The TUC disabled workers conference was in Bournemouth this year, after feedback from previous years that Congress House was not accessible enough for so many people with access needs. Napo’s delegation, myself and Ikki Bhogal, arrived in glorious sunshine the evening before the conference and enjoyed wandering along the promenade of this beautiful seaside resort.
The Conference launched with Chair of the TUC Disabled Workers Committee, Sean McGovern, giving the Chair’s address. This was followed by Paul Nowak (Deputy General Secretary of the TUC) who spoke about the need to be brave and to stand together to fight against inequality. Paul ended by reminding delegates that “when we work together, when we fight together, that is when we win together”.
Marsha De Cordova MP (Shadow Minister for Disabled People) and a former member of the TUC Disabled Workers committee gave the keynote speech, announcing that she is one of only six MPs who define themselves as having a disability. Marsha reflected on the theme of conference “Nothing about us without us” and linked it to the Labour Party disability Manifesto for 2017, which had the same theme. She highlighted the need for transformational change to ensure that parliament, and all workplaces, are accessible to all and the need to scrap the punitive sanctions regime and concept of benefits, to replace them with a system of social security offering equality of access and opportunity.
Motions passed at this year’s conference included ending train travel discrimination, promoting equal access to sports stadia and a call for a positive change in perception of people with disabilities through Project Diamond. The next section of motions centred around access to work (opposing cuts to this vital service) and Universal Credit (a call to scrap it) as well as calls to include disabled people in the design of the Government’s industrial strategy.
There were two motions calling for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) to be implemented and fully incorporated into UK law. The first day ended with two motions around the impact of Brexit on disabled people.
Just before we ended for the day a motion on supported employment was remitted by the mover. This was an unusual move and seemed to stem from controversy about the subject matter. The mover of the motion, from Community, admitted that the goal we all seek is to have full access to every workplace and employer. however he wanted to also recognise employment schemes that offer specific opportunities to disabled people.
We finished day one with entertainment in the form of an excerpt from the play May performed by Phoebe Kemp. The play is based on the life of May Billinghurst, a disabled suffragette. We were then treated to a recital of poetry by Janine Booth from her book Disaffected Middle Aged Women, as well as an open mic slot with poetry and song from other delegates.
I am writing this article at the start of day two, which began with a motion calling for the introduction of reasonable adjustment passports. Ikki Bhogal spoke in support of this on behalf of Napo. This is a positive idea that would greatly benefit members and we were proud to support the motion.
We will carry on to debate motions on Disability hate crime and calls for a disabled workers summit as well as access for disabled performers and a call for action on learning disability.
Day two also includes a panel session on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
The Napo delegation are placed next to our colleagues from the POA and it has been interesting to discuss our shared concerns about access in the workplace. The Disabled Workers Conference is a great opportunity to meet other trade unionists and develop a better understanding of the issues facing disabled workers in other sectors and in life in general.
This conference is inspiring and motivating. if you are a member with a disability why not put yourself forward for the 2019 conference?