It’s only been a matter of days since Keir Starmer became the Labour Party’s new leader. But already it seems the signs for chronically ill and disabled people under his tenure aren’t looking that good. Because the job of representing these people in his shadow cabinet appears to have vanished. Or, at best, Starmer is dragging his heels in filling the role.
Starmer: dragging his heels?
Under Jeremy Corbyn, there was a shadow minister for disabled people. It was previously Debbie Abrahams, then Marie Rimmer and finally Marsha de Cordova. She was still in the role until Starmer’s win on 3 April. Since then, de Cordova has been moved to shadow women and equalities; a role previously held by Dawn Butler.
But so far, Starmer has not appointed anyone in the shadow minister for disabled people role. And this gap has not gone unnoticed on social media.
As writer Alex Tiffin, who runs the Universal Credit Sufferer website, noted:
Not one MSM Journalist is willing to call out Sir Keir Starmer for effectively abolishing the Shadow Disabilities Minister role.
He moved Marsha De Cordova to Women & Equalities and just thought he'd not fill the disabled people position.
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Day 3 is going well.
— Alex Tiffin (@RespectIsVital) April 6, 2020
And as he said again:
FOR THOSE AT THE BACK.
Keir Starmer has not appointed a Shadow Minister for Disabled People after removing Marsha De Cordova from that role.
It's inconceivable to do so when so many disabled people need representation more than ever before. https://t.co/sA0Obd5n1Q
— Alex Tiffin (@RespectIsVital) April 6, 2020
Chair of London Young Labour Rachel O’Brien openly asked who Starmer would put in de Cordova’s place:
Glad @MarshadeCordova has got Women and Equalities but who is going to be Shadow Minister for Disabled People because the PLP does lack in 1) the number of Disabled people in it, 2) people who will publicly say they are Disabled and 3) with any connection to the movement
— Rachel O'Brien (@RachelJ_OBrien) April 6, 2020
But former shadow work and pensions secretary Abrahams appeared confident that Starmer would appoint a new shadow minister in the role:
@MarshadeCordova is the new Shadow Women & Equalities Sec! So disabled people are included within this. But I believe there will also be another Shadow Minister for Disabled People
— Debbie Abrahams MP (@Debbie_abrahams) April 7, 2020
A former MP also said similar:
No. As far as I am aware, it is a post within the DWP team which has not yet been appointed. I am sure the appointment will be made shortly.
— Ian Lucas (@IanCLucas) April 7, 2020
The role of shadow minister for disabled people may well be a “post within the DWP team”. But that still doesn’t totally explain Starmer’s delay in filling the role. Because he has already appointed several shadow ministers, like Rosena Allin-Khan as shadow mental health minister. In government, this job forms part of the Department of Health and Social Care. And Starmer has also put Andy McDonald in as shadow “employment rights and protections” secretary; a job that doesn’t exist in government.
The Labour Party says…
The Canary asked the Labour Party for comment. We specifically wanted to know if Starmer would be filling the shadow minister for disabled people role. It had not responded at the time of publication.
The lack of a shadow minister for disabled people comes after 10 years of what a UN report called “grave” and “systematic” violations of chronically ill and disabled people’s human rights by successive Tory-led governments. The chair of the UN committee said there was a “human catastrophe”.
But its findings were unsurprising.
A decade of human rights abuses
Life for sick and disabled people in the UK has severely deteriorated since 2010. For example, Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is a benefit for sick and disabled people. It’s supposed to help with their extra costs if they live with illnesses or impairments. But PIP has been dogged by controversy. From stealth real-terms cuts, to huge rates of successful appeals, the benefit is a shambles. Also, around 12 people a day die waiting for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decisions on their PIP.
Meanwhile, the department itself is in a constant state of scandal. From destroying reports into claimant deaths, to not collecting data on the mortality rate under its new benefit Universal Credit, the DWP’s reputation has been severely tarnished over recent years. Perhaps most damning in this is that claimants have repeatedly had to take the DWP to court to try and get it to admit its wrongdoing.
Poverty rates for chronically ill and disabled people have remained very high. Hate crime rose repeatedly in the last decade. Much of the UK’s public transport is still not fully accessible. The disability employment gap barely moved in the 2010s, and disabled people are still sorely unrepresented in the arts.
So, a shadow minister for disabled people would seem like a hugely important job. But the problem is, Starmer’s heel-dragging is not new. As under Corbyn, there were also similar issues.
Labour’s not-so-new disability problem
As The Canary previously reported, previous incumbent Rimmer was criticised by some as showing a “lack of awareness” of disability politics. And her record in parliament did not reflect her front bench role. Between February and October 2017 while she was shadow minister for disabled people, only five contributions she made in parliament were related to disability.
Corbyn himself faced some criticisms from disabled people as well. Not least among these was the party’s former position of only calling for a pause to the Universal Credit rollout. But also Corbyn did not respond to the UN report previously mentioned until pressure from disabled people’s campaign groups put him in a position where he had little choice. Therefore, it seems that Labour has a historical problem with putting chronically ill and disabled people’s issues to the fore.
So, as things stand, it is currently unclear if there will be a shadow minister for disabled people or not. If Starmer doesn’t appoint one, then many chronically ill and disabled people may see this as a distinct lack of care for them as a protected group. But even if he does fill the role, the delay in doing so sends out that same message also.
Featured image via YouTube – Guardian News
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