Our first 25 days

As this is my first blog as Co-Chair for Disability Labour, I’d like to welcome all our members, new and old, to what I believe is a new beginning for our socialist society.

As many of you will be aware, it’s been a difficult period for Disability Labour, and we have in many respects been letting our members down. However, since our Annual General Meeting on 8th September in Leeds, and the installation of the new Executive Committee, we’ve seen actions being taken and more communication in 25 days than we saw in the last four years.

A commitment to our members unlike anything we’ve seen since the change to Disability Labour in 2014.

I am, frankly, ashamed of how Disability Labour failed to communicate with members in the past – one member’s newsletter sent only by email and very little else in four years is simply unacceptable.

I cannot, and will not, apologise on other’s behalf, and I am certainly not going to apologise for previous Executive Officers or the previous Chair. I am, however, aware of the anger and disappointment felt by our members and for that I offer not only my disappointment and solidarity but also my determination to ensure this never happens again.

As Co-Chair of Disability Labour I make you this promise on behalf of the new Executive team – our focus will always be our members and we will work hard to regain your trust and support to Disability Labour.


Our new Executive is a strong and diverse team, with members from across the country. I am in the North West of England – my fellow Co-Chair, Fran Springfield, is a resident of the People’s Republic of Vauxhall in London. We have members in East and West Midlands, in the North East, and all points in between. We are committed to ensuring our members are represented across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom and beyond – at Conference we had solidarity from the Labour International CLP!

Our first twenty five days have seen a number of changes and the foundations laid for our plans.

We have achieved 4 of our 12 aims and the others are on-going.

Our first Executive following the AGM was held online, with members able to watch and ask questions. We’ll be doing the same with all our meetings, whether online or meetings in person, and ensuring member participation at each and every meeting. Our Secretary, Simon Lydiard, has done a fantastic job in getting the minutes done promptly and, as we promised, available to all our members.

We’re also in discussion with the Party to ensure our membership is held by Disability Labour to ensure effective communication. This should have happened a long time ago!

And, very importantly, we’ve ended the barrier of a membership fee in favour of a donation and affiliation scheme. Now every member of the Labour Party who identifies as disabled or a supporter is able to join Disability Labour!

You can join Disability Labour here


On 22nd September, the Labour Party headed to Liverpool for our Annual Conference. We were determined to have a strong presence at Conference, despite a lack of organisation from the previous Executive.

I want to take this opportunity to thank our great team – Fran Springfield, Nico Pollen, Kathy Bole, Dave Townsend and Barb Roberts for the work they did on our Disability Labour stand in the Exhibition Hall and the welcome given to all our members who visited.

Our Fringe event on the Monday, a hastily put together Q&A with myself, Fran and Kathy, was a great success and I’m also grateful to Marsha de Cordova, our Shadow Minister for Disabled People, for joining us and speaking on her position for a few minutes. Thank you to all who attended. 

You may also be aware that an issue arose following a tweet from Talk Radio’s Julia Hartley-Brewer regarding the safe space provided by the Party for those who may need it. Following concerns raised by members to us the Co-Chairs and Co-Vice Chairs and one of our members met with the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) on the Wednesday morning prior to Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to outline our concerns.

I want to be clear – nothing is more important to Disability Labour than the wellbeing of our members. It is for that reason that we called on the CAC to ensure that Ms Hartley-Brewer was not welcomed at future Labour Party Conferences, and I am grateful to the CAC for unanimously agreeing with our calls and taking swift action.


The Executive Committee are continuing to engage with the Party in ensuring we have all of our membership details and that we never again have a situation where our members are not fully involved.

As Co-Chair, I’m going to be focusing on one of our first campaigns to persuade the Party to adopt a policy of stopping and scrapping Universal Credit. With the rollout continuing across the country, including here in my home area of Pendle in late November. I share members concerns about its implementation and Disability Labour will continue to be clear about our position:

Universal Credit cannot be fixed. It should not be paused. Universal Credit must be stopped and scrapped with immediate effect.

We’re also looking at expanding our network, working with Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) such as Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and others and contributing to discussions and campaigns going forward.

Most of all, we want to work with you, our members, to make this a great organisation. What do you want to see from Disability Labour over the next 12 months? What changes do you want to see? Is there something you feel we’re missing and how can we rectify that?


A thank you. To all those who attended the AGM. To those members and supporters who have engaged since and supported us through Conference.

As Co-Chair I’m proud to lead this Executive and work with our members to ensure our voices are heard. We have a lot to do, and Disability Labour are working hard to ensure that you, the disabled members of the Labour Party, have that voice.

My thanks for your time. If you have any comments or questions, I’m available via email to wayne.chair@disabilitylabour.org.uk or via my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/cllrwayneblackburn.


Wayne Blackburn Co-Chair
First Published 4 October 2018

Hate Crime Week

15-20 October 2018

According to Police figures across England and Wales there has been a 33% increase in disability hate crime in 2017-18 compared to the previous year. These figures, reported in The Independent on Monday, are based on Freedom of Information requests made by the charity United Response responded to by 32 of the 43 police forces. The charity also states they believe disability hate crimes are underreported despite rising figures.

Any crime or incident which you believe is happening because of race, ethnicity, religion or belief, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability is a hate crime.

As Co-Chair for Disability Labour I am keen to work with charities, Police and Crime Commissioners, and other organisations to highlight this problem and call for further work to be done to recognise the signs of hate crimes and know how to report them.

Here in the North West, I’m working with Clive Grunshaw, Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, and Disability Equality North West, to highlight the #SayNoToHate campaign, which is highlighting the issue and providing Support to Report centres across Lancashire.

Any hate crime is unacceptable. Full stop.

If you are concerned about disability hate crime or are concerned that someone you know may be the victim of any kind of hate crime then please report it. It’s important that we shine a light on this issue and do all we can to eradicate hate crime.

The Self Evident app from Witness Confident is a quick, easy and safe way to report hate crime wherever you are. 

Wayne Blackburn Co-Chair

First published 14 October 2018


The Proof is in the Pudding

That was premise of The Great British Bake off and many a proud cook. The same could be said for this government’s treatment of disabled people.  When Marsha De Cordova MP asked her Parliamentary Question; (quoted directly from the website theyworkforyou.com)

NHS survey data show that, under the Conservatives, 43% of those in receipt of ESA have attempted suicide. Leading academics, disabled people’s organisations and clinicians have raised concerns that the work capability assessment is causing a mental health crisis.”

The WCA is not fit for the 21st century—it is outdated and is causing preventable harm—so I ask the Minister: is it not time that the Government scrap the WCA that is pushing so many people to suicide?”

It was shocking to hear the statistic and it will fuel the anger felt across the country. 43% of people in receipt of ESA have been so utterly devastated that they wanted to die. It leads you to wonder how many have succeeded?

Unfortunately, when it came time for her response, Sally Newton, Minister responsible for the DWP, first blamed A past Labour government for instituting the WCA in 2008. Followed by the fact that they, the Tories have been following independent advice to and try reform it, for 11 years.

Can you imagine a manager in a private company seeing that 43% of a company’s product was bursting into flames when it was plugged in then ordering a step up in production?  They would be more likely to stop production followed by the person in charge being put on gardening leave and speed dialing their law firm. However, this kind ridiculous response has become standard policy from the current government:

Our chief medical officer, Professor Gina Radford, has made it absolutely clear that the NHS data shows there is no causal link between applying for benefits and people tragically taking their lives.

There it was, the standard “oh no it isn’t” response in a debate. There are many people who have told ministers what is happening.  DPAC (Disabled People against the Cuts), ROFA (Regain Our Futures Alliance), and the UN amongst many, many others. The government chooses not to listen.

The darker reality of this statement is that the current government is utterly devoid of compassion. 5% of lives lost to suicide is too many. To add insult to injury, they allowed the decimation of mental health services so there is little help out there for those who are severely depressed or suicidal.

Unfortunately, they don’t sell compassion on eBay or we all might chip in to buy some and send a true care package to Number 10. 

Kathy Bole Co-Vice Chair
First published 17th October 2018

A Reminder of a Year Well Spent

I haven’t posted for a while and it’s due to many factors, the biggest of them is the changing state of my spine. I could focus on that, the idea that I might not return to work, not being with some of my family at Christmas or not being able to travel as freely as I once did. Much of social media at this time is spent thinking about all the awful things that are happening, especially for those of us who are witnessing “mans’ inhumanity to man”. (Thank you Rabbie Burns.)


Whilst travelling through Facebook, someone shared the jar concept of blessings. In a nutshell, or jar, every time something good happens to you, write it on a small piece of paper. Fold the paper and put it in a large jar, with a lid. Keep doing this until the end of the year. Only when you get to 31st of December, can you open the jar and read all the good this year has brought.


I’m not usually saccharine sweet when I get to this time of the year. I have become a bit grumpy. I believe this started after the first blushes of being a county councillor wore off. Back in 2013 when I was able to travel in a power chair without pain. When the Councillor Services team made the chamber and the councillors area more accessible. It was a great start, until I was patronised and made fun of, in a sexist, ablest way by my supposed peers. I was relegated to the bottom of the pile of our group. It came to a point that even the stuff I was an expert at was pushed aside.


Then after a nasty episode of bullying near me, I began to realise that everything I thought the Labour Party stood for, wasn’t truly at the heart of it, until Jeremy Corbyn came along. What I didn’t realise was that our own party would fight against him, because he wasn’t exactly the model of leader that everyone wanted. You have probably gotten to the point that you are thinking to yourself, where is the jar, the explanation of the jar theory. Wait a while, grasshopper. (This is reference to a TV show, Kung Fu.) I’m getting there.


A little more than a year ago, I had to make an unpopular move to take a stand against bullying. I was afraid, because now I had been torn apart by becoming disabled as my body started to break down. The government was also tightening the screws against every disabled person who dared to live their life. When we got mouthy, the screws turned deeper. When we dared to protest, we were arrested and and the police made sure that we were sanctioned. Vilified in the media, frightened to go to the shops and be like everyone else only to be recorded in a food store, to be caught out, because the government spies on us going out of our houses.


So I was afraid, but deep inside, I still was an old school Trade Unionist and knew the difference between right and wrong. And bullying is definitely wrong. So I stood against it and received no help from the Labour Party, not locally, not regionally, and I am not sure it went nationally but I am sure we wouldn’t have gotten help there either.


Things didn’t go the way I thought it would. I was upset, I was isolated. I gave up for a while but I refused to give up completely. And then my Labour Group made me the shadow cabinet member for disabled people. The first one in any council near by. I didn’t crow about it, it made it a little better, I gained some self worth back.


Almost there, grasshopper, (see above reference) just a little longer.


Last December I joined Project 125, which was a great idea, and still is. Then I began to find other ‘disabled people’ (who followed the social model of disability) (one blessing folded and put in the jar) and the virtual friendships started to blossom (another blessing folded) and a common idea started to smoulder into action (another blessing folded and put in the jar.)


Those friendships started to grow. We started to help each other, started to support each other in tangible ways(another folded paper) and in very real terms. It far outweighed anything the ableist world could throw at us. We stuck by each other. Worked out differences (as best we could because everything we are taught about being good friends was created in the same space, face to face. (we used technology to overcome disabilities and distance) (another fold) We started to get together virtually more frequently, against a common foe who didn’t do what we needed. (I think you are getting the idea, another fold) We mounted a campaign and kept meeting and focused on one task, to make the Labour Party let us in. (Another fold)


On a whim, we offered to help try and reach the right people, we were building confidence and a don’t ask, don’t get mentality (another fold). We sat with people who really wanted help in getting things better and we decided to trust just a little more (another folded blessing) and we pulled off something no one who knew us would ever have believed we could. This is a two fold deal for reasons those of us who were there knew. All of our skills, pulling together made it better for people who noticed the difference. 

And then winning back our organisation, Disability Labour, so that we give back to other disabled members who have been let down about being let in to our party, our only hope came before our greatest victory, we made the party conference better, because we worked together as a team. ( another fold, and another) we gained momentum but we had so much organisational stuff to do, to work on our first tentative links into a system that is designed to be against us. But because our victories were hard won, the damage that society has done to us has come at a price. We have won a battle but the war is far from won, grasshopper.


As much as we would all have liked to have the dog eat dog world of ableism stopped dead in its tracks, it will not be fixed in a day. Our party is still not a safe place and just because we have to be cautious and protective of this burning flame, we must realise that the people that we were before we were official, we still are. We are not hiding the flame for a few of us. We are trying to protect this new thing from the same bullies that are baying for our Leader’s blood. We know that his vision is not accepted by those who have learned to play a cut throat game of hurray for me and screw you.


Just as we trusted our membership to see our truth, do not turn the mistrust into ourselves. Have patience, I know how bad it is and I am really frightened too. I have to step away so that I am able to rest. I am not as strong as I was. I see how people are being treated, worse than animals, we are being hunted by the government, I fear I will not be able to sustain the fight, I draw on your strength to keep moving forward. I know that things are changing, but not quickly enough, we have to help get the party back to what it is meant to be about. But we have to place our trust in each other, I will try to keep folding those blessings or rather victories and I will continue to try and walk forward and try to keep focused. Because we have to win the fight of our lives and those who can’t fight are depending on us. All of us and I look forward to all of the victories we can put in the jar.


Kathy Bole Co-Vice Chair

First published 31 Dec 2018

Words Matter – Spoonie or Energy Impaired

Last year I got an invitation to participate in the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project. It’s run by a Disability Labour member, Catherine Hale who I’ve now got to know well. 


The research project is exploring the validity of the concept of Energy Limiting Chronic Illness as an impairment group and as part of the Disabled People’s Movement.


‘Spoonie’ as a concept first came about in 2003 via a blog post by Christine Miserandino


More recently an article in The Mighty used the analogy of a mobile phone battery to describe Energy Impairment 


The choice of a spoon as part of our DL logo was deliberately chosen as an image and illustration of our everyday lives.


We use spoons / spoonie amongst ourselves to describe not having enough energy to do the tasks that everyone else takes for granted. Whilst this makes sense to us and it’s easy to explain to others, it’s not one that is easily recognised by medical professionals.


CIIP has come up with the term energy impairment to describe the difficulty that so many of us face with not having enough spoons/energy to do what we would like to do each day.

Whilst I love using the term spoonie and and have badges with a spoon on them, I can understand why some people think that we need different terminology.


Could there be some sort of scale to compare our energy levels to those of someone who is not energy impaired? One of the most difficult things about being energy impaired is how to quantify our inability to do things because we are just too exhausted.


We’re not “just tired” as people seem to think, it’s more fundamental than that.  It is literally about saying if I have a shower and get dressed today I can’t do anything else until after lunch because I’m just too exhausted to move.


For me it’s much more important that I keep up to date with what’s happening in disability politics and the world in general than I waste spoons getting dressed when I don’t have to go out that day. 


How often have I heard another spoonie say; Now I’ve cooked my meal I’m too exhausted to eat it”?


We need to explain to medical and other professionals that being energy impaired has a huge impact on us everyday. Energy impairment is not just applicable to those who have ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Energy impairment is a massive part of our lives if we have chronic pain, fibromyalgia or any other long-term condition.


Using the term energy impairment gives us a different status. It is a direct comparison against non-disabled people who do not have to battle the difficulties we face every day.


If I was to compare how I am on a good day with what I used to do at work running a large Nursing Home, I probably function at about 20% of my previous life. That’s without factoring in things like travel to work and and doing household tasks. 


That’s easier to explain to the doctor or nurse and possibly social workers or OTs, even if the latter two don’t seem to want to accept what many of us tell them. 


We talk about people having a visual or hearing impairment so why not talk about being Energy Impaired?


I’ve started to use the term Energy Impaired in papers that I write, and in the way I talk about my own conditions. I think that by doing so it could encourage medical and other professionals to better understand the way my various diagnoses impact my life


I want to encourage Disability Labour members and supporters to use Energy Impairment as a descriptor. It is a simple concept to grasp and could easily be used as part of describing disabilities within documents, training and policy. 


If disability bloggers and activists use the term Energy Impairment too, it would be a great way of populating this description across the disability community and eventually into mainstream medical terminology.


I hope and believe that it can help to change the way disabled people are perceived.  

Fran Springfield Co-Chair