One of the MPs campaigning to be Labour’s next deputy leader is asking disabled members for their ideas on how to address the discrimination they face within the party.
Disability News Service has been reporting for several years how disabled Labour members have raised repeated concerns about the barriers created by the party’s structures, policies and actions.
Last September, at the party’s annual conference, senior Labour figures were accused of discrimination and “oppression”, while the previous year a survey of disabled party activists revealed three-quarters of those questioned believed there was disability discrimination at all levels of the party.
Now deputy leader candidate Angela Rayner – who is the clear favourite in the race to replace Tom Watson, who resigned from the post last November – has said she wants to tackle these long-standing issues if she is elected by the party in April.
She has launched a short consultation among disabled party members, asking them how they believe the party can ensure full inclusion.
Disabled party members can join an online Zoom video meeting at 7pm on Tuesday (10 March), or fill in a form detailing the barriers they have experienced and their ideas for how the party can address discrimination and support more disabled people into leadership roles in the party.
Rayner will then write a report on her vision for making the party more accessible to disabled people, as part of her Manifesto for a Movement (PDF) report that aims to map out a path to Downing Street for Labour.
Rayner said in a statement last night: “The party needs to do more to ensure people have access to the resources they need to fully engage in party meetings and structures.”
She said the party did not always ensure that “meetings, elections, campaigning and everything we do” was “accessible and inclusive” to disabled people.
And she called for “hard targets” on how many disabled people achieved positions within the party.
Rayner also said that – “in the past” – Labour’s fund to ensure accessibility at the annual conference had “run out”, which she said was “not good enough”.
She also called on her party to provide more resources to enable disabled members to stand for elected office.
She had said in an earlier statement: “It is important that disabled people’s voices are heard in politics, and if we are going to do that we need to start by looking at ourselves.
“We need to ensure that disabled people have full access, to ensure that there are no barriers for anyone.
“I want to start by taking an honest look at what we are doing and whether we are living up to our principles.”
Kerena Marchant, who supports Rayner’s campaign and has spoken of the barriers she has faced within the party as a Deaf user of British Sign Language (BSL), called for Deaf and disabled party members to take part in the consultation.
She said: “I really hope that Deaf and disabled people will get involved in this initiative, even if they don’t support Angela for deputy.
“The Labour party wants to include disabled people in the party but hasn’t got the rules and party procedures and funding to do so.
“Consequently, we are miles behind other minorities for inclusion in the party.
“At grassroots level the CLPs (constituency Labour parties) simply don’t have the funding to properly fund local campaigns, let alone pay for interpreters at meetings, or hire a more expensive wheelchair-accessible room.”
Marchant (pictured, right, discussing the issue with Rayner), who stood for Labour at the general election in Basingstoke, said she and many other disabled activists believed the issue of disability discrimination was “a ticking time bomb” for the party, and even potentially “the next anti-Semitism”.
She said: “The will to include is not enough, it simply has to happen and a lot of change rules and procedures, training and funding has to be put in place.”
Marchant was selected to fight Basingstoke without any funding for interpreters, and only later received a Labour party bursary that met part of her costs, thanks partly to the government’s refusal to reopen the Access to Elected Office Fund.
She secured support from Rayner – who herself has a BSL level two qualification, and two disabled children, as well as a disabled mother – after telling her how she was struggling to access last autumn’s conference without an interpreter.
Rayner said: “I was proud to learn BSL as a trade union representative so I could support deaf people at work.
“I also see through my son who is registered blind and my other son who has ADHD, which is often a hidden disability, the challenges they face.
“I know that our party needs to do more and that’s why I am asking disabled people to share their suggestions with me about how things need to improve.”
The other four candidates to be deputy leader of the party are Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Richard Burgon, Dawn Butler and Ian Murray.
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