Disability Labour has received many complaints from its members that requests for reasonable adjustments are regularly being refused by the Labour Party. Despite many requests and offers from Disability Labour, the party has failed to put any training in to place for staff or members on Ableism. Worryingly, when Disability Labour contacted the party’s Governance and Legal Unit regarding a refusal of a reasonable adjustment, the response that was given was fundamentally flawed and contradictory to guidance issued by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. Given the refusal of basic requests for reasonable adjustments, the many complaints we receive regarding ableism in the party at a local level and the response received when Disability Labour intervened, we can only reach the conclusion that the party is institutionally ableist.
Efforts to improve access and inclusion for disabled people in the party lags far behind those made for other protected characteristics. The only conclusions that can be drawn from the party’s repeated refusal to meet their obligations under The Equality Act and as outlined in the ECHR guide for political parties is that the party does not want to facilitate equal participation by disabled members.
Kathy Bole, The Chair of Disability Labour said: “Any disappointment I may have had at the lack of action by the Party has turned in to anger at the repeated refusal to accept that disabled members have a right to participate equally in political activity. Disability Labour continues to make offers of disability inclusion assistance and training to assist with eradicating ableism from the party.”
Disability Labour has been actively engaging with the Labour Party regarding inclusion for disabled people and ableism in the party since 2018. The party stated it was grateful for Disability Labour’s participation. However, our lived experience was not deemed as important as professional interventions. When Disability Labour offered disability training to the party in 2018 and 2019 there were some strides made in recognizing that the party had to address the concerns regarding inclusion for disabled members. We were able to work with the Stakeholder Manager at the time and provided access audits and recommendations for conference.
When the leadership contest was held, we had discussions with all the candidates for both the Leader and Deputy Leader roles. Kier Starmer applauded Disability Labour’s use of conferencing software to hold online meetings and spoke about it when addressing the Welsh Labour Party, shortly after being elected leader. In his leadership interview with Disability Labour, Keir stated that if he was elected leader, he would want to have lengthy discussions with Disability Labour on
various issues. Despite his praise and the promise made, he has made no attempt to meet with Disability Labour since being elected as leader.
In 2019/2020 Disability Labour requested to meet with Keir to no avail. We have had meetings with Annaliese Dodds and Vicky Foxcroft, but nothing substantial has changed for disabled people within the party.
In 2020, the Chair of Disability Labour started to attend the Equalities Sub Committee of the Labour Party. At every meeting of the subcommittee, the meeting was presented with a long list of issues which prohibited disabled members from being able to participate fully in the party. These issues included, lack of reasonable adjustments, the continuation of holding meetings in inaccessible venues i.e. Brighton, difficulty members have in their own CLPs, the lack of disability awareness training despite Disability Labour’s offer to facilitate and present low-cost disability awareness training to both head office and regions. Despite the party promising to meet with Disability Labour to discuss the training offer, no discussions have taken place.
In 2021 Disability Labour was invited to a meeting to present the final proposal for the new independent complaints process for complaints regarding protected characteristics. Disability Labour expressed concern that the proposed process would not allow either a complainant or the subject of a complaint to have someone to advocate on their behalf. We pointed out the importance of this for disabled members, especially given the party’s obligations under The Equalities Act 2010. Whilst Anneliese Dodds was sympathetic to our position, she was overruled by the party staff present.
Disability Labour had discussions with the party on numerous occasions between 2018 and 2021 regarding Annual Conference and the accessibility issues faced by disabled members. Whilst some improvements were made in 2018 and 2019 accessibility took a step back in 2021.
In 2018 the party provided a safe space for individuals experiencing sensory overload for the very first time. However, at the 2021 conference, although a safe space was said to be provided, on day one of the conference, Disability Labour were advised people would be sent to the area next to our stand as “the safe space was not accessible”.
In 2019, we continued to make representation to party staff about violations of the Equalities Act with regard to conference and the need to provide reasonable adjustments.
In 2021 conference was again held in Brighton. Sadly, Disability Labour were approached by many members regarding accessibility issues. In total over 100 complaints were received in the first two days. Issues included:
● Lack of adequate signage for the prayer room and the safe space
● People with disabled parking permits being expected to walk from the rear disabled car park to the very front of the conference centre to gain access
● Staff directing able bodied people to use the Changing Places toilet
● Ground floor disabled toilets being inside the main toilets and behind 3 manual push/pull doors thus making them inaccessible to many disabled people including wheelchair users
● People requiring high back chairs with arms as a reasonable adjustment were given office chairs on wheels with no brakes and which were often also broken.
● Scooters provided to disabled delegates in poor condition. One had a fault making the front end unstable and liable to tipping over.
● Changing covid testing requirements. Initially it was a requirement to have a negative test or valid covid vaccination to enter the conference venues. On the third day they only carried out random checks and on the final two days they abandoned the checks entirely. This placed those vulnerable to the effects of covid at significant risk
● The mandatory mask wearing was not enforced and a very large proportion of people were unmasked, larger than those likely to be medically exempt
● The inability of people to find the Disability Labour stand due it being positioned away from the main stand areas.
● Staff refusing to pass reports from boxes on the floor to delegates unable to bend down to pick them up.
● Deaf members reported that the quality of the BSL interpreters was so poor that they lost much of the nuance of some of the discussions. Complaints were also received that they were wearing clothing and other accessories that were distracting.
● There was poor provision of accessibility aids such as ramps. A Disability Labour fringe event was provided with a raised platform and no ramps for wheelchair users to access the stage
● To reduce costs, they cut the number of teams working the first aid stand. As a result, it was often unmanned and first aid responders could not be reached
● One of the main lifts was shut off, allegedly under instruction from the leader, as it could also access the floor that the leader’s team had space for briefings etc. Furthermore, one of the two front lifts was out of order for most of the conference. Therefore, disabled people were left queuing for long periods to wait for a lift
These are just some of the issues that were received regarding the 2021 conference. Many of these issues were raised directly with David Evans, the General Secretary, after his promise at a Disability Labour Fringe event that he would “he would personally ensure that the party dealt with the issues, which have been raised repeatedly by disabled members”. Full details of the issues were also included in a report submitted by Disability Labour to the Labour Party at their request. No feedback or response has been received.
We continue to receive complaints from members regarding accessibility and discrimination issues within their local parties. As well as complaints regarding inaccessible meeting venues and bullying, we have also received reports of disabled members being subject to victimisation at a local level when speaking up or making complaints.
We have also received many complaints regarding the refusal to provide the reasonable adjustments required under the Equalities Act. Only last month we were contacted by a Disability Officer for a CLP who had requested that a Saturday morning AGM be held online as she had an energy limiting condition and the travel required would be excessive and detrimental to her health. The acting chair of the CLP wanted an in-person meeting, but the request was referred to the regional officer who advised that they could proceed with the in-person meeting. Disability Labour intervened on behalf of our member and the regional officer referred the issue to the Governance and Legal Unit of the party.
In its guidance for Political Parties on the Equalities Act, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission states in the section titled “The duty to make reasonable adjustments [s.20 and Sch. 15]“ that “The duty on political parties to make reasonable adjustments is anticipatory.”
Furthermore, in the section titled “Access to party benefits, facilities or services [s.101 (2)(a)]” it also states that
“political party must not discriminate against, harass or victimise members in how they allow them access to a benefit, facility or service. Benefits, facilities or services include a wide range of existing advantages, opportunities and activities enjoyed by members of a political party. This includes:
● participating in national, regional or local party meetings, conferences or events
● participating in internal committees or decision-making groups
● participating in party elections and postal ballots
● being selected as a candidate for elected office
● voting on decisions at local and national party meetings
● using party equipment or facilities
● accessing party documents, such as the constitution, rule book or policy reports, and
● receiving newsletters and accessing other party communications, such as online forums.
In their response to Disability Labour’s concerns re the decision to hold the meeting in-person, the Governance and Legal Unit said: –
“While we note the concerns you have raised and much appreciate your role as a critical friend to the Party, moving to online-only meetings on a permanent basis would very likely disenfranchise other groups, such as those without access to the Internet. It may also be the case that in person meetings are more conducive to comradely interaction at meetings, and better facilitate a social element. It is, therefore, our view that the current principle of allowing Party units to make a
decision on what format of meeting best meets the needs of its members is the correct one. Insofar as the duty to make reasonable adjustments applies to associations such as the Labour Party, it is a reactive duty, rather than an anticipatory. Accordingly, we do not believe any member would be likely to make a successful case in this regard under the Equality Act 2010.
Notwithstanding this, and as said above, we appreciate your role as a critical friend and thank you for your feedback and comments below.”
We would note that the request was not for all party meeting to be online, but for a specific meeting to be held online as a reasonable adjustment. Furthermore, even if the duty was reactive and not anticipatory as claimed, they have failed to react to the request received. They have denied the member concerned the ability to access party benefits, facilities or services as outlined by the EHRC. We would also note that they have put the rights of the 6.3% of the population who according to the Office for National Statistics don’t access the internet above those of the approximately 25% of the population that are recognised as disabled under the Equalities Act, despite Disability being a protected characteristic.
It is disgraceful that the Labour Party’s own Governance and Legal Unit do not understand their most basic duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equalities Act 2010 is anticipatory and not reactive.
Disability Labour is now insisting that disabled members are treated equally and fairly by both staff and other officials in the party at both a national and local level and that their rights under the Equalities Act are enforced. We call for:
● David Evans and Keir Starmer to fulfil their promises to meet with Disability Labour and to do so urgently and before next month’s Annual Conference.
● the party as a matter of urgency to reach out to Disability Labour so that we can provide the Governance and Legal Unit with training on their obligations under the Equalities Act.
● The disciplinary process to be amended so that disabled people can have an advocate when making a complaint or being the subject of the complaints process
●The Equalities and Human Rights Commission to carry out a full and thorough investigation into ableism in the Labour party.
If the party does not improve its treatment of disabled members, it risks facing legal action.
Disability Labour will be holding a fringe event titled “Ableism and the Labour Party” at this year’s conference on Sunday 25th September at 11am in meeting room 4b of the ACC.