There’s no getting away from it, the general election 2015 is coming, and all the political parties are working hard to win your vote on the 7th May. But what we at Disability Horizons want to know is what are the parties going to do for disabled people if they win and why should we vote for them? Writer Raya AlJadir put these questions to her local MP candidate for each of the political parties. Here, find out why the Labour Party think you should vote for them.
(NOTE: This is not an endorsement for the Labour Party or anybody else; and we at Disability Horizons are in the process of finding out policies from all major parties to help you make your own mind up.)
What is your party’s disability policy? Is there a specific section outlining it in your manifesto?
There is a section in our main manifesto, but as it is only bullet points, we thought it did not do justice to the issue, so we have produced a specific disability manifesto.
Recent research shows disabled people feel marginalised from political decisions, in your view why should they vote?
I think disabled people have been treated very badly over the last 5 years, both in terms of resource and also attitude. It’s therefore no surprise that disabled feel marginalised, but that is exactly the reason why they should vote. If people don’t participate, the more some politicians feel able to ignore them,.
There have been a lot of changes to eradicate physical barriers that prevents people with disabilities to vote, at least that is the case in Hammersmith and Fulham. But of course there is more to be done and we need to understand the full meaning of accessibility – it is not just wheelchair access but access for all. Some people like to go to polling stations, but for others postal voting has made it quite easy. One of our policies pushes for online voting, but that should not mean the polling stations shouldn’t be accessible, too.
If elected to be MP how would you improve the life chances of young disabled people?
There is a big gap in education provisions. Some of our educational institutions have done a fantastic job, but the tragedy of some schools and colleges is that the previous Labour government had secured funding for them then the Tory government came and cut all this funding.
I know education is not all about building, but actually things like accessibility, the latest IT equipment, recording studios etc are really important. Things are changing and getting better, but very slowly. The problem is that most schools are Victorian buildings, but the newer schools are much more accessible.
When the Tories got into power, what they call austerity not only involved cutting day-to-day budget, but it limited expenditure on developments, which even they admit has been a mistake – it has set us back years to providing decent quality whether in housing, education, care service, projects.
One of the reason why the recession has been so long is the cut that was very short sighted, which we as Labour oppose. If I had to state what my priories will be then I have to be honest – no. 1 for me is national health and no. 2 is education. We must allow people, especially young people and the next generation, to enjoy the privileges people of my generation enjoyed, such higher education, affordable housing. The Tories are concentrating on pension because they know that the majority of the over 60s vote whereas young people under 25 don’t.
Over the past few years, disabled people have been faced with many cuts: changes to the Disability Living Allowance, social care and the Disabled Student Allowance, to name a few. What is your view about these changes and is you party looking to alter any of these?
Yes I hope we will do and there is a basic budget review as far as this issue is concerned. The bedroom tax has affected predominately disabled people and DSA cut, which we opposed. A good example locally is that the Labour council that was elected last year fought the care charging, so our borough is only one of two in the whole of London that have scrapped charging.
We cut the cost of meals on wheels and we are cutting the 15 minutes care appointments time. The Tories got far too caught up in the administrative and financial side of things, wanting it all done by the book without thinking about the implication on the people. Nationally we are trying to bring a much bigger care system, whether it is acute care, mental health care or social care, to more people, giving them more power and a much fairer treatment.
During the last 5 years, the Access to Work budget has been slashed. Do you agree with this change? How will you support disabled people who are getting into employment or are currently in employment?
I think this has been one of the worst aspects of what this government has done. We have to change the system and attitude, and we have made it clear that we want to maximise help. This is a real priority – we have to assist people to work rather than bullying them or sanctioning them.
In my experience disabled people are very keen to work and we should be providing the suitable environment. I don’t understand the logic of the government by getting private companies to asses people’s work capability rather than listening to professionals.
Would your party commission independent research on the number of people using food banks and in particular the number of disabled people who are in food poverty?
I am very happy to say yes to that. I have been to many local food banks and they do an amazing job. I have helped at a collection in Tesco, but I am also embarrassed that we have them in this day and age and the people who use them wouldn’t unless they absolutely had to. Bedroom tax and food banks are two issues that the whole Labour Party agrees on – bedroom tax will be the first thing that we will get rid of and, although food banks will be harder, I will hope they will be gone too.
The coalition government removed the duty on public bodies to conduct impact assessments on policy changes to minorities that include disabled people. What is your view on this policy?
We oppose it completely. I am sure all governments are guilty of trying to show themselves in the best light, but this government has taken it to extreme. The sort of thing that they want repeal is the human rights act, which is very important to disabled people and will affect individual facilities.
There are currently only four disabled MPs in the UK, what would your advice be to young disabled people who are interested in getting more involved in politics but don’t know where to start?
It is true that there is not much we can do about it. Politics in this country is mediated through the party system. Often people come to me, disabled or not, and say they want to become involved in politics. I advise them to join a political party – no one will ever fully agree with one party, but there will be one that is closer to your ideas
Independents do get elected too, but with a political party you get the network and the infrastructure to do that. I find many disabled people are more politicised and willing to get involved, but it is just a question of getting the opportunity and not the issue of motivation. There are many disability activists who belong to parties or politically involved.
But there are barriers, not necessarily conscious and overt barriers, but they are there. It is actually quite difficult to become an MP these days – it is a tough life and it is quite thankless. Unfortunately it also costs a lot of money as you have to organise a campaign. If you have family or other responsibilities, this can be difficult.
By Raya AlJadir interviewing Andy Slaughter, Labour Party candidate for Hammersmith.
Before you make your decision on which party to vote for, visit the Labour Party website and their mini-manifesto for disabled people to understand how its manifesto could affect disabled people across the UK.
We had planned on publishing an article from the Conservative Party, but they didn’t get back to us in time for publication.
Your vote is important – visit About my Vote to find out more about how to access voting in your area.