The front-runner in the contest to be the next Labour leader has refused to answer key questions about his policies on disability equality.
As with all four remaining leadership contenders, Sir Keir Starmer was sent six questions nearly two weeks ago about his policies on social security, independent living, accessible housing, inclusive education, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), and his own commitment to disabled people’s rights.
His two main rivals, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy, this week produced extensive answers aimed at demonstrating their commitment to disability rights, and offered some of the policies that they would introduce as a Labour prime minister. The fourth candidate, Emily Thornberry, had not responded to the questions by noon today (Thursday).
Sir Keir (pictured), Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, ignored all but two of the questions, and instead produced a three-paragraph statement that focused on social security, and briefly touched on social care.
He did confirm that he would support an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
He said: “The deaths of Errol Graham (see separate story) and other disabled benefits claimants are shocking.
“These were entirely avoidable tragedies which came after repeated warnings to the DWP.
“I fully support the calls for a comprehensive, genuinely independent investigation into deaths of disabled benefits claimants.
“As leader I would continue to oppose the creeping privatisation of our benefits system and the dehumanising work capability and PIP assessments.
“We need a new social security system which treats people with compassion and respect, allowing everyone to lead fulfilling and happy lives.”
Asked how he had fought for the rights of disabled people, he said: “As a local MP, I see first-hand the consequences of the Tories’ welfare policies and have acted on behalf of numerous constituents who have been affected.”
But asked to explain what measures he would take to ensure that working-age disabled people can live independently, he offered no suggestions, and said only: “We must also urgently address the social care crisis, whether that applies to elderly or working age people.
“Labour under my leadership would hold the Conservatives to account on this issue and for their failure to deliver improvements in social care.”
He also failed to explain how he would address the accessible housing crisis, what he would do to ensure a more inclusive education system, and whether he would incorporate UNCRPD into UK law.
His answers were particularly disappointing as he built much of his reputation before he became an MP on his work as a human rights barrister, and has worked for several years to hold DWP to account for the death of his constituent Michael O’Sullivan, who took his own life in September 2013 after being unfairly found fit for work.
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