Welsh nationalists lead on rights ahead of Euro elections


newslatestPlaid Cymru is the party that appears to have the strongest commitment to disability rights, in advance of next week’s elections to the European parliament.

The Welsh nationalist party came out top in a survey of the seven biggest political parties in England, Scotland and Wales, carried out by Disability News Service (DNS).

Of the seven parties, Conservatives came bottom, scoring zero out of 10, closely followed by UKIP (1.5 out of 10).

Ahead of the 22 May elections, DNS selected 10 key policies from manifestos published by the two leading European organisations of disabled people, the European Disability Forum (EDF) and the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL).

DNS wanted to know whether the UK parties backed the policies around independent living, inclusive education, accessibility and discrimination that had been put forward by ENIL and EDF. Plaid Cymru said it backed all 10 policies “in principle”.

The Conservative party refused to say what its position was on any of the 10 policies, producing only a brief, two-sentence comment about its general policies on disability.

UKIP was unable to state its official position on the 10 policies, although its disability spokeswoman, Star Etheridge, said she “personally” supported three of the policies*.

The other five parties – Labour**, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party (SNP)**, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party – all backed proposed EU legislation on the accessibility of goods and services, and a proposed EU directive on the accessibility of public websites.

The five also backed a proposed non-discrimination directive, EU laws designed to protect disabled people and other groups from discrimination in all areas of life.

And the five parties all called for the EU and all member states to ratify the optional protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The protocol – which has already been ratified by the UK – allows someone to petition the UN if they believe their rights under the convention have been breached, as long as they have exhausted all possible court actions.

But of the five, only Plaid Cymru said it supported giving disabled people a legal right to independent living, a key, long-standing demand of the disabled people’s movement.

Plaid Cymru and SNP were the only two parties that backed the idea of a dedicated disability directorate within the European Commission – the European Union’s executive body – a suggestion put forward in ENIL’s manifesto in order to “ensure that the rights of disabled people receive the needed attention across all the policy areas”.

Only Labour, the Green party and Plaid Cymru agreed with preventing the EU from investing funds in segregated institutions for disabled people. ENIL makes it clear in its manifesto that such segregated initiatives “hinder community development, promote discrimination and sometimes leads to the horrendous abuse and death of disabled people”.

And only the Greens and Plaid Cymru said they agreed with inclusive education for all disabled children, which ultimately would mean an end to special schools.

The same two parties, as well as the SNP, also supported increased funding for local and national disabled people’s organisations.

The final policy initiative posed by DNS – again suggested by ENIL – was to reverse the austerity cuts to benefits and services for disabled people.

The Greens gave this policy their partial backing because, they said, any decision would need to be made in the run-up to the 2015 general election.

Labour provided a similar answer, but did repeat its pledge to scrap the bedroom tax.

The SNP said that a “yes” vote in this autumn’s referendum, and a subsequent SNP government in an independent Scotland, would “reverse the most damaging and counterproductive of the UK welfare changes”.

Plaid Cymru again gave this policy its backing “in principle”.

Neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats, the two parties of the UK coalition government, would say whether they were in favour of reversing the austerity cuts.

The final scores – although these are only intended to give rough guides to parties’ policies on disability – give Plaid Cymru 10/10; the Green Party 7.5; SNP 6.5; Labour 5.5; the Liberal Democrats 4; UKIP 1.5; and the Conservatives 0.

Jill Evans, Plaid Cymru’s MEP, said: “I wholeheartedly agree with the policies highlighted by Disability News Service.

“Plaid Cymru has worked hard on all levels of government to improve social and living conditions for disabled people.”

*Etheridge said she personally supported the policies on blocking EU funding for segregated institutions, increased funding for disabled people’s organisations, and reversing austerity cuts in services and benefits for disabled people, but had not obtained the support of the party’s policy director or its ruling council on those issues.

**The Labour and SNP answers are as suggested by general comments made to DNS in response to the 10 ENIL and EDF policies. Neither party was willing to confirm exactly which policies they agreed with.

15 May 2014