Ed Miliband apologised for not defending disabled people from attacks by the Tories and right-wing press in his conference speech, the issue of disability reform finally being raised by a member of the public in the Q&A session on Wednesday night. As Left Foot Forward reported on Tuesday, not only was the issue airbrushed from Miliband’s key note address, it had been whitewashed from the entire conference.
Miliband was quizzed by disabled blogger and activist Kaliya Franklin, founder of the non-partisan “The Broken of Britain” campaign, during the “Ask Ed M” session of Labour party conference, in which members of the public were invited in to hall to quiz the Labour leader.
Here is a transcript of the exchange:
KF: “Evidence is overwhelmingly pointed to sick and disabled people being the hardest hit by the cuts, but this issue has been airbrushed almost entirely from conference. Are you reluctant to use the word disabled because the public has been so effectively convinced that we’re all scroungers and that the Labour party are not willing to challenge that stereotype on our behalf?”
EM: “I am absolutely not afraid to use the word disability and I am determined to say that disabled people need support and help and compassion and that’s why I want to protect the welfare state and you’ve got to seperate out ill health and disability from worklessness and the decision not to work, and I know about the concerns about the tests that are being done by Atos Origin, I know about those concerns, it’s something that Liam Byrne and I have talked about.
“And it’s not that I’m trying to sweep it under the carpet, at the same time Harriet I ahve to say to you it’s the people from my own constituency in Doncaster North who have made this clear to me more loudly and clearly than any other, than anyone else, they say, look, unless you address the issue of people who could work but don’t, I’m not talking about disabled people.”
KF: “When you gave the example of having met a man on incapacity benefit who you said could work if he just tried harded.
“You’re reinforcing the destructive rhetoric that is coming from the coalition government at a time where sick and disabled people desperately need a champion to stand up for us and had you been putting out the messgae you’ve just given here about separating out sickness and disability from employment we’d have been cheering you months ago.”
EM: “Ok, that’s important what you’ve just said but let me pick you up on this point about the chap I met, I don’t want to go into the detail but let me just be honest with you, because it was a door where I knocked on and I have to give you my impression which is that he was somebody who had lost his job, I think ten years ago, right, and I’m not questioning the fact that he was genuinely, had an ailment, I’m not gonna go into the details of that, but I just have to say to you, that, the system didn’t sort of demand that he go back to work, the system sort of wrote him off, and the system sort of said, well, look, he was, he had incapacity, he couldn’t work for a bit, and that’s it.
“And the problem is, I met his next door neighbours, and they, genuinely, this is a story, I met his next door neighbours and they didn’t actually refer to him but they said ‘look, our problem is we’re working incredibly hard and we’re worried for we’re paying for people who can’t work’, so, I mean, look, I think, I take your point that I didn’t say in the speech yesterday, and I should have said it, fair point, that you’ve got to defend people who are with disability, ill health, and say that they shouldn’t be under attack, but let me just say this to you, that I don’t think, I genuinely don’t think that saying you’re tough on abuse of the benefits system is a non-Labour thing to do, I think it is fundamentally a Labour thing to do.”
Miliband later said he would like to meet up with Kaliya to discuss the issue further. It is vital he does, and it is vital both he and shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne rethink Labour’s approach to welfare reform, maintaining their tough stance on actual abusers for sure and, unequivocally, standing up for those who do not abuse the system but are actually abused by it, defending the genuine and moving the debate, and the language of the debate, on. On every level it would be the right thing, the only thing, the Labour thing to do.
• Yet another nasty in the welfare bill: Means testing support for the disabled-since-youth – Declan Gaffney, September 22nd 2011
• Disabled people fear further impoverishment as cuts begin to bite – Kaliya Franklin, September 1st 2011
• Help stop government cahnges to welfare penalising families with disabled children – Sam Royston, August 15th 2011
• The three things Cameron should know about sickness and disability benefits – Declan Gaffney, July 27th 2011
• The ‘inexplicable’ rise in Disability Living Allowance explained – Declan Gaffney, February 14th 2011