Influencing at the Labour Party Conference 2015

This year’s Labour Party Conference arrived almost immediately following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader and the appointment of an entirely new Shadow Cabinet. Including new appointments into the roles of Shadow Health Secretary, Shadow Disability Minister and Shadow Care Minister.

For Scope the conference represented an important opportunity to seek to influence as Labour began the process of developing new policies in a number of key areas.

Scope’s influencing work remains focused in three main areas; ensuring that disabled people are supported to find, enter and stay in employment, highlighting the extra costs of disability and underlining the important role of social care in supporting disabled people to live independently. This ensured that on arrival in a sunny Brighton last Sunday there was a busy agenda ahead of us.

Top of the agenda was a high-profile fringe event hosted alongside the influential Fabian Society to examine how we can address the extra costs of disability.

Panel at labour conference including Scope
The panel for Scope’s fringe event with the Fabian Society

Joining Group Head of Public Affairs and Policy Elliot Dunster on the panel was the newly-appointed Shadow Minister for Disabled People, Debbie Abrahams, General Secretary of the Fabian Society, Andrew Harrop and Catherine Scarlett – to share her personal experiences of the extra costs of disability.

To a packed room of sector guests and stakeholders, Catherine powerfully described how her wheelchair, purchased with the support provided through Personal Independence Payments, had given her life back. She also gave further examples of the extra costs of clothing, transport and accommodation that she has faced as a result of her disability – including a £70 premium she was required to pay for her hotel room.

lady talking at labour conference
Catherine Scarlett speaks at the Scope fringe event

Elliot spoke to underline Scope’s work, highlighting the impact that these costs have on disabled people’s financial resilience and independence – particularly that the historic policy approach to extra costs payments had led to an unhelpful binary distinction of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ disabled people.

Discussing the work of the Extra Costs Commission, Elliot described how a more holistic approach to examining the causes of extra costs was essential if the problem was to be successfully addressed.

Perhaps most significantly, the event provided a unique opportunity to put Scope’s work in this area directly in front of the Shadow Minister at such an early stage, following the recent reshuffle. We’ll be looking to follow this up as an influencing priority.

Scope is also a prominent member of the Care and Support Alliance (CSA), a coalition which campaigns for increased investment in the social care system. As with last year, alongside an extremely busy and lively fringe event on Sunday evening, the CSA had an impressive interactive exhibition stand in the main hall of the Brighton Centre. Allowing visiting political stakeholders to better understand the scale of the crisis facing the care system.

Group of exhibitionists with awards
The award winning Care and Support Alliance conference stand

Amongst a steady stream of visitors was the new Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Heidi Alexander, Shadow Home Secretary, Andy Burnham and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, Kate Green. This allowed us to speak to some of the key decision-makers at the top of the party. Highlighting Scope’s shared concerns about increasing pressures on the care system and the impact this was having for the lives of disabled people. This was further underlined when the CSA was awarded best stand by delegates attending the conference.

The rest of the time was spent meeting with a series of new backbench MPs, catching up with existing contacts and dropping in at numerous fringe events covering topics ranging from employment, the future of the welfare state, the health and social care integration agenda and the future direction of the Labour Party.

What can we expect from the Labour Party in the coming months?

It was pleasing to hear Jeremy Corbyn reference the impact of reductions to local authority budgets on the social care system in his leader’s speech yesterday. And equally welcome that Debbie Abrahams recognised the multiple barriers that disabled people face in finding employment – and the implications that this also has for disabled people’s financial resilience and independence. But these are early days for a very different Labour Party – meaning that Scope’s influencing work with them in the coming weeks and months will have more importance than ever.

Meanwhile, Scope’s attention now shifts to the coming weekend and Manchester for the Conservative Party Conference. Look out for another blog post next week on what promises to be another vital influencing opportunity for Scope.

“Everyone close your eyes so you know how Holly feels” – #EndTheAwkward

Holly is currently at university studying to become a teacher. She’s blind and writes a blog documenting her everyday experiences. Here she talks about some of her awkward moments as part of our #EndTheAwkward campaign.

Using a cane

I was using my cane around school, doing the usual left-to-right motions when I accidentally knocked someone with my cane. This person was in the same year as me and she started shouting and swearing at me in the corridor in front of others. I felt really embarrassed because it was an accident. This really did knock my confidence when using my cane and at one point I didn’t use it at all because I was so anxious. I have always felt that when using my long cane it makes me stand out so I don’t look “normal” so as you can imagine, this encounter really did have an effect on me.

“Everyone close your eyes so you know what it’s like to be blind”

It was my first day of year seven, and like everyone else I was very nervous because I was starting a new school and meeting new people. I had my first P.E lesson (I hated doing P.E) so I wasn’t really looking forward to it but I had to do it anyway.
Things were going well until one moment which changed everything. The teacher said to the class “everyone close your eyes and carry out this activity so you know what it’s like to be blind, and you know how Holly feels.” I felt embarrassed and upset and angry. Not only was this wrong, I also thought that people would just have that opinion of me, ‘the blind girl.’
I would just like to point out and say that this is not a representation or a true picture of what it’s like to be blind. Many people that are blind or severely sight impaired, including myself do have light perception or other vision.
The teacher did eventually apologise but this is something that I will always remember.

“She’s blind, she can’t sit there”

A few years ago I was going on holiday with my mum and dad and was pretty excited. We arrived at the airport to check-in etc and when it came to getting our seats, my mum and dad asked if we could sit near the front. The woman behind the desk simply told my parents “she’s blind so she can’t sit there.” They asked why and she didn’t really say. We came to some arrangement but then she said “Does she even have a passport?” Just because I’m blind why would I not have a passport? I’m just like everyone else. I felt quite self-conscious and embarrassed.
Also, why couldn’t she have asked me myself instead of asking my parents for me? Whenever this happens I do speak for myself all the time but it still makes me feel very awkward in situations like this.

You’re blind so how do you have an opinion?

I’ve come across many people that think just because I’m blind, I cannot have opinions or like things that everyone else can. I have often been asked this when I’ve been talking about a band or artist I like, or clothing for example. I’ve been asked when I’ve been on the way to a concert, “You don’t know what they look like so why are you going to see them live?” I do have other senses that I can use to determine my opinion!

How do you play an instrument?

I’ve been playing the flute since I was nine and have been in a band and taken part in many concerts. One thing I often get asked is “how do you play the flute when you’re blind?” I always say “just like you are doing. I learn in exactly the same way apart from the fact that I read braille music.” Disabled people can carry out normal activities just like any other person.

These are just a few of the awkward moments that I’ve experienced, they might not seem awkward to you but there’s so many more that I could include – I just had to select a few!

Personally I think that if you aren’t comfortable with your disability, can’t laugh about it or talk about it then it makes other people feel uncomfortable about it as well. If we share our experiences then we can raise awareness and help #EndTheAwkward

Find out more about our #EndTheAwkward campaign