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Disabled people must be seen more often on screen to end unhelpful stereotypes, says the NUJ

5 June 2018

The NUJ delegates at the TUC disabled workers' conference spoke to motions which called for greater representation of disabled actors and musicians on our screens and stages, so that stereotypes of disabled people are undermined and disabled creative workers are offered more employment.

A NUJ motion, proposed by Natasha Hirst, unanimously supported by the conference held in Bournemouth, said too often in the media disabled people are represented as either "tragic, scroungers or superhuman" and this allowed the government to put in place policies which make the lives of disabled people considerably worse.

The motion also noted the broadcasting industry's initiative Project Diamond reported that 6.5 per cent of on-screen staff are disabled and 5.5 per cent of off-screen are, despite 18 per cent of the national policy having a disability. The motion was critical of Project Diamond saying it counted non-disabled actors playing disabled in its figures and it called on Ofcom to introduce penalties to broadcasters which fail to represent disabled people. The Federation of Entertainment Unions is also critical of Project Diamond because it does not force broadcasters to supply diversity data at a programme level.

NUJ delegate Mik Scarlet spoke to a Musicians' Union motion about the importance of supporting disabled musicians and making venues accessible, especially for those gigging early in their careers where most performances are held in basements or rooms upstairs. He also lent support to an Equity motion which discussed the importance of drama in portraying deaf and disabled people authentically, preventing the perpetuation of stereotypes.

Natasha Hirst seconded a USDAW motion which called on unions to work with organisations that support members with learning disabilities. The motion noted that people with learning difficulties remain one of the most marginalised and discriminated groups in society. Conference voted to ask the TUC in consultation with its Disabled Workers' Committee to develop practical guidance for reps to use in campaigns to raise awareness of learning disability.

There was a tie in the vote for which motion should go forward to TUC Congress and delegates agreed with a show of hands to send Unite's which called for universal credit to be scrapped.

The NUJ delegates proposed one motion, seconded two and spoke on a further six, with Guy Thornton adding to a debate on the effect of Brexit on disabled workers' rights to healthcare in Europe and the wider concerns of changes to domestic legislation following Brexit which could result in the further erosion of rights for disabled people.

Ann Galpin spoke to a motion calling for the removal of Govia Thameslink Railway’s  (GTR) franchise since it has introduced a highly-discriminatory policy of refusing to assistance disabled people onto trains if it could cause even a one-minute delay.

A TUC report published during conference revealed that the disability pay gap has increased to its highest level since 2013. In 2017, the average hourly pay for disabled workers was £9.90, compared to £11.40 for non-disabled workers – a disability pay gap of £1.50 an hour and £2,730 a year.

The disability pay gap has now reached 15 per cent, its highest level since 2013 when the government began publishing comparable data using the 2010 Equality Act definition of disability.

More disabled workers are part-time (36.4%) than non-disabled workers (23.4%), which partly accounts for the gap. Disabled women faced a larger pay gap than disabled men. Compared to non-disabled men, the pay gap is 13 per cent for disabled men and 22 per cent for disabled women.

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Frances O'Grady                    ©Mark Thomas

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “Too many disabled people face lower pay and worse jobs than their non-disabled peers.New rules to make bosses reveal gender pay gaps have been successful at shining a light on the problem. We’d like the government to consider a similar law requiring employers to publish their disability pay gap, along with the steps they will take to close it.The government should also reverse cuts to disability benefits, which are making it harder for disabled people to cover extra costs to get to work. And employers should talk to their disabled workers about how to make work more accessible."

Conference heard from Marsha de Cordova, shadow disabilities minister, a former member of the TUC disabled workers’ committee and "grand-daughter of the Windrush generation" who said:“What we see with Conservative policies towards disabled people is, again, a hostile environment. We see disabled people being treated with suspicion, disrespect, being denied basic rights and even being driven to suicide. The government has created an environment that systematically disadvantages and disregards disabled people.”

She said a Labour government would incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into UK law, publish a new bill on social security reforms, repeal cuts to social security support for disabled people, scrap the work capability and personal independence payment assessments and the government’s punitive sanctions regime and improve the Access to Work scheme.

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Ann Galpin                               ©Natasha Hirst

As ever the conference provided an opportunity to network and Ann Galpin was praised for her work in organising a social event which included Phoebe Kemp performing a 20-minute excerpt from May, her one-woman show about disabled suffragette May Billinghurst, and an opportunity to take part in a discussion with the actor.

This was followed by an Open Mic session started with protest poems by the disabled workers' committee co-chair Janine Booth.

Ann gave thanks to the Cardiff and SE Wales branch for its financial contribution towards the social evening.  She was re-elected with the highest number of votes to the TUC Disabled Workers' Committee for 2018/19.

***A survey of more than 1,000 workers in Wales, and a toolkit for reps, was launched at the Wales Trades Union Congress in Llandudno, which has now been used to frame a set of demands on the Welsh and UK governments.

The key findings were:

  • More than a quarter (28 per cent) of disabled respondents said they felt that their employer views disability as a 'problem' in the workplace and 1 in 3 (33 per cent) said they felt their colleagues view disability as a 'problem' in the workplace.
  • Around 1 in 3 (32 per cent) of disabled respondents reported that disability had been treated as a 'joke' topic in their workplace, and many reported experiencing harassment.
  • Over half (57 per cent) of disabled respondents said that they do not feel that people were treated equally in their workplace, compared to 38 per cent of non-disabled respondents.
  • Over three-quarters of all respondents said that their workplace had policies in place to help disabled workers but a significant number reported that these did not work in practice due to poor, non-existent or inconsistent implementation.

As a result the Wales TUC has put together a list of campaign demands for  the Welsh and UK governments as well as a practical toolkit that trade union reps can use to press for improvements in the workplace.

Tags: , tuc, disabled workers' conference, equality, diversity, stereotypes, project diamond, ofcom, frances o'grady, feu, brexit, Govia Thameslink Railway, disability pay gap, pay gap, Equality Act, Marsha de Cordova, UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Wales Trades Union Congress, parliament uk, parliament wales, welsh government