York Labour has slammed the ruling Lib-Dem and Green coalition over shameful behaviour at the first in person meeting of York Councillors for almost 18 months. Debating a motion on disabled accessibility to the city centre, two disabled councillors were initially forbidden from taking part in the debate, and later the Lib-Dem and Green councillors forced through an amendment to the motion removing language specifically requested by disability rights groups in the city.
The motion, raised by Labour councillor Rachel Melly, was aimed at improving accessibility to the city centre for the disabled and those with mobility issues. The wording of this motion had been discussed and agreed with disability advocacy groups within the city.
“The meeting was appalling in a number of ways,” said Cllr Melly, “but it being book-ended with acts of disability discrimination of elected councillors and of disabled people wishing to visit the city centre were the worst examples.
“Labour’s motion provided a constructive, non-partisan approach to addressing the concerns of disabled blue badge holders in the city who’ve been vocal in how recent changes to the pedestrianised foot-streets area have left them excluded from their own city. But it was much broader in looking at the whole issue of accessibility more generally.
“Sadly the ruling Green-Lib Dem Coalition response to this was to bludgeon the motion into a form of words that enables it to ignore those concerns and carry on as though problems don’t exist. The message they sent to disabled people in doing this was one that I will not have my name associated with, and which has brought shame on City of York Council”.
The main features of the Green-Lib Dem amendment, raised by Green Party Councillor Andy D’Agorne, were to remove the Equalities Act 2010 requirement to “enable people to get as close as reasonably possible to where they need to get to”, and to cancel Labour’s proposal that the council “works closely with disability advocacy rights groups and Blue Badge holders to ensure access is maintained and improved for those with mobility difficulties”.
The ruling groups’ amendment even presented the damaging and demonstrably false idea of discord between disabled groups, something campaigners have been dismayed by, by suggesting that the council play a role to mediate between them.
Cllr Melly, speaking in the meeting, argued that the purpose of this amendment was not to protect disabled people, but to protect the council’s previous decisions and stated that she had been contacted by disabled people who were very angry and hurt by the amendment and described it as ‘gaslighting’ by the council’s ruling body and an attempt to take the conversation away from the disabled people themselves.
Earlier in the meeting two councillors were barred from participation following advice from the council’s top legal officer, who stated that as blue badge holders, they had prejudicial interests. However, Labour councillor Katie Lomas directly challenged the discriminatory ruling and asked the meeting’s Chair to intervene.
“Disappointingly the Lord Mayor chose not to intervene,” said Cllr Lomas, “and reverse the exclusion of two disabled councillors from the debate, until after the interval when he returned to allow a ‘dispensation’ for us to participate.
“That dispensation reinforced the original discriminatory ruling that being disabled and holding a blue badge means we should technically have been excluded from debate. With this and what we then went on to debate later on city centre accessibility, it’s very clear that the council still has a great deal to learn about the Equality Act and how to avoid breaching the law.
“We need York to be an inclusive city that welcomes all people, disabled or not, not one that puts up barriers to people through ignorance”.