The government has created a “hostile environment” for disabled people just as it has for members of the Windrush generation, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people has told trade unionists.
Marsha de Cordova (pictured) described herself as a “grand-daughter of the Windrush generation” as she addressed the annual TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference in Bournemouth.
De Cordova, herself a former member of the TUC disabled workers’ committee, said the “targeting of disabled people for systematic impoverishment, the denial of basic rights, the callousness of the assessment regime, [and] the errors that leave people destitute” had created a “hostile environment”.
And she said this reminded her of the Windrush scandal, “another recent injustice” which saw “British citizens denied their basic rights”.
She said: “It was a gross injustice and as a grand-daughter of the Windrush generation I shake with anger at that injustice.
“What we see with Conservative policies towards disabled people is, again, a hostile environment.
“We see disabled people being treated with suspicion, disrespect, being denied basic rights and even being driven to suicide.
“The government has created an environment that systematically disadvantages and disregards disabled people.”
She said it was not just her party and disability rights campaigners making these points, but also the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which last August told a UK government delegation that its cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe”.
De Cordova said: “This should be a national scandal that shames the government into action, just as the Windrush scandal rightly was, and it cannot continue.”
She told the conference there were few areas that needed change more urgently than disability rights.
And she blamed not just politicians but also the tabloid press, which she said had together for too long “scapegoated disabled people, they have demonised us and they have created a narrative where we are seen not as citizens and potential value but as burdens on society with social security not seen as a basic right”.
She said that the chancellor, Philip Hammond, had “invoked” this narrative only last year, “when he blamed disabled people for his failure to improve economic productivity”.
She said: “We know the consequences of this narrative. It is to justify brutal cuts to social security and the brunt of those fall on disabled people.”
De Cordova said the next Labour government would not allow this to continue.
Instead, she promised, it would: incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into UK law; transform social security, with a new bill published in the first year of a Labour government; repeal cuts to social security support for disabled people; scrap the work capability and personal independence payment assessments, replacing them with a “personalised and human approach”; and scrap the government’s “punitive sanctions regime”.
She said: “What we will need to do, and we will do, is nothing less than transforming our culture of social security from one that demonises sick and disabled people to one that enhances, enables and empowers.”
But she said Labour would also address the barriers facing disabled people in the employment market, aiming to halve the disability employment gap, while it would “enhance and improve” the Access to Work scheme.
She said: “We know that it is workplaces, not workers, that need to be changed.”
De Cordova said that Labour – recognising the importance of the social model of disability – would also ensure that disability was “included in every brief of every department of the next Labour government, be it transport, housing or education”.