Labour has broken its promise to implement the UN disability convention into UK law if it wins the next general election, according to confidential party policy documents.
The party was insisting until at least July this year that a Labour government was “fully committed” to incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) into law.
The pledge was part of the party’s manifesto at the last general election in 2019.
UNCRPD is currently not incorporated into UK law, which means that its protections, including article 19, which provides a right to independent living, and articles on areas such as health, inclusive education and housing, are not legally binding in the UK, although they can influence court decisions.
Labour leader Keir Starmer backed the policy during his leadership campaign in February 2020, telling Disability News Service (DNS): “Before I was elected as an MP, I was a human rights lawyer and I spent a career championing human rights and the work of organisations, including the United Nations.”
And the pledge has been repeated more recently by the party’s shadow minister for disabled people, Vicky Foxcroft.
On last December’s international day of disabled people, she tweeted: “We promise to incorporate the UNCRPD into UK law to tackle discrimination and ensure better support and protection for the most vulnerable.”
And in July, in an email to a disabled campaigner, Foxcroft said: “Regarding your questions on policy, Labour is fully committed to incorporating the UNCRPD into law and working in co-production with disabled people in our entire approach to policy.”
But this week DNS obtained a copy of Labour’s National Policy Forum (NPF) documents, which have not been published.
The documents will form the basis for Labour’s general election manifesto and will be put to the party’s annual conference in Liverpool next month.
Although the NPF document on equality repeats Foxcroft’s pledge on co-production, there is no mention of the promise to incorporate the UN convention into UK law.
Instead, the party says: “We will honour our commitments to the United Nations’ Convention for the Rights of Disabled People and ensure its principles are reflected across government to create policies which remove barriers to equality and focus on disabled people’s representation at all levels of government.”
Kathy Bole, chair of Disability Labour, said she was “angry” that the party had not kept its “vital” promise on the UNCRPD.
She said: “The failure to make a pledge on the UNCRPD shows an inherent failure to commit to making things better in the UK for disabled people and shows that the party isn’t listening.
“If we don’t get the UNCRPD enshrined in UK law it leaves the door open to further discrimination against disabled people.”
Mark Harrison, a member of the steering group of Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, said: “What we know with this Labour leadership is that the rhetoric doesn’t match the reality.”
He said that Labour’s co-production in recent months and years had in reality been “tokenistic consultation” and that the reference to honouring commitments to the convention “isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”.
He said: “After 13 years of being on the sharp end of the Tories war on disabled people we know that to undo the damage and level the playing-field a Labour government will have to have a radical programme and invest massively in righting the wrongs.”
Nuala Toman, from Disabled People Against Cuts Northern Ireland, said: “Disabled people in the UK have experienced nothing but neglect, discrimination and marginalisation at the hands of successive British governments.
“The commitment made by Labour in 2017 [and 2019] to incorporate the UNCRPD into domestic law presented a real opportunity for change.
“Incorporation of the UNCRPD would ensure that the rights of disabled people are protected in domestic law alongside greater investment in services and financial support.
“By turning their back on this commitment, Labour are turning their backs on disabled people at a time when we need them most.”
Vicky Foxcroft, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, declined to comment on specific elements of the NPF documents this week.
But she told DNS in a statement: “The National Policy Forum plays an important role in shaping Labour’s policy platform, but this is not the end of the journey.
“The report outlines a credible and ambitious policy programme that will be further discussed at our party conference and we will set out our manifesto in full before the next general election.
“Unlike the Tories, Labour is committed to co-production and ensuring we work with disabled people right from the start.”
In the NPF equality document, the party also promises to “take its responsibility to conduct equality impact assessments of major announcements seriously”.
And it says it will “ensure that political parties can take the action necessary to deliver and maintain diverse elected representatives, including greater representation of Women, Black, Asian and minority ethnic people, disabled people and LGBT+ people, through positive action measures”.
October’s party conference will decide which parts of the NPF documents are included in the party programme.
Ahead of a general election, Labour representatives will then attend a so-called clause V meeting to decide which elements of the party programme will be included in the manifesto.
Picture: Vicky Foxcroft (left) and Keir Starmer
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