Keir Starmer has caused anger among disabled activists – including within his own party – after declaring publicly that Labour is “the party of working people”.
The Labour leader’s comment, in a speech to Scottish Labour’s annual conference, has reignited concerns that the party has abandoned disabled voters and will do so in its next general election manifesto.
It risks causing a similar rift with disabled activists to the one created by the party’s current shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, when she said seven years ago that Labour did not want to be seen as “the party to represent those who are out of work”.
Starmer (pictured) told the conference on Saturday: “We are the party of working people; our founding and defining mission.”
Later in his speech he added: “So we have a new opportunity now to have a Labour government that will be in partnership with business, to create work.
“Because Labour is the party of work, we always have been.”
There was no mention of disabled people in his speech.
Bob Ellard, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), resigned his Labour membership in 2015 over the Reeves comments.
This week he told Disability News Service (DNS): “Labour, by styling itself as ‘the party of working people’, will always fail to get elected by excluding millions of voters, disabled people who cannot work, or are excluded from the jobs market, family carers, unemployed people, stay-at-home parents, students, pensioners, just to mention a few.
“These millions of excluded voters will give up on Labour just as surely as Labour has given up on them.”
Linda Burnip, a DPAC co-founder, added: “As a disabled person and a pensioner I find this utterly offensive.
“Labour lost over 50 seats in Scotland to the SNP because of the attitude of Rachel Reeves and others, and frankly if they still haven’t learnt anything from that they don’t deserve to get any votes from disabled or older people.”
Kathy Bole, chair of Disability Labour, which is affiliated to the Labour party, said she was concerned that Starmer was validating negative stereotypes about disabled people.
She said: “It is concerning to me the leader of the Labour party is stressing the fact that the party is the party of working people.
“While many of its members are able to work, there are many who by illness or injury or by corporate employment constructs are unable to do so.
“Why are we having to have this conversation again? Why does the focus always have to alienate those who can’t work?
“This kind of rhetoric does nothing to banish the Tory trope of workshy disabled people unwilling to get a job.
“I would ask the Labour leader why he continues to validate these negative stereotypes?”
Starmer’s comments come as his party continues to face claims of discrimination against its own disabled members.
Labour’s general secretary, David Evans, was forced to promise at last autumn’s party conference that he would put an end to the years of discrimination experienced by disabled party members.
DNS has been reporting for several years on concerns raised by disabled Labour members about the barriers created by the party’s structures, policies and actions, both nationally and locally.
Labour’s press office and the party’s shadow minister for disabled people, Vicky Foxcroft, had both failed to comment by noon today (Thursday).
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…