The Houses of Parliament are more diverse than ever before. Increases in the numbers of self-identifying women, BAME, LGBT and disabled MPs on the Labour benches are to be applauded. However, there’s still more we must do. Our government must be representative of the society it serves and in 2017, we’re still far from that reality.
Although we celebrate the election of two new self-identifying disabled Labour MPs we must recognise that this falls well short of representing the make-up of our society. The election of both Marsha de Cordova in Battersea and Jared O’Mara in Sheffield Hallam brings the total number of disabled MPs up to five. That means that one in one hundred and thirty MPs defines as disabled, whereas one in five people in the UK have a disability
As the Labour Party we understand that diversity is strength but we must do more to break down barriers and actively empower disabled people at all levels of government. Different perspectives and life experiences make for a stronger Parliament and stronger legislature. Disabled MPs help to break down barriers for disabled people across the UK because there is no one more qualified to advocate for the rights of or speak on the experiences of disabled people than a disabled MP.
There’s a few things that are imperative change to make the Labour Party more accessible on a local and national level. Our events must be fully accessible, from huge national rallies to CLP meetings the needs of our disabled activists must be listened to. Together we need to put an end to socials held up a flight of stairs and knocking on doors being seen as the only way young people can engage in activism and fight for a Labour government.
Not only must we always work to create an accessible environment so that people aren’t shut out of all the fantastic things we do as a party we must ensure that there is always a positive atmosphere that welcomes new and returning members equally. When I launched a consultation into the barriers that prevent our disabled members from engaging with Young Labour, experiences of online abuse came up. Whilst debate and discussion are an essential part of our party regardless of our differences we must treat one another with respect and kindness even when we disagree.
Disabled activists - as with all activists - should never be prevented from getting involved in the Labour Party for fear of insults or intimidation. And when it comes to actively encouraging our disabled members to participate in our activities, we must think of new ways to support our activists inside and outside of Labour Party spaces, from running mentoring schemes and public speaking training to increasing confidence to actively implement self-care strategies to prevent activist burn-out, which I’ve seen in so many of our members.
The Labour Party and Young Labour is ahead of the curve in many ways compared to the rest of society, but there’s still so much work left to do and as Young Labour’s Disabled Members’ Officer I want to work with you to continue breaking down these barriers.
If you want ideas of how to make your local Young Labour group more accessible please get in touch with the Young Labour National Committee!
Young Labour Disabled Members' Officer