Shadow minister admits colleagues need schooling on independent living


newslatestA shadow minister has warned that many of her fellow Labour MPs still need educating about the importance of independent living  for disabled people.

Kate Green, the shadow minister for disabled people, told a meeting held to launch the Just Fair consortium’s new report on the rights of disabled people in the austerity era that she believed she needed to start a “conversation” in the Labour party about the issue.

She told Disability News Service after the meeting that many of her fellow MPs were not in parliament when the last Labour government published its pioneering Independent Living Strategy in 2008, so there was a need to “habituate” them to the idea of independent living.

She said: “If you look at the make-up of the parliamentary Labour party there are a lot of people who were not here 10 years ago.

“I have to start by these conversations of opening people’s minds to the concept so they understand how you make that right in practice in every policy you are developing.

“I feel I haven’t heard the conversations and we need to open them up.”

The consortium’s report lays bare the coalition’s failure to meet its human rights obligations to disabled people under international law.

But Green told the launch that she was “more of an equality person than a human rights person” and felt she could make “faster progress” by using an equality argument rather than a human rights approach to disability rights.

Green also pointed to the government’s failure to send a minister to the Just Fair launch to respond to the report.

And she said it was telling that so much of the conversation around disability rights was now around trying to stem a reversal of rights, rather than pushing forward a progressive agenda.

She gave little away about the disability policies that might appear in Labour’s election manifesto next year, although she committed a Labour government to “proper rigorous assessment” of its policies and their effect on disabled people.

She said she was “entirely open-minded” about the prospect – suggested by the disabled peer Lord [Colin] Low – of the much-criticised work capability assessment being brought back in-house and carried out by civil servants.

But she added: “I am not easily persuaded that just because you take it back in-house you automatically make it better.”

But she said it was an irony that the “trajectory of disabled people’s rights” has been backwards since the last Labour government signed up to the UN disability convention in 2009, while the coalition had shown an “unforgivable” and “irresponsible indifference” to the consequences of its policies on disabled people.

The disabled activist and consultant Simon Stevens told the launch event that he was “very angry” with some disabled campaigners who focused on welfare issues when inclusion “isn’t even on the agenda”.

Green told him that she had criticised some disabled campaigners herself because “in an understandable need to fight for what has been lost and expose how very, very difficult that has been, people have lost their ambition for… a very, very different future”.

She also admitted that it might take five or 10 years or even “a generation” for disabled people to secure a legal right to independent living.

9 July 2014