Labour’s deputy leader has failed to explain what has happened to the promise she made 17 months ago that she would address the discrimination faced by disabled people in her party.
Angela Rayner pledged to tackle the many barriers disabled party members faced, as part of her successful campaign to secure the deputy leadership.
But 17 months on from her election, that promise does not appear to have been fulfilled.
Disability News Service (DNS) has been reporting for several years on concerns raised by disabled Labour members about the barriers created by the party’s structures, policies and actions.
At the party’s last annual conference before the pandemic, in 2019, 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.
DNS has been trying for 10 days to find out what action Rayner has taken to address these issues since being elected deputy leader.
But despite Labour’s press office twice insisting it would contact Rayner’s team about the questions, there has been no response from her office by noon today (Thursday).
Rayner said during her campaign last year: “The party needs to do more to ensure people have access to the resources they need to fully engage in party meetings and structures.”
And she called for “hard targets” on how many disabled people achieve positions within the party.
She also called for disabled party members to tell her how the party could ensure full inclusion, and subsequently wrote a report on her vision for making Labour more accessible to disabled people.
An online link to that report is now broken, with the error message reading: “The site you were looking for couldn’t be found.”
But DNS has seen a draft version of Rayner’s report, written in late March 2020, and which includes more than 20 actions that the party should carry out so it could become “the most accessible it has ever been”.
These included ending the practice of holding constituency Labour party (CLP) meetings in inaccessible venues; providing training for CLP chairs on how to deal with discrimination; all CLP disability officers to themselves be disabled people; the appointment of a national disability officer with an allocated budget; and the party to provide resources to help disabled members with the disability-related costs of standing for election.
DNS understands that few if any of the actions she called for in her final report have been implemented.
And Rayner, who learned British Sign Language as a trade union representative so she could support deaf colleagues, was a young carer for her disabled mum, and has two disabled sons, does not appear to have spoken publicly about how the party will fulfil these actions since she became deputy leader.
Kerena Marchant, who supported Rayner’s deputy leadership campaign and has spoken of the barriers she has faced within the party as a Deaf user of British Sign Language (BSL), said there was “no excuse” for the lack of action since Rayner was elected.
But she put most of the blame on the party rather than Rayner, and said the turmoil with Labour’s finances, which will reportedly lead to nearly a quarter of its staff being made redundant, was likely to have played a part in the lack of action.
She said: “Disabled people are still on the margins of the party and are excluded from participation in CLPs and elections.
“With staff redundancies I can’t see the party getting a disability officer.
“I know disabled people who didn’t stand in local elections in May because of a lack of access.
“The party has a lot of internal issues at the moment and disabled people are clearly not a priority.”
Marchant added: “The fact that CLPs have disability officers who aren’t disabled is an appalling practice that Angela wanted to end.
“BAME officers are BAME, women’s officers women. Some CLPs don’t even have disability officers.
“Sometimes it feels we aren’t even accepted as a minority group in the party.”
DNS approached Labour with questions for Rayner after the government finally published two long-awaited reports on the barriers faced by disabled politicians in England and Wales.
One of those reports found that political parties and institutions such as local councils have repeatedly broken equality laws by failing to make reasonable adjustments for disabled politicians.
Picture: A film from Angela Rayner’s deputy leadership campaign, showing her discussing discrimination in the party with Kerena Marchant (right). The subtitles say: “She can’t because the CLP have to hold their meetings in a room upstairs.”
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