Introduction from Sue Marsh
“I’ve just seen Kate Green’s first speech as Labour shadow minister for disabled people.
It rocks, and is so different to what we were hearing just two years ago, it’s hard to put the two together.
Just one thing. But to me it’s a big thing.
When Alf Morris, also Labour and the first minister for disabled people passed his ground breaking legislation, he called it the “chronically sick and disabled people’s act.”
I’ve campaigned primarily by trying to re-introduce that original intent back into the narrative. I always, always say “sick and disabled” and it’s gives me great pleasure that it has become so universal that even DWP documents and statements now use the phrase. Language matters and if we don’t want politicians – and the public – to get away with two dimensional attitudes to disability, we can’t use two dimensional definitions.
Otherwise, as I said, it rocks.”
“It’s a great pleasure to join Unison here this morning. Earlier this year, I was fortunate to be invited to your equalities conference, and I think I recognise some of the same faces! But I have to tell you this is my very first speech in my new role as shadow minister for disabled people – so I hope you’ll be a little kinder to me – you know so much more than I do, and you will have much more to tell me than I can tell you.
Writing this speech has however been made much easier for me by a very helpful article which was published last week by my predecessor Anne McGuire.
I know Anne is well known to you, and I can imagine there was real dismay when she announced she was stepping down from the frontbench.
She’s been an expert, passionate and committed advocate for the rights of disabled people for many years, she was a highly effective minister when we were in gvt, and I know she’s a very hard act to follow.
I’m very glad to say that she’s also my good friend.
Anne in her article last week wrote that the last three years have been the most threatening for disabled people and their families, and I could not agree more.
After years of progress – under both Tory and Labour governments – the DDA, Making Rights A Reality for Disabled People, the signing of the UN Convention – under the Tory-led coalition it feels we have gone back to the dark ages.
Disabled people have been – I think it’s not an exaggeration to say this – they’ve been vilified, while the support that they rely on has been slashed, without a care for the long term or the human consequences.
According to campaigners, disabled people have been hit 9x as hard as non disabled people by austerity cuts.
And such support as has remained in place is increasingly being confined to the most severely disabled .
Yet such an approach is simply counterproductive.
It will lead to greater isolation, reduced social participation, worse health outcomes, less chance that disabled people will be able to participate economically.
It will pile up costs and anguish for disabled people, their families, communities, and ultimately the public purse.
Yet even as disabled people are taking the hit, every day it seems there’s a drip drip of stories in the media that repeatedly portray them as scroungers, skivers, or frauds.
So I want to say very clearly – what’s being said, insinuated and implied, is wrong, it’s cruel and it’s shameful.
It creates division, and it feeds into quite despicable levels of abuse and violence.
It underlies unacceptable levels of hate crime against disabled people, and we need to call time on it now.
Labour will continue to stand against this, and condemn misleading and inflammatory portrayals of disabled people – and I want to lay down the challenge to government ministers: you should be doing so too.
But while there’s so much for us to be angry about under the present gvt, today I want to think ahead about how Labour would approach disabled people’s rights.
I hope some of you will have contributed to the work that Anne and Liam Byrne set in train to consult widely on what a Labour government could do to make disabled people’s rights a reality.
We’ve asked Sir Bert Massie to chair a taskforce advising us on how we should take our thinking forward in the light of what we’ve been told, and I’m very much looking forward to discussing ideas with Bert and his team.
But, you know, I’m already clear about the guiding principles that we as a Labour government will follow.
Ed Miliband has talked powerfully of how we are a One Nation party.
That means a vision of a better Britain, in which everyone has a stake, everybody plays a part, prosperity’s fairly shared.
And nowhere could our notion of being One Nation be more tested than in the way in which we include disabled people and stand up for their rights.
So every policy Labour develops will be about including, not isolating disabled people.
It will be about respecting them, celebrating the contribution they make, not demeaning and insulting them.
And disabled people themselves will be co-producers in decision-making about them and their lives.
Of course, every individual will face different circumstances, no two disabled people have the same lives or needs.
But we should not be satisfied until every disabled person can achieve their full potential.
Now, we’ve said we will be tough on benefits spending. That doesn’t mean blaming or demonising people, but it does mean being tough on what it is that prevents every disabled person is from participating as they could.
For many, that includes being in work.
And I think we have much more to do to address the disadvantage that disabled people face in the labour market.
Why are disabled people less likely to be in work, to earn less if they are in work, or to progress less than non-disabled people?
What barriers are in their way? And more important, what do we do about it?
I truly believe the gvt has missed a huge trick in its annual reviews of the WCA. It could have taken the opportunity to think big.
But nowhere have ministers asked – what would need to change to enable more disabled people to work and to thrive at work?
Instead they’ve concentrated – crudely – on sorting people into those who can work and those who can’t, and putting more pressure on individuals they think could work.
I simply don’t buy that binary approach. People’s lives are more complicated. Conditions are more nuanced. Work – and contribution – comes in many forms.
So I want to look very hard at all aspects of disabled people’s employment chances, not just go round beating up on Atos (though they deserve some of that), not just a bit of tinkering with the WCA.
I want to see our labour market strategy linked much more closely to our industrial strategy.
And I want us to learn from what were able to try in govt – whether that’s Work Choice, A2W, P2W, NDDP – and take a hard look at what worked and what did not.
On social care, my colleague Liz Kendall and I want a sustainable model that ensures we don’t get into a situation where disabled people end up becoming increasingly dependent for want of often quite small amounts of care.
The government clearly thinks responsibly for caring can be thrown more and more on families.
But that’s not always feasible, it’s not fair, it’s not economically effective, and it’s not what many disabled people want.
We need a system that preserves people’s independence, that is a springboard to their wider participation in society, not a means of putting them out of sight and out of mind.
And on financial support for disabled people, well look, I’ve always known that a secure and decent income is a prerequisite for full social engagement – whether that’s about participating in education, employment, being able to volunteer or participate in community activity, care for your kids, enjoy and live your life.
You know we won’t be able to reverse every benefit cut when we come into government, though we’ve already said we’ll abolish the hated bedroom tax – and 2/3 of those affected by it are disabled people.
But I’ll tell you this: I am all too aware that the cost of living crisis is felt acutely by disabled people, as the extra costs associated with disability pile up.
So it will be my priority to make sure that every measure we announce to address the cost of living crisis that families face under this out of touch, arrogant, millionaires’ gvt – that every one of our policies goes the extra mile to work for disabled people, their families and carers too.
I’m conscious of how much of your time I’m taking. It’s because there is so much I want to say.
So let’s treat this as the start of a conversation, not the end of a speech.
When I heard Anne was standing down, I too was dismayed – but I have to tell you my very next thought was that I passionately wanted her job.
I know how bad things have become in just three short years, but I know we can do so much better for disabled people. I know it can be better than this.
With your support, I very much look forward to getting to grips with the challenge. Please let’s stay in touch.