Why we are sorry to see Anne McGuire leave Labour’s front bench

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Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people has told us that she is resigning from the party’s front bench. She also leaves her role in the Labour Task force, led by Sir Bert Massie, former chair of the Disability Rights Commission, which is currently investigating effective and legislative ways to break the established link between disability and poverty.

Anne McGuire has been shadow minister since October 2011, and has been a highly respected minister for disabled people for three years in the last Labour Government.

Anne – who herself has a long-term health condition – has insisted that it was her own decision to leave the role, and she has stated: “I just thought it was the time for me to go”.  She added: “I have been both the minister for disabled people and the shadow minister for over five years taken together and I think it is time I allowed someone else the opportunity to take the work forward”.

She had told the Labour leader Ed Miliband in July that she wanted to leave her post at his next Cabinet re-shuffle, which is expected within the next few weeks.

Anne worked with Liam Byrne last year on the consultation with disabled people across the country, entitled Making Rights a Reality, and she said that this experience has allowed her to hear from people about their experiences, and how the “reforms” have negatively impacted on so many of us. The consultation was also used to raise awareness of human rights amongst disabled people.

I met with Anne last November, together with Gail Ward and Susan Archibald, to discuss the diabolical Work Capability Assessment, amongst many other things. We found a staunch ally in Anne, and she has been a Minister with integrity.

Here’s an account of the meeting with Anne last year – Welfare Wrongs and Human Rights: a dialogue with Anne McGuire.

Here is the discussion summary.

Anne will always be remembered by our community for her very articulate attacks on the media’s [mis]representation of disabled people and on the Government’s welfare reforms, in parliamentary debate. I remember her account of private debate, too, on the same topic with Iain Duncan Smith, and such was her ferocity and anger at the profound unfairness of the media’s sustained persecution of sick and disabled people, fanned by Iain Duncan Smith, as we know, that she pinned him against a wall on one occasion.

Two years ago, after taking up the new post, she directly accused the Government of “talking up” the issue of disability benefit fraud, and attacked the coalition for not doing more to address offensive and inaccurate stories in the media about “cheats”, “frauds” and “scroungers”.

Of course we know this is not just about an ideologically motivated economic theft from the people with the least, and a redistribution of wealth to those that need it least (the already very wealthy), it’s an existential attack too: a psychic war that is being waged on us every bit as much as am economic one, with the media on the enemy frontline, attacking us on a linguistic and psychological level every day. We have been redefined, semantically reduced, dehumanised, and demarcated from the rest of the population and turned into the “others”, and this divisive strategy has paid off for the Government, because we are now regularly attacked by our own side: by those people who are also with us on this increasingly sparsely resourced, economically excavated side of the growing inequality divide. Tory divide and rule tactics: fostering a politics of hatred.

Imagine what that does to faith and hope. For those of you that are not sick and/or disabled, I can tell you that it is often a very isolating and lonely experience. That is made so much more unbearable by prejudice and hate from other people. To be excluded further from everyday life and experience, both materially and existentially, brings about a terrible, bleak, desolating sense of social abandonment and a very real imprisonment. We are living in a Government-directed culture of hatred.  It’s no coincidence that hate crime against disabled people has risen quite steeply over this past two years. Most of us have experienced some verbal abuse from members of the wider public, at the very least. It’s become such a common experience that it may be regarded as almost normalised behaviour.

Anne McGuire told us that she and Anne Begg, amongst others, have repeatedly challenged the Tory-led stigmatising and dehumanising language, and the shameful invention of statistics in the media. Publicly and privately. Anne has repeatedly expressed her anger and disgust at the “serial offenders” – especially Iain Duncan Smith.

The defamatory Tory-led rhetoric must surely constitute hate crime and we know that the rising statistics of disability hate crime is certainly linked to this hateful propaganda campaign on the part of the Coalition to justify removing support and lifeline benefits from the sick and disabled, and from those in low paid work.

Anne said: “The last three years have seen an unprecedented attack on disabled people, with a sustained misrepresentation of their lives in some sections of the media, and a series of welfare changes on which the Government is too ashamed to carry out a cumulative impact assessment”.

Yes, the Coalition already know that their cuts hit the same group over and over again: sick and disabled people. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely to be an “unintended consequence” of policy, given the telling persistent refusal to undertake a cumulative impact assessment.

Anne’s comments came as McVey defended her failure to carry out an assessment in an interview at her party conference in Manchester.

Anne said she would continue to challenge the Government from the backbenches and as co-chair of the all party parliamentary disability group.

She added: “I will continue to work with other parliamentary colleagues to ensure that the issues that affect disabled people are pushed higher up the agenda of all political parties”.

We are very pleased to hear that Anne.

And remember Anne, whilst we may be prevented from calling a liar a liar by parliamentary protocols, norms and rules, there are other ways of saying the same thing …


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 Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for brilliant art work.

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