The final motion at this year’s TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference was on Learning Disability. As this is an important and neglected issue, and the motion made some good points, it was clearly going to pass. However, I thought it important to point out some problems with it. Contributions to the debate were limited to three minutes, so this is probably more blunt and less nuanced than it might have been! The motion was passed, but several delegations – including RMT – abstained.
I am speaking in order to raise two serious reservations about this motion.
The first relates to what it asks us to do.
The first part of the motion outlines the appalling discrimination that learning-disabled people face at work and in society. And yet, when we get to the section on what we are going to do about it, we are asked only to ‘raise awareness’.
I just don’t think this is good enough. We have to go beyond ‘raising awareness’.
Of course raising awareness is a step in the right direction, but if it stops at that, then all we get is people knowing more about learning disability, while learning-disabled people carry on being discriminated against.
My second reservation concerns the call to work with Mencap.
The seconder (NUJ) rightly spoke about the importance of our campaigns being led by disabled people and our organisations. Mencap is not a disabled people’s organisation: it is a charity.
Mencap has been severely criticised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) for its involvement in ‘workfare’ – the government’s scheme to make people work for their benefits.
It is listed as a sub-contractor for the government’s Work Programme.
And when consulted by the government about the closure of the Independent Living Fund, it’s answer was ‘pragmatic agreement’. We campaigned very hard against the ILF closure, and other charities and organisations which were consulted managed to disagree, whether strongly or mildly. But Mencap gave its ‘pragmatic agreement’.
The slogan of this conference is ‘nothing about us without us’. We promote the self-organisation of disabled workers.
We need to stop relying on charities, tailing their campaigns and giving them credibility as though they are our spokespeople. They are not.
I do not feel able to vote for this motion, but if you do, please also think about these reservations, and support the Disabled Workers’ Committee in taking a critical view of this resolution.