Wednesday 30 October 2013

Kate Green's First Disability Speech

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.


  1. Kate may be well advised to consider Abraham Maslow and the basic needs of sick and disabled people before anyone considers the needs they have to access work.
    Its a great speech, but lets get the horse in front of the cart,because that is the problem with the Tories - they confuse cause and effect, they prioritise the effect without addressing the cause.
    Sick and disabled people will not get into work unless they have;
    1) A safe and accessible home with a safe tenancy
    2) A healthy diet, and a means of getting that - be that assistance, provision, finances.
    3) The ability to toilet, wash and bathe that is appropriate for them, and to dress.
    4) The financial security of available benefits, not the house of cards situation that exists now, where a loss of benefit can easily happen and can also remove other passported benefits. The introduction of UC is a horror story for many sick and disabled people with premiums being slashed, and yet no-one is yet screaming about it.
    These premiums are essential income and are being removed across the board - a huge financial loss to the individual, and a pittance claw back for the treasury.

    Making the lives of sick and disabled people better will actually increase their chances of getting work.
    Unemployment isnt bad for people's health - unemployment creates poverty, and its poverty that kills and maims, its poverty that creates depression and anxiety, its poverty that means people live in cold homes and eat irregular meals.
    Financial poverty rarely motivates people, if it worked for everyone then there wouldnt be poverty. Financial poverty more often leads to poverty of choice, poverty of experience, poverty of ambition, and poverty of opportunity - hardly surprising when people are living in cold shabby homes, eating cold shabby meals.

    Get a grip Labour, and dont make the same mistake as the tories of believing that the outcome of any situation must be work, but instead make lives better and reap the reward of more people finding and coping with work from this more equitable position.

  2. I think the sentiment is there and the right words have been used; we all want this and we all deserve this - it's not special treatment these are basic human rights and it shouldn't be so hard or require such a fight to put measures in place that support rather than suppress the most vulnerable, sick and disabled in society. However, I don't just want sentiment and strong words - I want ACTION and i want to hear how Kate Green and her colleagues intend to make this a reality - Making Rights a Reality for Disabled People - is a start, but it can't be allowed to gather dust on electronic bookshelves, whilst promises are broken or ignored. If we are to trust Labour and the words of Kate Green we need to know how Labour intends to put policy in place and we need to know how quickly this will happen. Enough time has been wasted and enough innocent people have suffered and died whilst the finer details and are discussed then discarded.

    Finally I hope Kate Green has a word with Rachel Reeves and makes sure that they are working to the same agenda, because in comparing both 'first speeches' form both I fear this is not the case and it must be if Kate Green is able to make progress with this and do what needs to be done and what we know is the only right, decent and proper thing to do.

  3. Don't think I can live up to the content of those first two comments (tired, brain fell out etc.) but I think it is a good start. Emphasis on the start, it appears from the speech that Kate Green agrees with that too though. If the rest of the labour shadow cabinet believes this too I think we may be cooking on gas.

  4. I don't like the speech. Once again it primarily addresses those who can work. It also seems soft on ATOS. Why not use this opportunity to reaffirm a commitment to sacking ATOS? They seemed to say at conference that they'd get rid of ATOS, so why not restate that? Instead we get "we can't just beat them up". Why not? Do it!

    There isn't really any firm policy proposals in it. But oppositions no longer seem to think they ever have to make any. They say what they want to get elected and then do as they bloody well please.

  5. Maybe it's not completely definitive yet, but it's a helluva lot better than what the tories have done to sick and disabled people. I hope something happens soon though as I am about to cash in my own chips, particularly if this winter is bad. I cannot take much more.

  6. it' is a good speech if the person has a background in integrity and moves to a proper evaluation of an assessment about someone’s ability to work from a senior doctor only from the BMA not as now from micky mouse

    This is my policy that i have banged on about for the past three years and it is the only one that is valid long term because at the end of day you are either fit for work or you are not and anything else is just a compromise and getting it wrong spells your death

  7. Good speech but nothing about how they can implement things, how long it will take to put into action. Didn't mention anything about Atos being thrown out and didn't mention anything about the WCA!
    In other words, they are just words, and until I see definite policies, that are not going to be broken, about how the disabled and long-term sick are going to be looked after and become people instead of pawns in the welfare wars.
    Until then, I'll believe it when I see it!

  8. I wish someone would form a political party that had real humane feelings for people and created policies accordingly. Can you imagine? Disabled people given support and welfare that helps them lead happy, dignified, productive and rewarding lives. They don't want the world. They just don't want to be written off as undeserving or scrounging. I am sure this has been suggested before, so where did the confusion begin?

    1. The Green Party is very close to that. I have heard it said "Oh, but it takes ages for new parties to get support" - that may have been true before social media in the 80's, but it's not true now. The Green Party is very new but already has an MP in Parliament - which is pretty good going with just word of mouth and "Common People" standing for office rather than trained politicians.

      I think it can happen, but I think people need to not be suckered into playing the political game by the old rules of "vote for lesser evil"/"don't spoil a vote"/"political-think" and actually step up.

    2. Sure hope so. Thanks Oya's Daughter.

  9. martin the right wing Republican Party of the USA and the UK conservative party and the likes run the world and have done for many years

    They don't believe in sick or disabled people they don't believe in free health care

    they believe in very simple terms no state support sink or swim and that it' just a few words sums them up

    all other types of political party's try to do something different but cant as they either don't have the money or the solid education of the people or both so have to fall into line the the conservative right wing

  10. I do relate to what you say, thanks Nick, but the status-que just isn't good enough any more. Fuck the bastards who don't believe in sick or disabled. How can they believe in money more than human life, for gods sake? I don't believe in them !!!

  11. Liebour introduced ATOS to the disabled & will use ATOS if elected in 2015. This is the right course of action because the disabled industry has grown like Topsy & has to be curbed.

    1. Atos itself is not the problem as such. It is the directive from the DWP that is the problem. Disabled "industry"?? I think the bankers' bonuses and MPs expenses, things amongst a long list that represents the glaring injustice and growing gap between the haves and have-nots, not just to do with disabled people (although they are the ones suffering the most, have grown unfairly, and I'm sure no bankers, MPs or CEOs of companies evading tax will be freezing or topping themselves this winter. What a callous and disrespectful post.

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