Ellen Morrison

Do you identify as a disabled person?

Yes

What do you understand by the social model of disability and how is it relevant to the NEC?

“The social model of disability is a tool developed by disabled people in order to understand our experiences and guide social change. It’s the understanding that as disabled people, we live with impairments but we’re disabled by the barriers in society – barriers which prevent us living independently and with dignity and which exclude or devalue us. 

The social model allows us to rethink the way we view disability. It can be liberating for some, especially when many of us first viewed disability through the lens of the medical model which typically underpins UK healthcare and social security, and often frames disability as something ‘wrong’ with us. Personally, it has helped me understand that I don’t need to try and adapt to fit society, but the other way round.

It can also be a helpful tool for non-disabled people in understanding our right to be able to live equally in society. Importantly we can use it beyond our personal relationship with understanding disability – it can be used as a tool for collective action, and unite our shared experiences without focus on the differences of our impairments.

Recently I helped organise a DPAC meeting called “Reinvigorating the Social Model of Disability” which aimed to open up a discussion about how we use and adapt it to make it relevant now. The social model can be a useful starting point, but it was intended to be developed and adapted. An important point to note, that can often be missed in discussions around the social model, is that it does acknowledge the sometimes significant pain and distress we experience as a result of our impairments.

Ahead of the 2017 election, Labour formally committed itself to supporting the social model in its policy platform. However, it has not implemented this commitment, and it is vital the next NEC Disabled Members Rep takes this forward.

This requires both a reassessment of the way Labour’s rules and procedures approach (or fail to consider) disability, and a wholesale shift in culture, educating staff, members and representatives on why they should use the social model and how it applies to their politics. We also need to ensure that the social model remains one of our commitments if we get into government.

How do you see your role as the Disabled Rep on the NEC?

If I’m elected, my role would be truly as your representative, to speak up for all disabled members on the NEC and bring the disabled people’s movement with me.

It is unacceptable that for so long disabled members have been shut out of party spaces. I’ll fight to transform Labour from the ground up, with a party-wide accessibility review to ensure our structures and decision-making are as inclusive and open as possible. 

With 2016/17 figures showing that 24% of the population is disabled, it’s an indictment on our Party that those in elected positions, at all levels of the Party, don’t reflect that percentage. I’ll fight to make sure there are more disabled members as candidates and representatives in the party and I know that the lack of representation for disabled members makes this role an incredibly important one. 

Hopefully, we will soon have figures for how many Party members have registered as disabled. Before the Party re-opened their Equalities and Monitoring form for this election, we were not given the figures for how many members identified as disabled, but it’s highly unlikely they’re anywhere near matching the numbers in society. The Equalities and Monitoring form was a wasted opportunity – it didn’t ask us what our access needs are or how the Party could support us in engaging in its structures and processes. Most disabled members face many barriers to participation, but it’s important to note the particular barriers Deaf members have faced and how this needs immediate redress.

I’ll fight for a Labour where disabled members have the space and power to lead on the issues affecting us. Collective strength needs organisation, and I’ll fight to get the disabled members structures we were promised in the Democracy Review established. We can hope that improved access will increase participation from disabled members, but it’s unlikely it will be enough. We need to look at how we can use reserved spaces in the Party to increase representation. There are questions of legality to be considered, but Labour needs to commit to work with, and sometimes challenge bodies like EHRC (who have previously ruled Labour conferences for equalities groups as illegal) to make this possible . 

I want to ensure we get a genuine say in the party policy that affects us. Nothing About Us Without Us shouldn’t just be a phrase. We need to insist on disabled members leading on the policies that affect them. If I’m elected to Labour’s NEC, I’ll continue to work with the existing campaigns led by disabled people on key areas like enshrining the UNCRPD into law, scrapping Universal Credit and making a National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS) party policy. 

We need to see an end to the dumping of the work disabled activists have co-produced with successive shadow ministers whenever there’s a new shadow cabinet reshuffle. It’s insulting to disabled activists who have given much of their time to feeding into policy forums as well as countless meetings with shadow ministers, only to find reports sat unread and not passed on when new people are appointed.

The NEC is not responsible for policy making, but as the Party’s ruling body, it has a significant say in how policy is decided upon in our Party and how the rules for doing so are established. Clearly there is still a long way to go in building a fair and representative party democracy, with policy motions from our last Conference ignored and the National Policy Forum lacking in any real power or authority. If elected, I’ll use my role as an NEC member to fight to reform the Party to respect the policy decisions of our movement, and exert pressure on the Party leadership to ensure any policy decisions affecting disabled people are not simply handed down, but made with and by us as disabled members.

Accessibility, democracy and policy-making by us, for us, are the three main areas I’m focusing my campaign on. I know that I can deliver on these promises because of my extensive experience within the Labour Party and our movement.  I have years of experience on Labour and trade union committees, I understand what it means to work with people with differing views in order to make difficult decisions and get things done. I have researched the NEC sub-committees, spoken with existing NEC members to understand the level of commitment necessary for this role – as well as what is possible.

I believe that a solid understanding of accessibility, Party democracy, what it means to commit to user-led working, and the key policy areas that affect our lives, are all incredibly important for a Disabled Members Rep. We need to have bold aims for our representative. This is the first chance we have for formal representation in our Party’s history. I believe I’m the candidate who can set the bar for what we can collectively achieve. 

How do you propose to gain the interest and support of those who are not currently personally impacted by disability?

The NEC has 38, and soon will have 39 voting members, many of whom will not have a solid understanding of the social model of disability or how we can make our Party more accessible and inclusive for disabled people.

I understand that making practical change will require working with many of these individuals, including many non-disabled members, and I intend to approach this with cautious optimism. Labour is a democratic socialist party, after all, that seeks to promote equality in wider society. I would aim to build good personal relationships with colleagues on the NEC regardless of their backgrounds or standing, as I want them to listen to me when I speak for disabled members. 

However I also understand that Labour has failed disabled people for far too long, and, for example, we’ve only seen long-awaited changes recently to how meetings can be conducted because the pandemic has had an impact on non-disabled people. I’m ready to use my voice constructively in NEC meetings – but also am willing to speak in public forums if that is what is needed to convince fellow representatives. I have experience in winning change for disabled people by using my voice and I’m confident I can deliver results. 

If I come up against opposition when advocating for the calls from disabled members and the wider disabled people’s movement, I won’t be afraid to be robust, and if necessary speak out publicly to mobilise the support of disabled activists and show the Party our strength of feeling. Throughout my campaign, I will be bringing disabled people together to talk about the issues that affect us and build a strong movement of people behind me – whether they’re from Worthing or Walsall. I will call on this movement to influence their local representatives and politicians if needed.

I know and understand the desire for change among disabled members, and if I’m elected want to take the disabled people’s movement with me. It’s only by working together we can achieve the change we need.

Your constituency is disabled members. What systems will you use to ensure you understand the views of disabled members on agenda items prior to each NEC meeting?

If I’m elected Disabled Members’ Rep, I’ll regularly consult with disabled members and the wider disabled people’s movement. We mustn’t forget so many disabled members who have left our Party over years of frustration, feeling like they have been taken for granted. 

I understand it’s current practice that papers and agenda items are not provided to NEC members in advance. This is not accessible and not good enough, and one of my first acts if I’m elected will be to ensure these are provided well in advance of meetings, for reasons of both accessibility and to ensure all disabled members are able to have a true say in how our Party is run.

I am proud to be running an open and participatory campaign now, using a number of tools to hear from fellow disabled Labour members – like a soon to be launched survey and a series of Zoom calls. I have also made efforts to engage with disabled members on social media platforms, trying my best to ensure my campaign messaging and content can be accessed by as many members as possible, for example by adding BSL interpretation and captions to my campaign video. 

As your NEC Disabled Members rep, I would continue to consistently and openly engage with those that I represent – through social media, events, written updates and so on. I would also offer to regularly meet with DEAL members and other groups to make sure I am representing disabled members and that as disabled activists we coordinate our campaigns so they can be as effective as possible. This isn’t about me getting a seat on the NEC, this is about the disabled people’s movement getting a seat on the NEC – and I would never forget that. 

What systems will use to report back to disabled members about what has happened at each NEC meeting?

I will provide regular reports from NEC meetings, and will ask the Party to distribute these. If there are contentious votes, I will provide my reasoning so that you can hold me accountable. A functioning members’ democracy needs a free flow of information, and I’ll make sure all disabled members are informed and up-to-date on the issues that affect us.

I would like to know from DEAL members what the majority would prefer in terms of where they would like to see updates. At present, I’m considering writing a report that could be shared either as a social media post or on my website. But considering disabled members have never had a representative to report back to them, it’s important to find out what might work for most disabled members.

What skills, abilities, experience and/or qualifications do you have that enable you to campaign and advocate on behalf of disabled people?

I’m standing because of the experiences, comradeship and solidarity of the disabled people’s and trade union movement. I was introduced to the labour movement when I joined Unite Community in 2016, having experienced benefit sanctions and the work capability assessment and feeling politically powerless. (Although I came to identify as a disabled person in 2016, I’ve lived with chronic illness for most of my life, though didn’t have the understanding before then).

It was disabled trade union and labour activists who gave me a political home and a purpose, and I’ve been fighting for disabled people’s rights, both in and outside the labour movement, ever since.

It was fellow Unite Community activists who supported me to become the youngest branch secretary of the largest branch in our region. Together, we organised support for campaigns in solidarity with Sports Direct, McDonalds and NHS workers and British Airways crew.

Within Unite, I campaigned for disabled peoples’ rights: on the #SayNoToSanctions campaign with my branch, and as Chair of the region’s Young Members’ Committee, where I helped lead the successful campaign for Unite to support the scrapping of Universal Credit. The TUC – and the Labour Party – followed suit

I am also a Labour Party activist; I presented a motion to create the role of Disability Officer, which had not existed in our CLP before. I was subsequently elected to it, and have used my position to advocate for disabled members’ interests locally.

I have organised and led campaigns, demonstrations and events with Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC). From street protests, to international disabled people’s solidarity conferences to shutting down Parliament Square, DPAC have been on the frontline of challenging the government’s attacks on disabled people and I am proud to have been part of that.

I work part-time because of my fluctuating health conditions. Over the past few years I’ve had a number of jobs in user-led projects and disabled people’s organisations, mostly focused around policy and campaigning. I’ve gained a lot of experience in working with shadow ministers and backbenchers in trying to change policy, as well as improve bills going through Parliament (for example scrutinising the Mental Capacity Amendment Bill, and lobbying for amendments to improve it).

I’ve been involved with the Commission on Social Security since it started, as one of its ‘experts by experience’ commissioners and now I’m acting Co-Chair. The Commission is putting together proposals for a better welfare and benefits system, run in the interests of those who rely on it, and is informed by the lived experiences of benefit claimants who have used our existing inadequate systems.

Through my experiences, I’ve built up the skills needed to make my voice heard. But I know it’s only with the support of the wider movement, that we can really change things. I’m proud to be a candidate of and for the disabled people’s movement, and that’s why I’m standing for this role.

Do you think that there is institutional disablism in the Labour Party, if so, at what levels and what would you suggest to the NEC?

The Labour Party is institutionally disablist at every level. It has excluded us from its processes and structures, and its culture has led to discrimination against us. 

One of the clearest ways this can be illustrated is with recent changes to allow remote access, which we were told time and time again was an impossible request. It is only when the requirement has arisen for non-disabled people to access remote meetings that it has been allowed, revealing in-built disablist bias in the most basic ways our Party meets and does business. 

We need widespread change, and that starts with a Party-wide accessibility review. This review must have staff support and resources to examine every way in which barriers to access affect Party members, and should have the full support of the NEC in implementing their recommendations. DEAL’s participation and inclusion questionnaire is a strong basis to work from to ensure we gather the necessary information needed to meet members’ access needs, but a review can provide a wider picture into just how many people have been shut out of and let down by the Party.

Members, staff and representatives must also be trained in the social model of disability and disability equality, to see the cultural change necessary to shift the Party’s understanding of disability and recognise disabled people’s right to participate in our Party.

We also need robust changes to deal with disablist conduct by individual members. The NEC should draft a code of conduct on disablism, so that where there are incidences of hatred and discrimination towards disabled people, this can be identified and if necessary, disciplinary action can be taken.

Finally, we need to see an active, democratic and independent disabled member’s structure within the Labour Party, as promised in the Democracy Review. It’s time we had the space and organisation to advocate for our own interests within our Party.

When and how did you first hear about the DEAL legal handbook?

I first learned about DEAL in 2018 when I met a DEAL member at the Independent Living Campaign Conference. After this I joined the Facebook group where I learned about the purpose of the group and read the handbook that was produced.

Are there any sections of the DEAL legal handbook you don’t agree with and why? Do you have suggestions for improvement?

The DEAL handbook provides a vital guide in what our rights are in relation to the Equality Act 2010, and how we can fight for them to be recognised in the Party. Moving forward, I would support DEAL to build on its contents to recognise the intersections of discrimination faced by disabled women, disabled people of colour, younger and older disabled people and LGBTQ+ disabled people.

Do you commit to actively working to make the handbook internal Party policy?

Yes

If yes to the previous question, how do you plan to get the NEC to acknowledge the DEAL legal handbook and make it internal policy?

If elected, I intend to act in good faith and will immediately approach the General Secretary, NEC and Party staff to begin the necessary process to change our Party into an organisation that offers disabled members and activists the respect and support that we’re entitled to. This would include adoption of the DEAL handbook and the implementation of a Party-wide accessibility review. 

Disabled people and lawyers have issues with enforcing the Equality Act in wider society so it’s no wonder so many of us are struggling within the Party as well. I think the work that went into the handbook is invaluable as a tool for fighting for equality in the Party and I thank the activists that contributed to it. 

However, I am also aware that for too long, movement on such issues has been unacceptably slow. If we don’t see the change we need, I’ll work with comrades in the disabled people’s movement to draw attention to the DEAL handbook and other demands, to make our voice heard. 

I think our campaign to get the Party to adopt the handbook needs to look at successful campaigning techniques. Videos have been highly successful ways of communicating ideas and getting buy-in beyond groups perceived to be most affected by them. As someone who’s impairment can affect how the process information, breaking down some of the key points and recommendations into shareable videos to share online could be an important way to help get widespread support for the Legal Handbook.

It is my hope that not only will our NEC representative take this to the NEC, but the campaign to choose our Disabled Members Rep will also prove to be a useful step forward in the campaign to get the handbook adopted as the spotlight is on disabled members’ priorities like these.

What do you understand by intersectionality and will it be important to your NEC role ?

Intersectionality is about our approach to activism and taking into account the differences and similarities between our shared oppressions. This can be multifaceted including, but not limited to, age, gender, religion, sexuality and race.

It will be at the core of my work if I am elected. It was the voices of disabled activists that won the creation of the disabled members’ seat on the NEC, but this was only possible in concert with the voices of other minority members fighting for their own fair representation within our Party. 

If I’m elected, I’ll unequivocally support people of colour and other minority groups, against the increasing threats of racism and the far right. I’ll fight to challenge racism within our movement, and push for widespread, well-funded anti-racism education within our structures.

I’ll also stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our LGBTQ+ comrades. Trans people in particular have faced an appalling onslaught of abuse; from the Tory government, the right-wing media and sadly from within the Labour Party itself. We need a strengthened complaints system alongside political education so we can become the party of equality we often claim to be.

It’s only together, in solidarity, that we can transform our Party and our society into one that treats everyone with the decency and the respect that we deserve.

Are you committed to making the UNCRPD incorporated into domestic legislation and why?

Yes. The UNCRPD showed that the government had committed grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights and the UK response was woeful. As the UK leaves the European Union, it’s hugely important that we ensure disabled people’s human rights are not rolled back. The UNCRPD was developed by disabled people and actually offers a more progressive model of disabled people’s rights than by the EU. It would be hugely significant for the Party to put this front and centre of their policy priorities.

How would you abolish WCA?

First and foremost, we need to fight for a Labour government that will end benefit sanctions and the work capability assessment, and transform our society so that disabled people can live independently and with dignity. Never again can we see our Party support the policies and rhetoric that have caused so many deaths and so much avoidable harm to disabled people. 

In opposition, Labour should be working on its policy programme for when we’re in government.  I’ve set out in previous answers how on the NEC I’ll push for policymaking for us, by us, so that never again will Labour commit to Tory welfare plans that abuse disabled people, and deny us the right to decent lives. I’ve also committed to pushing for the establishment of active, democratic disabled members’ structures within Labour, so that our voices cannot be ignored any longer on the issues that affect us.

There is existing work with the Commission on Social Security, that Labour should seek to learn from and adopt its ideas. The Commission on Social Security is led by experts by experiences (everyone involved is currently on or recently has been on benefits). It is currently doing its second consultation with disabled people, their organisations, and benefits claimants to design a social security system that actually works for the people that rely on it. This is vital work the Party should look to. It identifies key principles that all benefits should be based on, as well as some developed benefit replacements like a Guaranteed Decent Income Level. As mentioned, these initial ideas that are out for consultation (and then will be built into some final recommendations in the coming year) draw upon the experience of thousands of benefit claimants and disabled people’s organisations. Some of the work that informed these ideas were DPAC’s principles that working age benefits should adhere. Some of, but not all, these principles include:

  • The assessment / benefit process must be must user-led: a self assessment process (with external verification) delivered through peer-led DPOs
  • It must be based around the following three questions (drawn from personal budgets):

a) How do you want to live and what do you want to achieve?

b) What stops you living that life?

c) What would help you live that life?

  • The assessment/benefit process must express and reflect the UNCRPD – it must explicitly support disabled people to live independently with choice and control.
  • There must be independent information, advice and advocacy available to disabled people, delivered by DPOs, going through the assessment process

The assessment should also be of what additional support a person might need in order to take up suitable employment, again taking account of a specific job environment as well as any relevant wider issues around the 12 pillars of independent living, such as access to transport, access to personal assistance, etc. Work however must never be seen as a ‘health outcome’

All sanctions and conditionality must be removed from the social security system with immediate effect.

Ensuring meaningful and speedy access to redress if a person is unhappy with the result of their assessment.

Self-assessment applications will only be processed within the DWP (or equivalent government department) and there will be no role for private contractors.

Establishing the principles that working age benefits must adhere to is an important step for Labour and so far the detail around social security policy has been lacking. I strongly feel working with the Commission on Social Security to adopt policy developed by people with lived experience would be a powerful commitment. 

What do you think should be the Party’s policy priorities in the areas of social care and social security?

As mentioned in previous questions, all Party policy should be designed with disabled people. As also mentioned, I believe the Party should commit to working with the experts by experience led Commission on Social Security. 

One of the key campaigns in the disabled people’s movement is for a National Independent Living Support Service, to establish a new universal right to independent living enshrined in law and delivered through a new, publicly-funded agency. This should be co-created between government and Disabled people, funded through general taxation and managed by central government, led by Disabled people and delivered locally in co-production with Disabled people.

Current proposals to link social care to the NHS would further medicalise disability and deny disabled people our most consistent demands, for independence, choice and control over our care. They are only deliverable with the establishment of a National Independent Living Support Service.

Would you support an independent disability commission?

Yes