By Joe Booth and Janine Booth, published in Solidarity 426, 11 January 2017
Socialist activists are drafting a manifesto for the Labour Party of radical policies to advance equality for autistic and other neurodivergent people (those with an atypical “brain-wiring”, usually a condition such as dyspraxia or attention deficit disorder). Supported by John McDonnell, a steering group has drafted a proposed manifesto and, having launched it at Labour Party conference in September, is now inviting input from Labour Party and trade union bodies and interested individuals.
The manifesto is based on five political pillars:
• The social model of disability: identifying and removing the barriers that society creates for neurologically-different people.
• The neurodiversity approach: recognising that different people have different “brain wiring”, that autism, dyslexia, ADHD and other conditions are neurological differences.
• Opposition to austerity
• Socialism, democracy and solidarity: tackling the deep social roots of discrimination.
• Nothing about us without us: policies and services, and the manifesto itself, must be shaped by autistic and other neurodivergent people, with solidarity from neurotypical people.
We cannot pretend there is equality when there is not. Autistic and other neurodivergent people find many environments and social structures hostile and disabling. There is a desperate lack of diagnostic (or identification) services, with waiting lists of up to three years. Neurodivergent people are among those who have been driven to suicide by benefit sanctions. There is a shortage of appropriate social care, with some autistic people placed in institutions far from their families and support networks. Schools and colleges are under-funded and over-stretched. Few have specialist provision for neurodivergent students, and the way schools treat autistic youngsters can be problematic — trying to make us “normal”.
Only 15% of autistic working-age adults are in full-time employment. ADHD adults often experience periods of unemployment. This is not because only a fraction of neurodivergent people can work: it is because workplaces are hostile environments for us. Bullying and hate crime against autistic people has risen as Tory austerity has been accompanied by demonisation of people who are disabled and/or different, and there have been several reported cases of police brutality against autistic people. Identifying these barriers enables us to identify policies which can start to remove them.
The draft manifesto includes commitments to: stop and reverse cuts; expand services; ensure that local authorities have decision-making forums that include representatives of autistic people; provide adequate benefits for all who need them, and appropriate, publicly-controlled and accountable care close to home. It also suggests policies for: well-funded, publicly-run and accountable schools and colleges, with smaller class sizes and provision for neurodivergent students; a legal requirement on employers to make work more equal and accessible and less hostile; a review of the workings of the justice system to ensure that it is accessible to people of all neurologies; and for neurological status to be added to the 2010 Equality Act as a ‘protected characteristic’, giving people legal rights against discrimination without having to prove impairment.
You can read the draft Manifesto here. To help:
• Raise this issue at your Labour Party, union branch or other group; invite a speaker from the Manifesto steering group.
• Like our Facebook page and join the discussions there.
• Send in your ideas for policies to add, and any disagreements with the existing draft (via the website or Facebook page).
Workers’ Liberty members including ourselves are involved in this, alongside others. We are helping with the organisation, and putting forward policy ideas that are centred on working-class demands that challenge capitalism’s failures to support and acknowledge neurological diversity. We think this manifesto process is a good example of making the Labour Party democratic, accessible and radical; and of building a solidarity movement.