A disability charity has had to scrap plans to sponsor a disabled activist to attend the Labour party conference, after it was alerted to a string of offensive messages he sent other disabled campaigners on the social networking website Twitter.
Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD) had selected three disabled campaigners to attend this autumn’s Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative party conferences as part of a new scheme trialled last year.
The Access All Areas scheme is designed to “ensure politicians hear directly from disabled people about the issues that matter to them”, and provides an opportunity to attend the conferences to disabled people who “might otherwise never get the opportunity to go”.
The applications were considered by a panel in “an open and fair selection process”.
The three successful candidates were announced last month, but the decision to select Simon Stevens to attend the Labour conference in Brighton has proved controversial.
Stevens, from Coventry, is an experienced disability consultant, and is currently starring in Channel 4’s disability-themed prank show I’m Spazticus, but he has repeatedly offended and angered many fellow activists with aggressive and insulting tweets.
Many of his messages have been aimed at campaigners protesting at the government’s welfare cuts and reforms, particularly those angry at the standard of the work capability assessments (WCAs) carried out by Atos Healthcare.
He told one activist: “Get off your computer, how dare you use a computer and claim [you are] unable to work you fake git.”
And he told another: “I can guess you are either fat, abused alcohol or drugs with your many illnesses.”
He also tweeted that “only the fake disabled care about ATOS” and told his Twitter followers that disability living allowance was “zero to do with independent living, just free cars”.
Much of his anger has been reserved for the grassroots network Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), on one occasion saying – in response to the claim that “Atos kills” through its work on the WCA – that it was “DPAC who murders disabled people with their lies and hatred for disabled people”.
He also accused DPAC of celebrating suicides by publicising the deaths of disabled people who they say killed themselves as a result of the government’s “fitness for work” regime.
Stevens revealed last month in a blog on the Disability News Service (DNS) website why he had decided to work as a consultant with Atos, a decision which sparked anger among other disabled people on social networks.
Ian Jones, one of the disabled activists who complained to LCD about its decision to select Stevens, said he had been worried that the activist – who he described as a “divisive” figure – would say something offensive about other disabled campaigners at the party conference, and that this would be leaped upon by the mainstream media.
In an email to LCD, Jones said Stevens had again made “offensive comments on Twitter demonising all disabled people he does not accept are disabled by applying his own system of values”.
He added: “He is publishing offensive views in my opinion and simply his being disabled does not give him carte blanche to use hate speech against disabled people with impunity.”
He told DNS: “Free speech is one thing, but this is not free speech. This is disability hate speech.”
He said he feared that Stevens would “reinforce the anti-disabled people rhetoric that the electorate has been fed” if he was to attend the conference on behalf of LCD.
An LCD spokeswoman said: “We have decided to withdraw our support for an independent campaigner attending the Labour Party conference. We made this decision with regret after we had read recent public statements by them.
“The purpose of the Access All Areas programme is to enable campaigners to express their own personal views at conferences. But we have always made it clear to them that this should be done with courtesy and respect for others.”
Stevens has so far declined to comment.
5 September 2013