A wheelchair-user could easily have lost his life in front of hundreds of delegates to the Labour conference, after the party ignored years of safety warnings about the ramp used to access the speakers’ platform, say disabled activists.
There was an audible gasp in the auditorium on Sunday afternoon as powerchair-user James Driver nearly toppled off the narrow ramp as he tried to leave the platform, following a short speech opposing changes to the party’s constitution (see separate story).
Labour is now facing questions over its commitment to the safety of disabled members, following years of concerns raised about its attitude to disability equality within the party.
Less than 12 months ago, Labour was warned that it faced possible legal action over years of disability discrimination within the party, after reneging on plans to hold a national disability conference and set up a committee of disabled members.
Disability News Service (DNS) has been told that Disability Labour first raised concerns about the safety of the ramp (pictured) – and the need for a barrier and handrail on both sides – at the 2021 conference in Brighton, and again at last year’s conference in Liverpool.
It also brought the issue to the attention of party chair Anneliese Dodds two months before this year’s conference, and again last week with the team organising the conference.
Emily Pomroy-Smith, who fought South-West Wiltshire for Labour at the 2019 general election and is herself a wheelchair-user, raised the issue as a point of order the morning after the incident.
She told delegates that she was again “calling out the disgraceful disregard for disabled members at this conference”.
She said: “Disability Labour have asked the conference arrangements committee for a barrier and a rail on the ramp multiple times.
“Please can you confirm that you will finally listen to us. We were lucky this time. I don’t want us to be lucky, I want us to be safe.”
She told DNS later: “He could have been killed.
“We knew this was an accident waiting to happen and it wasn’t dealt with.”
Jonathan Farr, treasurer of Disability Labour, said the incident should have been logged as a “near miss” under RIDDOR health and safety regulations.
RIDDOR requires employers and “other people in charge of work premises” to “report and keep records of incidents with the potential to cause harm”.
Farr agreed with Pomroy-Smith that Driver “could have been killed”.
He said: “Disability Labour have been telling the party about this since at least the last Brighton conference two years ago.”
But he said the party had been insisting that the ramp met the relevant “regulations”.
DNS has been unable to contact Driver this week.
Vicky Foxcroft, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, told DNS there would be meetings about the ramp issue after the conference.
The party had failed by noon today (Thursday) to explain why it repeatedly failed to listen to Disability Labour about the ramp safety concerns, whether the incident on Sunday had been reported under the RIDDOR regulations, and whether the concerns would now be acted on.
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