The verdict on disability inclusion in the Labour Party? Room for improvement

Fleur Donnelly-Jackson

The Forde report makes for difficult reading about the impact of antisemitism, racism and factionalism within the party in the period between 2014 and 2019.

The 137-page document included an incredibly telling comment from a former employee, who told the inquiry: “I met no disabled staff during my entire time working for the Labour Party. Yes, some disabilities are hidden but there was no discussion or awareness of disability issues.” The report pointed out, however, that “in the staff survey in 2020, 10% of respondents confirmed that they considered themselves to have a disability”.

The lack of awareness shown about the needs of disabled staff is concerning. One in five of the working age population have a disability – that’s 8.4 million people, many of whom will potentially experience multiple disadvantages due to their intersectional experiences of race, gender, sexual orientation and disability.

The government’s ‘Disability Confident‘ scheme has three levels: committed, employer and leader. The Labour Party is at level two, ‘employer’, according to the latest list of Disability Confident employers that have signed up. The party’s “work with us” section on its website mentions the scheme, saying: “We operate a Disability Confident scheme for all disabled persons who meet the ‘minimum criteria’ of any advertised post.” But there is no mention of the ‘Access to Work‘ scheme, and no mention of whether reasonable adjustments are made for new disabled hires. Clearly, more could be done to inspire the confidence of disabled applicants that they would be supported to work at the Labour Party.

Many businesses and public sector organisations are now recognising the need to recruit and retain disabled talent. The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), for example, has had a “specialised neurodiversity support service for 20 years and has training and detailed guidance available for all staff”. Its website contains positive stories about neurodivergent talent. The private sector increasingly recognises the competitive edge to be gained from increased diversity.

Should Labour be behind business in recognising the benefits of recruiting disabled talent – or should it rather be leading the way? For the Labour Party to excel on diversity and inclusion, it needs to focus more on what it can do to be an inclusive employer, including of disabled people. The recommendations in the Forde report that mention disability do not go far enough. The Labour Party has much more to do first to attract disabled talent given the comment in the report that “the party has relatively low levels of employees and former employees” with a disability.

It could improve the information on its website; ensure it has diverse interview panels; consider coaching or mentoring programmes to support career progression; talk about its staff wellbeing offer (or proposals for this); have a senior disability champion; and roll out disability inclusion training across a range of topics – in particular on language and the ‘social model’ of disability.

This might address the situation, set out in the report, where a member of staff “and another staff member from HQ were using ableist and offensive language about local members”. I’d also encourage the party to look to step up to the next level of Disability Confident.

I would like to see the Labour Party offer supported internships and apprenticeships to diversify the entry routes into working for them – as my own council, Brent, already does – and follow the example of parliament, where the Speaker’s parliamentary placement scheme offers ten paid internships to individuals from diverse backgrounds.

Disability charity Scope says “there is a vital economic case for doing more to support disabled people who can and want to work”. We should be making this case and leading by example as a party – ensuring that we remove barriers to disabled people working for and representing the Labour Party – to give a voice to a significant proportion of the population. Disabled people have been hard hit by austerity, Covid and now the cost-of-living crisis. They should be at the heart of our party.

Disability Rights UK say that the UK currently only has “five MPs who are open about having a disability” but that, if this figure were proportional to the number of disabled people in the UK, “we should expect to see about 136 disabled MPs”. When the route to becoming an MP for some may have been through gaining experience of working for the party, it’s vital that we address the disability employment gap in our party.

The Labour Party is a movement built on “equality, social justice, and compassion”, dedicated to “delivering a fairer, better society”. Disabled people need to be fully included – co-designing policy, as activists and Labour Party employees, to bring about that fairer and socially just society.

I welcome the Forde report recommendation that the party introduce training and education on issues concerning discrimination to build skills “such as deep listening and different perspectives”. I also look forward to the party embracing, celebrating and encouraging disabled people to work for them as we advance towards the next general election.

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