Questions to Deputy Leader Candidates – Tom Watson
1. Engaging with disabled people:
1.1. Why should disabled people vote for The Labour Party at the next general election?
The Labour Party is the party of equality. I believe that the 12m disabled people in Britain today should have their skills and talents utilised. We should scrap the unfair and cruel bedroom tax. I believe in a social security system that treats disabled people with dignity and does more to support those who want to work. That’s why we will overhaul the work capability assessment - and disabled people must be at the heart of designing a replacement system.
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?
Under this Government less than one in ten of those on disability benefit have been helped into work. The work capability assessment has left many disabled people feeling they don’t get the support they need and it has to be changed. The principle is a simple one: proper help for those who want to work; respect and support for those who can’t. There is another key challenge successive government have frankly so far failed to meet: giving mental health issues and treatment the same priority and resources as physical illness. As a first step we need to ensure all NHS staff have mental health training.
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?
We need a more diverse range of people to participate in party politics. I am passionate about ensuring our elective representatives reflect the makeup of our country and look like the communities they seek to serve. We have made some progress, particularly on selecting more women candidates to run for Parliament, but there is still much more to do. The proportion of disabled MPs is far below the number of disabled people in the country. Yet people who were privately educated are vastly over-represented. That has to change. Disabled candidates face a number of specific barriers – including greater costs when they stand for election. We need to offer tailored training and support for disabled people who are aspiring politicians. We can do that as part of our Future Candidates training programme, which was established to help people from under-represented backgrounds enter Parliament.
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?
One of the things I want to do if I’m elected deputy leader is introduce a bursary scheme to help people with the cost of running for office. Too many people want to do that but don’t feel they afford to do so. The cost of printing out leaflets or travelling to meet members can be prohibitive. Many candidates feel they have to take time off work when they can least afford to do so. None of that should prevent talented people from putting themselves forward. I hope and expect a bursary scheme like the one I’ve described would enable more disabled people to become councillors, MPs, MSP and MEPs.
4. Activism: What will you do as Deputy Leader to promote the inclusion of disabled members in all areas of party activities? Disability Labour should be at the heart of the decision-making process when we are formulating policies that effect disabled people and at the centre of discussions when we are debating the issues that affect them. It’s a partnership. That means consulting disabled members on a wide range of policies. But we also need to make sure our local parties are welcoming to everybody, and that means ensuring all events and meetings are accessible to all. I also want to introduce digital Constituency Labour Parties that will allow people to contribute and engage without always having to attend meetings in person. I hope that innovation might help some disabled members too.