Lib Dem conference: Party anger over DPAC’s ‘don’t vote Lib Dem’ call

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Two leading disabled Liberal Democrats have criticised anti-cuts activists over their public call for disabled people not to vote for their party.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) published a high-profile message on social media this week during the party’s annual conference in Brighton, warning that disabled people “won’t forget” and “won’t forgive” its junior role in the coalition government between 2010 and 2015.

But David Buxton, the co-founder of the Liberal Democrat Disability Association, who has worked on campaigns with DPAC, said he would no longer support its work because of the message.

The party’s work and pensions spokesman, Stephen Lloyd, was also critical of DPAC.

But DPAC, which is not aligned with any political party, has defended its position.

It said it held the Liberal Democrats “jointly responsible” for coalition cuts and reforms such as the closure of the Independent Living Fund, damaging policies on the work capability assessment (WCA), the bedroom tax and the introduction of personal independence payment and universal credit.

It also pointed to the coalition’s “hostile environment benefits regime” and the “avoidable deaths and suicides of benefit claimants during the coalition years”.

DPAC added: “Our message to the Liberal Democrats is – you don’t get to walk away from your actions in those years – disabled people will remember.”

But Buxton (pictured) said he was “very disappointed” by the DPAC message because he had been “very supportive of their work which has been excellent and has been important in stopping further cuts.

“Their job is to stop the cuts and we have been very supportive of that.”

He told Disability News Service at the party’s annual conference in Brighton that the coalition years had been “a very difficult time” and the Liberal Democrats had “tried to stop further cuts and were successful in stopping those cuts, but there were areas where the books had to be balanced”.

He asked why DPAC was not criticising Labour in a similar way.

He said Labour’s last government had rejected pleas from Deaf people for a British Sign Language act and had also been responsible for cutting disability services during its 13 years of office, while many Labour-run councils were now cutting services even though some, like Hammersmith and Fulham, had managed to protect disabled people from cuts.

He said: “Should Deaf people say they never forgive the Labour party? Thankfully, Labour have now changed their mind [on the need for a BSL act].”

He added: “Political parties can change. We have changed as a party. We are no longer in coalition government.

“There has been a change in leadership and we do recognise that we have to find ways of creating new policy that would be fairer and we will demand better for disabled people.”

Lloyd said DPAC’s message was “very disappointing” and ignored the fact that Labour brought in the WCA and awarded the contract to carry out the assessments to the much-criticised contractor Atos.

He said he was “proud” of what his party had achieved in coalition when facing “very challenging issues” with the economy, although there had been “some decisions in DWP that were wrong” and “others that were right”.

But Bob Ellard, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “We are not party political and we will criticise any party as we see fit.

“We will be publicly criticising Labour over their ‘pause and fix’ policy for universal credit during their conference and we’ve been very vocal in criticising Labour in the past.

“We’ve also criticised the Green party over their policy on assisted suicide.

“And we have been very critical of the actions of Labour councils.

“The Lib Dems have Vince Cable as leader, who was a cabinet minister in the coalition, and many of their MPs were MPs in the coalition and voted for Tory welfare reform.

“Just as the tweet says, ‘They don’t get to walk away from that.’”

 

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