A shadow minister has pledged to offer disabled people “direct access” to three key Labour figures as part of a new review of her party’s disability policies.
Anne McGuire, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, promised that the review would contrast sharply with the government’s failure to listen to disabled people while shaping its controversial package of welfare reforms.
Over the next six months, McGuire will be travelling the country with Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, and Liz Kendall, the shadow care services minister, to find ways to “repair the damage” done to disabled people’s rights by the coalition.
Byrne pledged in a speech two weeks ago to work with disabled people to develop policies that will “turn rights into reality”, and accused the coalition of crossing “the threshold of decency” with its attacks on disabled people.
McGuire told Disability News Service this week that she and her two shadow ministerial colleagues wanted to speak to disabled activists across the country. They are currently planning how the consultation will work, but she said they wanted to complete the review by the end of this year.
She said: “It is an opportunity for disabled people and their organisations around the country to have that direct access to us.
“I think Liam is very keen to talk to people in their own communities about what is actually happening and how we move forward.”
McGuire is highly critical of what she says is the government’s failure to “co-produce” its welfare reforms with disabled people.
She said that despite the government’s supposed consultations with disabled people and their organisations there had been “no attempt at all on co-production on any of these reforms. It is top-down and cost-driven.”
She said Labour wanted to “redress” the “demonisation” of disabled people that has accompanied the welfare reforms of the Conservative work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith.
But she was unable to promise that her party would scrap any of the measures introduced through the coalition’s Welfare Reform Act if Labour regained power at the next election.
She said: “There are no pre-conceptions. Obviously, people are having to struggle just now from the welfare reform package as it has been implemented.
“We recognise that and as Labour MPs we will do what we can to mitigate that, but at the same time we want to listen to where people think the future lies.”
The disabled activist and blogger Kaliya Franklin told this week’s TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference that she welcomed Labour’s new language on “making rights a reality” and that they were “consulting properly with disabled people”.
But she said she was still angry with the party for its previous failure to reject the government’s policies and language around welfare reform, and said that she and fellow disabled activists would be “retaining our scepticism”.
Franklin said that Labour’s decision to change its language around disabled people would make it much harder for the coalition and the media to continue using the “scrounger” rhetoric that had caused so much anger.
The Labour MP John McDonnell, who has been a strong supporter of the disabled people’s anti-cuts movement, told the conference that he believed his party had shifted its position “somewhat” over the last three months.
He pointed out that it was a Labour government that introduced the hated work capability assessment, and gave the contract to carry out the tests to the much-criticised company Atos Healthcare.
He said: “We need a public acknowledgement that it was a mistake. I wouldn’t mind an apology.”
31 May 2012