Many disabled people feel that Labour is failing to challenge the harsh cuts to social security and is yet to put forward a more disability-friendly agenda. But support for messrs Miliband, Byrne and Balls has come recently from an unlikely quarter.
The only way to avoid descending into a crisis according to former disabled Tory councillor and activist Ollie Flitcroft, is to try and ensure that Labour win power. So what is his message to disabled people who like him, are angry at the government’s attack on disabled people but who unlike him remain unconvinced by Labour?
“Go and talk to Labour MPs and the shadow minister for disabled people. Influence their thinking. Say to them, “You have said that there needs to be public sector cuts but let’s be clear that they should not include the withdrawal of support for disabled people. It’s not a luxury to have benefits, it shouldn’t be a luxury to have an extra bedroom to store equipment or for a PA. These are things we need”.”
Now a Labour member, Flitcroft was a Conservative councillor until 2011 when he left the party in protest at the cuts to DLA.
“Labour has always been a party of equality and opportunity. Yes, I accept that people will say, “He’s an ex-Tory so he’s just bashing the Tories.” But what I’m saying is that Labour is the only party in Britain that can challenge the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats and when in government, they introduced far wider legislation which improved the lives of disabled people. So if you’re going to make a difference and get your voice heard then working with Labour, who brought us the welfare state and the NHS, can only be a positive thing.
As Flitcroft sees it, the tactics used by groups like Disabled People Against Cuts are not sophisticated enough to result in any long-term progress. He says that as well as protest we need to form an alliance of disabled people and disability organisations to influence Labour policy.
“DPAC seems to have the notion that what you need to do is protest on the streets. I don’t have a problem with that. My issue is will it provide for long-term policy, or is it just a short-term let’s-just-protest-on-the-streets, let’s-draw-attention and then it just goes? My other issue is how many people know DPAC? Does it have a clear manifesto? I’ve not seen it.”
Does Flitcroft accept that DPAC struggle to put their case forward to the wider public because the mainstream media is not interested in covering their campaigns?
“I doubt that because if you look at the press, such as the Guardian and the BBC, they’re very good at covering stories around disability. The BBC covered the death of Chris Hallam, a pioneer of the Paralympic movement. I think it’s about the way you put your message across. I accept that the media don’t cover disability-related areas as much as it perhaps could. But then you have to find a way around that. I’m not against protest but what I am for is a clear unequivocal policy framework in which you can work with the mainstream opposition, in this case Labour, to look at the policies they are going to draw up in relation to social security etc. And how will disabled people and disabled people’s organisations engage with them?”
Flitcroft says that while it would be wrong to say that he has a manifesto, he does have a set of clear thinking and ideas.
“Personal assistants should be given a living wage, disabled people should be able to access social care on the basis of need rather than funding and I would say that disabled people who can work should work. But I would suggest that it needs to be done in a more responsible manner than now when you have Atos working to targets.”
What would Flitcroft say to those who might be sceptical about Labour’s willingness to be influenced by disabled people?
“If you don’t have a conversation and invite them to the table, you won’t get anything. But I do know that this government has not listened and has not been effective. I would urge disabled people to come together and formulate long-term policies, contact their local Labour MPs and councillors and broaden the message. Not just by direct action but by policy development.”