Questions to Deputy Leader Candidates – Ben Bradshaw responses
1. Engaging with disabled people:
1.1. Why should disabled people vote for The Labour Party at the next general election?
I was a carer for my mother when she was dying of Alzheimers in my early 20’s. The attacks by the Thatcher government on disabled people was one of the major factor that made me a Labour Party member, then an activist and eventually an MP and Minister.
The Labour Party has always been the party of equality that has fought discrimination. Most of the progressive legislation on disability rights has been introduced by Labour Governments, while under the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition and, now under the Tories governing alone, disabled people have seen their rights and support eroded and under attack and the services on which they and their carers rely systematically reduced.
But our record verse the Tories isn’t enough. We must offer a manifesto that specifically changes the rhetoric we have heard, where disability is a cost and about state benefits that should be cut into a new language where we talk positively about disability, about the value disabled people bring to our society and the importance of everyone having a dignified life.
1.2. What policies will you champion which will assure disabled people that a Labour Government is best placed to promote the rights of disabled people in society?
Before anything else need to ensure all our actions around disability are based on the social model. We need to refocus our efforts on making sure the kind of barriers that equality impact assessing was designed to highlight and eliminate are removed so that society in all its facets can be accessed by all members of our community.
This governments policies have been counter intuitive. On the one hand they have tried to push more disabled people into work and on the other they have reduced or totally cut the support to make that happen. We need a better system of assessing capability to work and we should be designing that with disabled people, not for them. We need to put more pressure on employers to create workplaces that are accessible and where disabled people truly don’t face discrimination through their working lives, so there are jobs for disabled people to go into. We need to ensure that the underlying message from a Labour Government is about the value that disabled people bring to the workplace and how vital this diversity is if we are to be an innovative and productive nation.
I’m very glad that at the end of the last parliament that the coalition was forced to back down on its plan to scrap the Disabled Students Allowance. From pre-school through to higher education we must ensure that the legislation that already exists with regards to access is fully implemented and that the funding is there to make this happen. Everything from buildings, the curriculum and the technology which we are increasingly seeing in the classroom must be accessible, no facet of the education should work to stop disabled children and young people reaching their potential.
We need an offering with dignity and the right to an enriching life at its core for those who are unable to work and we must start to value the work that carers do, it is work and we need to change the way the state relates to this group of people in a way that reflects this.
We need to make parity of esteem between mental health and physical health services a reality not just a policy.
2. Disability and Diversity: What will you do as Deputy Leader to ensure candidates standing on a Labour platform reflect the diversity that is Britain today?
I was the first openly gay MP to be selected and elected to parliament. I faced a great deal of homophobia when I first stood, I understand what minority candidates experience when putting themselves forward for election. I feel that as deputy I would be well placed to encourage a broader diversity of candidates.
In Exeter we are the first local authority with more women than men in the ruling group. This hasn’t happened by accident, we have sort out talent and mentored women to stand as candidates. Many of the socialist societies including Disability Labour already do this well and as deputy I will work with them to partner CLP’s, so growing a diverse pool of talent is a local priority which they feel supported to deliver. Many disabilities are not obviously visible and we must create a culture right through the labour party where no one feels they must hide a disability to be a labour candidate.
Our record needs to improve in areas like disability and racial diversity. To win back voters from across society we must better reflect that society in the PLP.
3. Disabled Candidates: What measures would you implemented as Deputy Leader to ensure that disabled people are able to stand as candidates and hold political office?
As deputy I would firstly work with Disability Labour to fully assess the barriers that people face when running as candidates in the party. Then we can work together with the NEC and CLP’s to implement changes to break these barriers down.
Monitoring demographics isn’t enough.
We need to work with all those running scheme’s to develop candidates to ensure that they are including places for disabled members.
We need to train our staff that work with those standing for selection and candidates so that have the skills and knowledge to ensure that the process around selection and candidacy are accessible and people feel supported.
And we need to work with our local councils and in parliament so that disabled elected officials can carry out their role without being impeded.
4. Activism: What will you do as Deputy Leader to promote the inclusion of disabled members in all areas of party activities?
As deputy leader I would advocate that we should have an allocated place on the NEC for disabled members, as well as ensuring legislation and discussion on the rights of disabled people are not allowed to be marginalised, but are central to debate within the Labour Party from the National Policy Forum to the PLP.
We need to ensure that we offer a variety of ways to get involved in the party, so disabled people can participate in a way that allow them to use their skills and abilities. Not everyone is able to doorstep canvas and we must ensure that on a local level that disabled activists can engage and make a difference in campaigns.