Labour has admitted that it has still not appointed a shadow minister for disabled people, nearly three weeks after party leader Jeremy Corbyn completed a reshuffle of his top parliamentary team.
There has now not been a Labour shadow minister to hold the government to account on disability issues since the promotion of Debbie Abrahams (pictured) to shadow work and pensions secretary in July, more than three months ago.
Two weeks ago, on 12 October, a party spokesperson told Disability News Service (DNS) that the process for appointing a new shadow disability minister was “ongoing”.
But that process appears to have dissolved into confusion.
Corbyn’s official spokesman originally told DNS this week that there was to be no shadow disability minister, and that “the relevant Shadow Minister for Equalities is Paula Sheriff”.
When DNS asked why the party had decided it no longer needed a shadow minister for disabled people, he said he had made a mistake, and that “whilst it does come under Paula Sheriff’s Equalities brief, the designated Shadow Minister for Disabled People is Margaret Greenwood”, as part of the team under shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams.
He said this appointment had been made on the evening of 9 October.
When DNS said the party had claimed on 12 October that the process of appointing a shadow disability minister was “ongoing”, he said: “Roles have been more clearly assigned since the 12th, apologies for the confusion.”
After DNS then asked when exactly Greenwood had been handed the post – there appeared to be no mention of the appointment on her Twitter or Facebook pages, or the Labour party’s website, or her own website, which described her as shadow employment minister – he admitted that he had made another mistake.
He said that his “understanding” instead was that Abrahams was “going to be appointing more people to the DWP team and she’s going to create a shadow minister for disabilities”.
He said Greenwood was not the new shadow disability minister, and that there had been “a bit of confusion”.
He added: “Sometimes these things take time. I am sorry there has not been an appointment yet but there absolutely will be.
“The discussions are ongoing at the moment. That post will definitely be filled.”
Asked why the process had taken so long, he said: “That’s a question for Debbie. It’s obviously Debbie’s team. Maybe she’s looking for the right person for the job.”
He said any appointment had to be agreed between Corbyn, as party leader, and Abrahams, as shadow secretary of state.
He promised (on Monday evening) to ask Abrahams why it had taken so long to make the appointment.
By 11am today (Thursday), he had failed to respond to messages requesting an answer to that question.
This morning, Abrahams released a statement to DNS which made no mention of the failure to appoint a shadow minister for disabled people.
She said: “The work I started as shadow minister for disabled people is very important to me, so I will continue to lead on the portfolio and build on the work and relationships I’ve established with disabled people, and their organisations, over the last six years.”
She added: “I’m pleased to be able to announce the formal launch of my Disability Equality Roadshow in November in Manchester which will ensure the views and experiences of disabled people are at centre of Labour’s policy making, as we look to transform social security to a holistic, person-centred system.
“Fundamentally it’s about changing the culture of the system, how it’s delivered, performance managed and perceived.”