Liza Van Zyl, a disability rights activist, has made this statement:
Owen Smith needs to be challenged robustly on his position on the Work Capability Assessment and on his commitment to disabled people’s rights.
I was a Labour Party activist who had no choice but to resign from the party after a very unpleasant encounter with Mr Smith.
I am recounting it now because I believe it is very important that his views are robustly challenged if he stands for the Labour leadership.
On Saturday 7th March 2015 I attended a Labour meeting in Pontypridd at which the guest speaker was Owen Smith MP, then Shadow Secretary of State for Wales.
When questions were invited from the floor, I asked Mr Smith why, given that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) has been responsible for a great many more deaths than the Bedroom Tax, Labour had pledged to scrap the Bedroom Tax but had said nothing about pledging to scrap the WCA.
Mr Smith replied that Labour could not pledge to scrap the WCA because this would make Labour appear weak on benefits in the eyes of the media and compromise Labour’s General Election chances.
I posted this on Facebook and a journalist took it up and posted the story online. Subsequently the journalist was threatened with legal action by Mr Smith if he did not take the story down.
I was very intimidated by the prospect of defending myself in court, and I had no money for a legal defence.
In addition my Labour colleagues were terribly keen to maintain good relations with Mr Smith and would probably have backed Mr Smith and not me if it came to a court case (one of them had even contacted the journalist and briefed against me).
So I asked the journalist to pull the story and I deleted references to it on Facebook.
I am publicising this incident now because I am very concerned about Mr Smith’s attitude toward disabled people, and particularly to his views that the deaths of disabled people are less important than Labour’s “tough on benefits” standing in the right-wing press.
If he threatens me with legal action again it will be incredibly stressful and will probably exacerbate my disability-related ill health.
But I believe it is important that Mr Smith’s attitudes to the WCA and to disability rights (and freedom of speech!) be robustly challenged if he stands for the Labour leadership.
And because we should be able to discuss things that profoundly impact on us, like the WCA, without being intimidated into silence by threats of legal action.