Monday, 16 May 2011

Disabled People in Politics

I was not surprised recently to read that the number of disabled people in politics is extremely low and this does need to be addressed if we are to have a clear and true voice within our political system. I am sure that if you were to ask the everyday man in the street to name a disabled politician their answer would be either David Blunkett or Gordon Brown.

Why are so few disabled people actively involved in politics?

On current figures, the House of Commons would need to have at least 65 disabled elected representatives to truly reflect our society. However, those standing for election in local or national elections do not have an obligation to disclose a disability.

In research conducted by University of Plymouth and its elections centre, surveys in 2008 and 2009 showed very low numbers of disabled people – it even dropped in 2009! Their research showed that in 2008 out of 1,000 local election candidates only 2.8% described themselves as “permanently sick or disabled. This figure reduced in 2009 to just 1.3%.

Is it possible for disabled people to be included more within our political system? And if so, how?

Well at last the Government are looking to change this and have implemented The Access to Elected Office for Disabled People project which includes plans for a £1m fund to help disabled politicians meet costs. All political parties will be encouraged to improve their disability policies and to work closely with the Local Government Association, and disabled organisations to develop a cross-party network of disabled councillors and MPs. It is hoped that these will become role models for aspiring candidates.

David Blunkett has said "Obstacles arise out of fear or ignorance of disability, people not knowing what is possible or how best to help," he says, "with occasional paternalistic blips where individuals have been disquieted by the thought that someone with a major challenge could work not just on equal terms, but succeed in the same professional sphere that they are in. Much of this is covert rather than overt."

Lady Jane Campbell, a wheelchair user, says we need more imaginative ideas for overcoming problems. "Many disabled people would want to get out on the street and knock on doors and canvass but, for some, like me, it would be impossible. It might be that we find other ways of engaging the public." She further states “If you can change hundreds of years of tradition you can do anything, and we do need to change to include disabled people because it's not a democracy if we don't."

There is no doubt that disabled people need to be more engaged in our political system but the reality is that there is no short-term solution. Prejudices still exist largely within our society and until these fundamental attitudes are changed than the voters will just not be there in large enough numbers to make real differences.

So let’s get our message across – we want involvement, we can have involvement, we just need to make it happen!

Thursday, 12 May 2011

The Hardest Hit March & Lobby

Yesterday saw more than 8000 disabled people take part in the Hardest Hit March & Lobby. A direct demonstration against the Coalition austerity cuts that will affect disabled people far more harshly than any other group in our society. The message was clear – the proposed cuts are unjust and will take away real independence from many of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

The March was organised by the UK Disabled People's Council and the Disability Benefits Consortium, and was supported by many disability organisations including Mind, Mencap , RNIB and Sense.

Richard Hawkes, the chief executive of the charity Scope, said that he hoped the march would give disabled people a sense that they were not alone - "We know there's a deficit, but government has said we're in it together. Taking away the DLA mobility allowance for people in residential care, which means that they can't go out, is not a sign that we are all in it together."

In comparison to recent demonstrations, the turnout might have seemed quite low but we need to remember the barriers faced by all those that did attend; inaccessible transport links, practicalities of health issues and, more importantly, the high cost of rail travel for those dependent on disability benefits.

The March brought a uniqueness to demonstrating – there was no angry clashes, no fire-bombing or vandalism of prominent buildings and no reported arrests. Just a dignified showing of opposition to the proposed cuts.

The steady stream of wheelchairs users moving alongside cane users and other disabled people supported by their families, friends and carers with innovative placards in Braille held aloft and sign-language chants highlighted the real challenges disabled people face every day.

Let’s hope that the politicians take note of the concerns raised and address the real issue - "act now to make sure that disabled people are not the Hardest Hit”.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The Hardest Hit March & Lobby - 11 May 2011

On Wednesday of this week (11th March 2011), thousands of disabled people will be demonstrating at Westminster and Parliament to express solidarity and anger at the cuts threatening benefits, services, jobs and rights.

This demonstration is widely supported by many disabled groups and organisations and is being overseen by the UK Council of Disabled People, the Disability Benefits Consortium and the Disability Charities Consortium.

The march will begin on Victoria Embankment between Horseguards Avenue and Bridge Street and will assemble at 11.30am. There will be a rally on Victoria Embankment with speeches between 12 noon and 12.30pm before the march sets off. The march will then begin at 12.30pm taking in Victoria Embankment, Parliament Square and Millbank and will finish in Dean Stanley Street.

Following the march the group will be lobbying MPs as the Welfare Reform Bill reaches its critical stage in the House of Commons. The aim is to make sure that Parliamentarians understand the combined impact of the cuts on the lives and futures of disabled people.

Crucially, they will be asking MPs to challenge policies that will push disabled people further into poverty and isolation. The lobby will take place in Westminster Hall and Methodist Central Hall between 1.30pm and 5.30pm.

I fully support this demonstration and hope that the policymakers not only listen to, but actively embrace, the true concerns of disabled people.