speech: “We are deeply disappointed that there was no explicit mention of disabled people, given the disproportionate impact of current government policies on disabled people.

“It is really not on his radar.”

And Tara Flood, director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education, another member of the ROFA delegation, said: “I couldn’t really see much between Miliband’s vision and what we have seen from the Conservatives, and that is a very sad thing.”

But Kate Green, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, defended Miliband.

She described his speech as “strategic, long-term, very thoughtful, very analytical” and “very forward-looking”.

When asked why he hadn’t mentioned disabled people, she said: “I don’t think you look for policy specifics in a speech, you look for signals.

“I think that the big message that Ed was saying was that everyone is valued and our country works better when everyone is pulling together, and obviously disabled people are very much at the heart of that.

“There will be many opportunities to mention disabled people; more than mention them.”

But Lazard said: “It is not good enough to say that he means everyone. There should be a sufficient understanding of exclusion and discrimination and marginalisation for him to realise it is important to name specific groups.”

25 September 2014