Powerful criticism of the government’s performance on COVID-19 and disability employment by Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people was significantly watered down by her own party, Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal.
An email mistakenly sent to DNS yesterday (Wednesday) by a member of Vicky Foxcroft’s staff shows that her original draft comments attacking the government were weakened by someone within the party hierarchy.
The changes made by the party include the removal of a reference to the “vital” role played by trade unions in protecting disabled people from discrimination.
The party also removed any reference to disability discrimination from Foxcroft’s comments.
The comments had been requested by DNS in response to three stories: new research which casts doubt on the government’s much-vaunted progress in reducing the disability employment gap; further research which warns of the impact of the pandemic recession on disability employment; and concerns about the government’s new COVID-19 guidance for people placed in the “clinically extremely vulnerable” group (see separate stories).
In her draft comments, seen by DNS, Foxcroft (pictured) said the party had “long wondered” whether the government’s figures on reducing the disability employment gap “stand up to scrutiny” and that the research “shows this may not be the case”.
She also said it was “absolutely vital” that the government recorded disability employment data in a “transparent” and “open fashion”, and that Labour was “extremely concerned” about the government’s failings on data about disabled people.
But the eventual “official” comment made no reference to the research’s suggestion that the government’s claims to have sharply reduced the disability employment gap were based simply on a statistical quirk.
Instead she said: “We remain concerned about the lack of internal data on disabled people in work and the frequency it is collected.
“If we are to close the disability employment gap we must make sure the data captured is accurate and transparent.”
On the pandemic recession, Foxcroft called in her draft statement for the government to ensure that disabled people and those clinically vulnerable to the virus were “protected in the workplace from discrimination”, and she added: “Trade unions are an obvious vital part of this, but so is having stringent regulations that support disabled people.”
But her official statement removed any reference to discrimination and trade unions.
Instead, she called on the government to “put safeguards in place to ensure that disabled and clinically vulnerable people are protected in the workplace from disproportionate job losses” and said ministers “must urgently act to ensure disabled workers do not bear the brunt of redundancies in this jobs crisis”.
Responding to the new pandemic guidance, Foxcroft’s draft comments warned that disabled people who might need to shield again needed to be “properly compensated and not left without enough money to survive”.
She added: “People are extremely worried and government guidance has done little to alleviate this.”
But her official statement said that disabled people were just “anxious” rather than “extremely worried”.
Her call for disabled people who might need to shield again needing to be “properly compensated and not left without enough money to survive” had vanished.
Instead, she asked simply: “What support will people who are expected to shield get?”
A spokesperson for Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts said: “Given the government’s well documented grave and systemic catastrophic policies towards disabled people, we would hope opposition leadership does not soften its previous stronger condemnations and trusts the shadow minister for disabled people to speak with frankness.”
It is not clear whether Foxcroft’s staff member consulted with party headquarters before amending her comments.
But he said yesterday that the comments read by DNS “were drafts that I was free to amend” and the final version was “agreed with Vicky so those are the responses that should be used”.
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