I was on BBC Radio Sussex talking disability discrimination against a disabled councillor

Claire Needs is a disabled local councillor but, because her council has now removed the option of attending meetings via Zoom, she is being excluded from participating in local democracy. I spoke to BBC Radio Sussex about it.


Just the five Friday afternoon as we head towards the weekend. Hope you well. So as society opens up after COVID, for some it’s shutting down, that’s been the experience of one disabled Sussex counselor. Who’s unable now to attend council meetings in person, Aaron district counselor, Claire needs lives in a residential care home and to protect other residents. She can’t go out to crowded council. Chambers virtual meetings had been the perfect dancer, but since may, they haven’t been allowed by the government. Our political reporter, Ben vice has

More on this. Leave the stumping orders,

Council meeting a quirk of Corona virus. There was some, he couldn’t wait to be ready for them.

Don’t don’t, she’s kicked him out so well, good evening, everybody. Welcome to members of this committee. This council’s historic. Very first virtual meeting

Are in district council, like all our local authorities to council meetings online last April lockdown, meaning democracy happened from home,

But the main thing for me, if being a voice, but members of the public that wouldn’t necessarily have the confidence to speak up. That’s counselor,

Claire needs, she’s got cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. And once she got used to the tech, she found local democracy more open to her than

Chameleon kind of thing. Online possible for me to communicate with a wider audience, because more people were peeling into the meetings online,

But this was only a temporary fix for the pandemic. Normally council meetings have to be in person by law and without the government changing that law things went back to normal. This may, that meant no more meetings over zoom.

And then because of coronavirus, I’m having everyone where I live in Cleveland, myself, we’ve minimized the amount of people that it was. Normally women work in the office together. We are in quite close proximity, quite a high number.

And so that means that you’re not able to go and do your work as accounts that big because of that, that sort of proximity. And because that crowdedness, yeah. Tell me about how it felt that sudden change and not being able to go to meetings anymore.

That was really difficult because I felt I was only being able to be like half-heartedly because I love the community and I’m sorry that wasn’t

It really hard. Councilor Amanda warn chaired the council last year, she wrote to the prime minister to ask him to think again,

We drafted a letter. We stated that we had fundable members of the council. Some of our offices were very COVID vulnerable. It would be really hard for them to attend physical meetings. We also mentioned that we had several members, including myself in Claire with physical disabilities. We sent the letter in April and it wasn’t even replied until I think July. And in that time, obviously our voices weren’t heard and it just went ahead. All meetings became physical again, and that’s where the trouble started because Claire was no longer able to attack. If you want to help us, then give us the right to join meetings. However we can do it for the best of, you know, and serve our residents. The best we can.

Our in district council told us the health and safety of its counselors was top priority and it was exploring how hybrid meetings might happen in the future. The government said that it had published advice on making it safe to meet in person and would be considering how virtual meetings worked during lockdown. But for the time being council meetings must involve meeting up regardless of who that excludes.

That’s our political reporter, Ben vice there, and the plights of Aaron district counselor, Claire needs. Well, let’s speak to Philippa. Willits now who’s a disabled freelance journalist. Thanks ever so much for joining us this afternoon. Philippa, I’m wondering what you’ve made of that. Having just listened to it is, has it been a similar experience for you?

I think it’s the thing that I love to disabled people who feared there was a situation last March where companies and organizations within the matter of a week or two made drastic changes that allowed a lot of people to work from home. And that just goes to show that when there’s a need for that to happen, it can happen if people put their minds to it. And a lot of disabled people were more included other than we thought that these changes because they could attend things from home. If they weren’t well enough to get into an office. Right. And when it changed and I certainly been able to attend all kinds of things, I wouldn’t normally there’s been a bit of a, oh, I hope this doesn’t go away when the pandemic pandemic eases. And now this is exactly what everybody’s been worrying about. That the accommodations that were necessary due to COVID have also helped a lot of people and we don’t want them to be taken away. Now, are you hearing

About lots of similar scenarios

And getting early indications of them? I think it’s a lot of people are still working from home and quite happily in all kinds of kinds of industries and roles, but there is talk of businesses and organizations wanting people back in the office. And that is causing concern, especially to people like the counselor. You talked about who are either clinically vulnerable or live with somebody who is

Some might say, this is discrimination. Of course, is that yours?

Yes. If Claire needs is basically not allowed to do her job because of a lack of a pretty simple accommodation that has been in place, you know, for the last, nearly 18 months, then she’s not, it’s not only excluding her. It’s excluding everybody. She represents every one of her constituents. Isn’t having their voice heard just as she isn’t having her voice heard. And given that there is an easy fix, we may not be easy, but there’s a fix that’s been in place. Then I would say, removing that is a form of discrimination yeah. Of what needs to be done. I think it seems to be the central government has put these rules in place that local government has to be back in the chamber, so to speak. So I think there needs to be some moves from both local and federal government to acknowledged that just by central government, can’t just say, oh, well, everybody will make sure it’s secure as if that fixes every situation because it doesn’t, we need to move to a hybrid model where some people can be in the debating chamber and some people can be online as them. And it doesn’t just help disabled people. Of course, you know, if you’ve got a new parent or somebody who’s just broken their leg and needs a few weeks at home, it helps all kinds of people. Or if you have caring responsibilities with any number of groups of people who can be helped by this kind of thing,

Philippa, well, it says disabled freelance journalist. Thanks very much for joining us this afternoon, Phillip, and sharing your views on

That. Thank you very much.

Have a lovely weekend. 14 minutes to five now.

Image credit: Chris Montgomery