Labour’s general secretary has promised that he will put an end to the years of discrimination experienced by disabled party members.
David Evans, the party’s general secretary since last year, told a Disability Labour fringe meeting that he would personally ensure that the party dealt with the issues, which have been raised repeatedly by disabled members.
His comments came amid amounting anger at Labour’s continuing failure to act on discrimination within the party, despite promises by deputy leader Angela Rayner during her campaign to secure the post 18 months ago.
Disability News Service (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 shadow minister for disabled people, Vicky Foxcroft, said this week that she plans to meet soon with Rayner and Anneliese Dodds, the party’s chair, to discuss concerns reported by DNS about discrimination and disablism within the party.
These concerns were heightened by Labour’s decision to hold its annual conference in Brighton this week, despite previously promising Disability Labour that its next five annual conferences would be held in Liverpool, which is seen as far more accessible.
As with previous Brighton conferences, this week has seen multiple complaints about access, including from Disability Labour members who arrived for their first fringe meeting – on the subject of ableism – to find a stage with no access for wheelchair-users.
One disabled party member later told the conference how she had been complaining about light sensitivity issues at party conferences for years, and this week was recovering from seizures in a room in the main conference venue when a party official warned her that a photographer would soon be taking pictures using a flash.
But rather than the photographer being asked to turn off their flash as a reasonable adjustment, she was asked to leave the room.
There was frustration among disabled members at Rayner’s failure to follow through on her pledge to act on disability discrimination within the party.
Emily Pomroy-Smith, a Disability Labour member who stood as the party’s candidate in South West Wiltshire at the 2019 general election, told DNS: “It’s very disappointing when anyone, no matter their role, makes a promise and doesn’t deliver.
“It’s now about putting words into action.”
She said that Brighton had “not been fun” as a delegate who is a wheelchair-user, not only because of physical barriers but also because of the lack of information about access to venues.
She said: “There are barriers everywhere here.”
Kathy Bole, chair of Disability Labour, told the fringe meeting on ableism that many disabled delegates were eating meals in their hotel rooms because they were unable to access restaurants in Brighton.
She said: “We would like all of you to go back to your constituency Labour parties (CLPs) and say, ‘Never again in Brighton.’
“It is a nightmare, and it can never be made accessible.”
Jonathan Farr, treasurer of Disability Labour, told the meeting: “We have an ableist society and the Labour party is ableist.
“If we want as a society, let alone a party, to get the best out of everybody, we need to make sure that we are inclusive.
“The party is still not getting the whole issue of ableism and we need to shout.
“We need to shout within our CLPs, we need to shout at every opportunity, because if we don’t, we won’t be heard.”
One new chair of a CLP told the meeting about long-standing issues over discrimination, particularly over a lengthy battle to persuade the local party to have an accessible toilet installed in the Labour MP’s offices.
Disabled party members had been told it could not be done because “it was a choice between the disabled access bathroom and not having enough resources to campaign for our MP’s re-election, and things like that”.
Farr told DNS later that the promise Evans had made was good news, but only “if he can actually deliver on his promise”.
Bole added: “It’s a big job. I don’t want him to talk the talk, I want him to walk the walk.”
Foxcroft, who attended both Disability Labour fringe meetings, said Evans “knows we need to do better” and would work with Disability Labour, Ellen Morrison – the party’s disabled members’ representative on its national executive committee (NEC) – and others to ensure that happens.
She said: “We know things weren’t perfect at conference this year and we will work with Disability Labour, our NEC rep for disabled people and others to ensure this is rectified in the future.”
She said she would be meeting with Rayner and Dodds “to talk about some of the concerns raised by Disability News Service”.
She added: “The Labour party is the party disabled people should know and trust will deliver for them.”
Bole told DNS that she had later lost her temper with Evans – following his pledge to the fringe meeting – after a distressed delegate with a mobility impairment described how she had been forced to walk all the way around the outside of The Brighton Centre, the main conference venue, because of a mid-conference change in policy that meant delegates were no longer allowed to enter through the back entrance.
Bole said: “She was obviously struggling [but] they flat out refused. She then had to hobble around the outside of the building and come in the front entrance.”
Bole is now writing a report on this week’s access failures to send to Evans.
Among the many other concerns passed to Disability Labour this week have been about documents not emailed in the accessible formats requested; a shortage of enablers to support disabled delegates in the main conference hall; accessible toilets used by non-disabled people; a lack of signposting to the scooter-charging area; poor quality mobility scooters provided in The Brighton Centre; and delegates who were unable to find the disability and first aid hubs because they had been moved to a less accessible location than the previous Labour conference in Brighton.
*Rayner wrote a report in late March 2020, which included more than 20 actions that the party should carry out so it could become “the most accessible it has ever been”.
These included ending the practice of holding CLP meetings in inaccessible venues; providing training for CLP chairs on how to deal with discrimination; all CLP disability officers to themselves be disabled people; the appointment of a national disability officer with an allocated budget; and the party to provide resources to help disabled members with the disability-related costs of standing for election.
But DNS has been unable to find evidence of any of the actions being implemented since Rayner became deputy leader.
Picture: Emily Pomroy-Smith in front of the inaccessible platform
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