A prominent disabled activist has launched a highly critical attack on Labour leader Ed Miliband during a televised question and answer session over his failure to speak out on the government’s hated “fitness for work” tests.
The session took place at the Labour conference but the audience included members of the public who were not party members.
One was Kaliya Franklin, the disabled blogger and activist who co-founded The Broken of Britain, who accused Miliband – to loud applause from the audience – of failing to speak out for disabled people because of hostile media attacks that have labelled benefits claimants as “scroungers”.
She told him that the issue of disabled people being the “hardest hit” by the cuts had been “airbrushed almost entirely from the conference”.
Miliband claimed he was not afraid to use the word “disability” and was “determined to say that disabled people need support and help and compassion”, but that “you have got to separate out ill-health and disability from worklessness and the decision not to work”.
He claimed he was not “trying to sweep this under the carpet”.
But Franklin accused him – again, to loud applause – of “reinforcing the destructive rhetoric that is coming from the coalition government at a time when sick and disabled people desperately need a champion to stand up for us”.
Miliband accepted he should have said in his main conference speech that “you have to defend people with disability and ill-health and say that they shouldn’t be under attack”, but said he “genuinely” didn’t think that “saying you are tough on abuse of the benefit system is a non-Labour thing to do”.
Franklin, who blogs at Benefit Scrounging Scum, said: “We got the reaction we expected. He didn’t know what to say. He was completely flustered and lost the plot.
“He didn’t really have an answer. I had a go at him and said he was part of the problem because he had used part of this rhetoric himself.”
In a speech in June, Miliband horrified disabled activists by accusing some incapacity benefit (IB) claimants of failing to “take responsibility” and of “shirking their duties”.
Franklin said: “It was clearly one of the questions he didn’t want to deal with.”
She added: “I told him we have had enough of this, that he was not talking about us or supporting us, and he is complicit in this when he knows fraud levels [for IB] are negligible.
“When I hammered him about the fraud rates he didn’t roll his eyes and say, ‘oh, for God’s sake, will you go away,’ but for a moment the mask slipped and that was his expression.
“I just don’t think he cares. It’s not something that is one of his particular passions and he wants it to go away.”
But she added: “We had a forthright discussion and he did actually have to come out and say for the first time that he should have said in his speech that sick and disabled people needed protection.”
And she welcomed the Labour leader’s pledge to meet with her to discuss her concerns in more depth.
After her exchange on Wednesday evening, Franklin was swamped by members of the media intent on interviewing her about her concerns, but almost nothing has yet been written or broadcast about her exchange with Miliband.
29 September 2011