The TUC is hoping that a new manifesto will be used to fight the poverty, prejudice and discrimination faced by millions of disabled people, and help unions challenge popular misconceptions and government “propaganda”.
The TUC wants individuals, politicians and organisations to support the proposals in its new Manifesto for Disability Equality, which include calls for an inclusive education system, a British Sign Language act, and proper enforcement of disability measures in the Equality Act.
The TUC says in the manifesto that “progress in reducing the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people has been slowed by continuing discrimination by employers”.
It also warns that millions of disabled people are living in poverty, while support for the right to live independently has been cut, prejudice against disabled people has risen because of “government and media propaganda about benefits”, and disabled people face barriers to public transport and reduced access to education.
The manifesto calls for properly-funded support for independent living, a new single assessment process for access to benefits, an end to caps on Access to Work payments, and social model-based training for government, employers and service-providers.
It also demands action to ensure disabled people can play a full part in public life, and to improve the portrayal and participation of disabled people in the media, culture, the arts and sport.
The TUC hopes the manifesto can be used to push an alternative agenda to the government’s disability policies, but also that local activists will use it to challenge prejudice in their own workplaces and secure support from both disabled people’s organisations and organisations not run and controlled by disabled people.
It has been drawn up from motions passed in recent years at the annual TUC disabled members’ conference.
Peter Purton, the TUC’s disability policy officer, said: “We want to use it to promote an alternative agenda to the government’s agenda, for as long as it takes, but it is not going to be turned round in a week or a month.
“We know a lot of our members are not clued up on disability because they read government propaganda [in the media].”
He highlighted the TUC’s frustration that many members still “share the popular view that welfare claimants are scroungers and frauds”.
He said: “We haven’t successfully challenged it any more than Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) or anyone else.
“This is part of making our activists more able to take up that argument and supporting them to do so.”
The TUC website also includes background facts and figures that will help activists to “argue the point with colleagues at work”.
The hope is that union activists will use the manifesto – which has been approved by the TUC’s general council – to help bring about a “change in popular opinion” by bringing it to the attention of local councillors and community leaders.
One of the key aims is to create alliances with local disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and use the manifesto to help trade unions support the campaigning activities of DPOs.
The manifesto has already secured support from two leading national DPOs, DPAC and The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE).
Ellen Clifford, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “DPAC welcomes the launch of the TUC disability equality manifesto.
“With the UK having now become the first state in the world to be investigated for grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights, it is definitely time to get disability equality firmly back on the political agenda.”
Tara Flood, ALLFIE’s director, said: “An inclusive education is a prerequisite of a fair and equal society so it is good to see it at the heart of the TUC’s manifesto for disability equality.”
Purton said the TUC was also hoping to secure support from Labour, and is seeking a meeting with the party’s shadow minister for disabled people, Debbie Abrahams.
Before last year’s election, the party supported only about half of the measures in the manifesto, but Purton hopes that will improve following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, and the appointment of John McDonnell as his shadow chancellor, as both are seen as strong supporters of disability rights and the disabled people’s anti-cuts movement.