Disabled activists have been promised a seat “at the heart of government” if Jeremy Corbyn is re-elected as Labour leader and the party wins power at the next election.
The pledge was made by shadow chancellor John McDonnell at an international disability rights conference hosted by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), the final event in its Rights Not Games week of action.
McDonnell, who made repeated references to the need to co-produce policies with disabled people during his speech, told the conference in London that it would be vital to ensure that disabled people were represented “at every level of decision-making”.
He added: “That will mean bringing organisations like DPAC and others into government to advise us on the development of policy so you will be at the heart of government, sitting alongside ministers and others, advising them on how to implement these policies.”
And he promised that DPAC would also have “a fundamental role in advising us on the policies that need to be developed” by Labour in preparation for government.
He added: “You will be advising us on what priorities there are when we go back into government… for those people who say that this country can’t afford a decent living for disabled people we have got to challenge that as well.”
He said there would need to be legislation that ensured disabled people had “a right to an income upon which they can have a decent quality of life, a right to the appropriate accommodation, a right to access to work when they feel it is appropriate [and] a right not to be discriminated against”.
He said: “The levels of hate crime against disabled people have been a disgrace to be frank over recent years so we want to be sure that in legislation, in law, we have all those rights established very clearly.”
He also pledged that a Labour government would act to ensure those rights could be enforced, for example by reversing cuts to legal aid and removing charges for taking workplace discrimination cases at employment tribunals, while also improving access to free legal advice.
McDonnell said Labour was in the “first stages” of a discussion of whether some form of basic income – a flat-rate benefit paid to everyone, and otherwise known as unconditional basic income or universal basic income – could be introduced to replace most of the social security system, and was awaiting the outcome of pilot experiments taking place across Europe.
He said: “Any benefits system or any form of basic income will only work if it is designed by the people who use it.
“We won’t move forward on that without your involvement in how we design the system.”
Action on replacing support that was cut by the Conservatives in government would be funded through “a fair and just taxation system”, which he said meant tackling tax evasion and tax avoidance.
He warned that if a Corbyn government was elected, it would need organisations like DPAC to defend it from attacks “from the establishment that will do all it can to retain its wealth, its resources, and its power, to prevent the redistribution of that wealth and that power right the way across society”.
McDonnell repeatedly praised the work of DPAC, which was founded in the autumn of 2010, following the anti-austerity protests that took place outside the Conservative party conference in Birmingham.
He said disabled people had previously been represented largely by organisations that approached government “with a begging bowl approach”, whereas DPAC was “an organisation that said, ‘We are not coming here to beg, we are not coming here as supplicants, we are coming here as citizens to demand our rights’”.
He also praised DPAC’s frequent use of direct action, which he said had been “incredibly successful” in “raising the level of awareness” and showing that disabled people “aren’t going to take it anymore”.
McDonnell said he believed the government would not have been forced into retreats on policies such as further cuts to personal independence payment if it had not been for the direct action protests that had taken place.
He said: “They thought they could focus the cuts and austerity measures on those people they thought couldn’t fight back, in particular disabled people.
“They now know as a result of what you’ve done that disabled people aren’t taking it anymore; they are going to fight back and they will support the election of a government whose policies will be designed by disabled people, implemented by disabled people, on behalf of disabled people and at the end of the day protected by disabled people.”
He also pledged that a future Labour government under Corbyn would work with DPAC to “establish the wider disability movement right the way across Europe and across the globe, and resource it effectively”.