Keir Starmer has already thrown disabled people under the bus

Keir Starmer
Steve Topple

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:

And as he said again:

Chair of London Young Labour Rachel O’Brien openly asked who Starmer would put in de Cordova’s place:

But former shadow work and pensions secretary Abrahams appeared confident that Starmer would appoint a new shadow minister in the role:

A former MP also said similar:

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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  • Show Comments
        1. I think I get the message: like the Democratic Party in America, like Labour under Blair, Keir Starmer is indistinguishable from a Tory, and Labour reverts to its Blairite avatar. What does one mean by these people – supposedly in opposition – being indistinguishable from Tories? It means that they support the economic and financial status quo, which was on the point of collapse before COVID-19 pulled back the curtains on the extent to which that economic status quo has pursued profit over people for decades and, in doing so, created a globalised infrastructure in which efficiency is defined solely in terms of profit. So, America doesn’t have a drug bank because, in terms of profit, it’s more efficient to outsource it to China, along with the production of medical supplies, including ventilators and, whilst we’re about it, just about everything else. We don’t have enough medical equipment to protect our hospital staff. Why not? Because its production is outsourced, for ‘efficiency’, denying jobs for our people in the process, and now the whole world wants them. There are no margins in supply chains, so when one link breaks, the whole thing collapses. Why are there no margins? For ‘efficiency”. For maximum profit and minimum cost.

          People are locking down to save the governments of the capitalist world the embarrassment of being exposed for having run their heath services down to such a point, and run them every year at this time at maximum capacity to such an extent that a virus that is almost certainly, when these figures are done, marginally more lethal than normal years has led to the prospect of the collapse of our health services. When someone tried to tell an Italian microbiologist that Italy had a brilliant health service he shook his head and asked how much more lethal a virus had to be in order to collapse a health service already running at 97% capacity. Does any of this look like ‘efficiency’ now? How efficient is it that we can’t provide protective clothing for hospital staff? Pandemics occur about once every hundred years. The last one killed 50 million people. Do you think there’s an excuse for not being prepared for this one, given the time we had? So why didn’t we? Because that wouldn’t be ‘efficient’.

          And what jeff3 is saying is that it’s greed that motivates this economic model – greed that drives it, and Keir Starmer has given no indication whatsoever, throughout his career, that he has any intention of doing anything about it. Under Starmer, at a time when the world desperately needs change, it will, be business as usual, and greed will continue to be allowed to expose the rest of us to the kind of vulnerability you’re seeing now. That, I think, is what jeff3 is saying, and he’s spot on.

    1. It is early days yet, But if Keir Starmer continues to disappoint, perhaps those on the left should consider setting up a new party. It would only take 49 mps to become the 3rd largest Party, and there is almost 5 years to build it up before the next election.

    2. Perhaps worth remembering that the disabled were the first group the Nazis went after. Indeed, the gas chambers were built for them. With wayward eugenicists like Toby Young spreading intellectually empty and morally repugnant notions about who should and shouldn’t be allowed to live, and the widespread view of disabled people as somehow at fault, responsible for their disabilities and sinister, it could be argued that appointing a Minister for the Disabled should have been a priority. More important for sure than fawning before the B o D which tacitly upholds the notion of superior and inferior peoples.

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