On 28th October, Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) were contacted by the office of Debbie Abrahams, the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and invited to provide a key speaker for the launch of the Labour Party Disability Equality Roadshow on November 11th 2016.
The Labour Party said they wanted
“to ensure that we listen directly to the views of disabled people on a wide range of issues as we begin to develop Labour’s policies for the next election. We hoped to have brief introductory speeches from Jeremy Corbyn, Debbie and yourself, before breaking out into smaller groups to discuss policy themes, drawn from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”
The invitation cited GMCDPs “promotion of a rights-based approach to disability, extensive experience of campaigning to assert the rights of disabled people” and we, of course, were pleased to accept.
Two of the major issues that have been important to disabled people, we said, are Independent Living and Assisted Suicide, and we would like to talk about them. This seemed to worry our contact, who said that Labour had not got a formal policy position on the future funding of the ILF and he was concerned that this might be a difficult issue for Jeremy Corbyn and Debbie Abrahams to respond to if this was brought up. We explained that this was broader than the ILF and we wouldn’t be looking to put anyone on the spot, or expecting any commitment from Labour about this on the day.
Despite such reassurances from ourselves the Office of Debbie Abrahams has now withdrawn its invitation to GMCDP to provide a speaker. Although we will still attend, we are immensely disappointed.We have been a part of – and are linked into – disabled people’s organisations and networks and have offered to speak on two of the most serious matters facing disabled people today. We are astounded that the Labour Party does not want to hear us. Because of this we have decided to make our views available widely and are posting this message on our website. Please circulate it as widely as possible, so that the Labour Party knows just how important these matters are.
Please see below the speech we intended to deliver. Please circulate it as widely as possible, so that the Labour Party knows just how important these matters are.
Firstly I would like to thank Jeremy, Debbie and the Labour Party for inviting GMCDP to speak today at the launch of your Disability Equality Roadshow. Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People have no political affiliations, we have worked with past governments, Labour and Tory alike. We have also protested against both parties.
However, we are now living through an unprecedented period of sustained attacks on disabled people; the services we receive, the support we require and our very right to exist. You will no doubt have read the UN report published on Monday that state austerity policies ‘amount to violations of disabled people’s rights’. I mention this just so you don’t think that disabled people are making all this up.
We face inequality it all aspects of our lives, whether it be transport, housing, education or employment. Employment is a prime example of where we face inequalities at every level, from recruitment, retention, promotion and dismissal. To compound these difficulties the employment support programme Access To Work is being cut. Yes that’s right its being cut! At a time when we should be investing in support, the government is making cuts to this programme. This is impacting particularly upon Deaf People who require British Sign Language interpreters within the work place. If we want to see Deaf lawyers, Deaf teachers and Deaf members of parliament, cutting support is not the way to go about it!
However, for GMCDP and for disabled people’s organisations in the UK, there are two issues that are of greatest concern, two issues that we want to reach out to Labour on.
2 Independent Living
Firstly, the principals of Independent Living for disabled people are being dismantled. The Independent Living Fund has gone. It was established to support disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently within the community rather than locked away in residential care, and the government scrapped it! Jeremy knows this because unlike the majority of politicians who shrugged their shoulders and walked away, Jeremy stood with us outside the Court of Appeals in the cold and stood up for us in parliament and campaigned for the retention of the ILF.
So what has the closure of the ILF meant for disabled people? It’s meant that some disabled people are having their care support cut in half, some disabled people told to wear incontinence pads at night, despite the fact they are not incontinent. Southampton CCG are saying that anyone needing more than 8 hours care support a day now face the threat of going into residential care. Here in Greater Manchester, Rochdale council is planning cuts to its Learning Disability Services by moving some people who have existing tenancies into residential care.
What we need is a national, needs-led system, independent of local authorities to administer independent living support, free at point of delivery and paid for through taxation. This system should build on the learning from the Independent Living Fund and be a key strategic mechanism for ensuring Disabled people’s rights under the UNCRPD are fully and consistently realised across the country.
3 Assisted Suicide
The other big issue, the scariest issue, the most misunderstood and misreported issue is disabled people’s opposition to the legalisation of Assisted Suicide.
At times it feels to us that we are fighting a pincer movement.
On the one side we have austerity and the narrative that has been spun by successive governments that disabled people have had it too easy for too long, that we are bleeding the county dry and that we are unsustainable and an unacceptable expense (I thought that was the banks, but apparently not). There was the punitive introduction of Workfare, the bedroom tax, cuts to Disabled Students Allowance, cuts disguised as reforms to ESA, DLA which are relentless and ongoing.
On the other side we have repeated attempts to introduce Assisted Suicide legislation. Let us be clear that GMCDP, DPAC, Inclusion London and all the other major UK disabled people’s organisations or disability charities strongly oppose any attempt to introduce any Assisted Suicide legislation. At a time when we are facing massive cuts to services and benefits, we need support to live, not assistance to die. It is not only disabled people who oppose Assisted Suicide. The British Medical Association and Royal Colleges of Physicians, GPs and Surgeons and The Association for Palliative Medicine are all opposed to changing the law in relation to Assisted Suicide.
Despite this, supporters of Assisted Suicide claim that disabled people’s opposition to Assisted Suicide isn’t relevant as any such legislation would only apply to people who are terminally ill with less than six months to live and that safeguards would be put in place to protect the vulnerable (I think that means people like me). Well our concerns are relevant because we have the evidence from countries like Belgium, Holland and parts of the USA where Assisted Suicide is already lawful. In almost all cases there has been some kind of ‘mission creep’ on the criteria of who is eligible. It’s follows a similar pattern. At first it is limited to those with ‘less than six months to live’, then is extend to those in ‘chronic pain’ and eventually encompasses those found to be experiencing ‘unbearable suffering’. All such criteria is subjective and ultimately divides society into those deemed worthy to live and those deemed not worthy of life. So we vehemently oppose legislation that would give the state the power to end our lives through fear and coercion and then sold to us as ‘choice’.
Imagine the power we could harness if all those, either for or against Assisted Suicide could instead turn their energies to fighting for better palliative care for all. Fight for a better funded NHS and a social care system that enables people to maintain their choice, control and dignity. Not being able to wipe your own bum, or hold a spoon or dress yourself are not reasons to kill people or lock them away in residential care or withdraw their support so they become prisoners in their own homes.
So we are asking the Labour leadership to talk to disabled people’s organisations about Independent Living and about our opposition to Assisted Suicide. Today is a great start but if you want your policies to be the policies that disabled people support, that disabled people endorse and ultimately vote for, then there must be an ongoing dialogue. So here’s our contact details not just GMCDP but our sister organisations, Not Dead Yet UK, the Alliance for Inclusive Education and the other organisations I have already mentioned. Work with us. You provide the tea and coffee and we’ll bring the biscuits.