Disabled people’s organisations will gather next month for a crucial national conference that will discuss their policy demands ahead of the next general election.
The conference is being organised by the two leading networks of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) in England, Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) and DPO Forum England.
ROFA and the forum have drawn up a disabled people’s manifesto ahead of the general election, which is expected to take place in the second half of 2024.
Their conference on Friday 22 September will discuss the manifesto and ask what disabled people want to see from the next government in its first 100 days.
It will also focus on the long-standing campaign for a National Independent Living Service, and the right to independent living under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
And it will look at how to develop the DPO Forum England, which was set up by DPOs two years ago after the then minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, repeatedly cancelled meetings of the government’s own advisory forum of DPOs.
Representatives of many of England’s DPOs will attend the free, one-day event at the People’s History Museum in Manchester, with many also attending online*.
Mark Harrison, a member of ROFA’s steering group, said the general election would be a crucial one for disabled people “because the hostile environment that the Tories have imposed in the last 13 years has resulted in untold misery and deaths”.
But he said “the jury is out” on what a future Labour government would do “and how they will behave differently”.
He said he was “hopeful” there would be a positive change if Labour won power, but recent announcements suggested they were “sliding” on previous commitments to “undo Tory austerity and Tory policy”.
One key concern is likely to be that Labour appears to be drifting away from a commitment to incorporate the UN convention into UK law, as it promised at the last general election under Jeremy Corbyn, and other pledges made by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, such as the right to free social care and a universal right to independent living.
Harrison said: “Having a united voice which is inclusive and diverse and intersectional is crucial.
“That’s why the conference will be a really important conversation with disabled people from across England.”
Following the conference, the manifesto will be presented to the major political parties during the autumn so disabled people can “make very clear demands and hold them to account”.
Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, a member of DPO Forum England, said the manifesto “represents the demands of disabled people up and down the country” and “unifies our demands and pushes for concrete political change”.
He said: “No matter our background, class status, race or gender, the disabled community has been failed for decades.
“We all want to enjoy an inclusive society where we can live independently, with the right support when we need it – but government inaction has left our rights undelivered and eroded.”
He called for DPOs, individual disabled people and allies to “scrutinise the document when it is released and support the demands of disabled people”.
One of those speaking at the conference will be Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, who has won praise for his ground-breaking partnership with DPOs through the Greater Manchester Disabled People’s Panel.
He has been one of the few high-profile politicians to support free adult social care.
Those attending the conference will have free access to the museum’s Nothing About Us Without Us exhibition, which explores “the history of disabled people’s activism and ongoing fight for rights and inclusion” and includes a collection of protest material such as banners, t-shirts, photographs, cartoons and sculpture.
*There are about 30 places left at the conference for representatives of disabled-led groups, and another 30 places for representatives who would like to attend online
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