The formation of any new government brings both challenges and opportunities but after five years in which the Coalition government was heavily criticised for a wide range of measures affecting people with disabilities - cuts to social care, the bedroom tax, the closure of the Independent Living Fund, delays to PIP assessments and the failure of Atos in delivering Work Capability Assessments - just what can be done in the next five years to ensure past mistakes are not repeated?
Many people within the disability sector are already deeply concerned about the proposed £12billion of cuts to the welfare budget, with no promise of extra funding for social care. They fear the next five years will be even tougher than the past Parliament. So, we do need to be vigilant and not be afraid to speak out provided what we say is evidence based and offers solutions.
But we need to navigate another approach in order to break down the "them and us" mentality. Both government and the disability sector should explore how we can both reframe the debate and work together to deliver a good life for disabled people. Rather than segmenting disability issues through the prisms of say, DWP welfare reform or social care changes, a broader perspective is needed recognising that people have inter-connected needs that span, health, social care, employment, benefits and housing.
Put simply, the starting point is how we can work together to improve the life chances of disabled people, make it easier for individuals to receive an appropriate education or find a meaningful job and live an independent life. Part of that reframing of the debate would a cross-government plan for people with disabilities, led by the new Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson, cutting across different departments
From childhood to old age, disabled people need to be given equal opportunities and control over their lives. That means getting practical support to develop a child's skills, advice on suitable play activities, and help parents to communicate more effectively with their son or daughter, through to stronger entitlements to short breaks, and enabling people to make an active choice about their future as they move into adulthood.
One of the lessons in working in a difficult economic environment is that there are close links between different policy areas, and that one therefore needs to coordinate how one pulls on the levers. It is right to pursue a policy area of getting more people into work but if we restrict the amount people currently receive under Access to Work the result of a change in that policy lever would only hinder, not help, people - particularly many of the deafblind adults, Sense supports.
We also appreciate that part of a good life goes beyond what government can achieve. Disability is everyone's business - and we need to ensure that we value disabled people, their rights, their assets and value their contribution. Equally, despite there being 12million disabled people in the UK and the huge success of the 2012 Paralympics - which at times feels like a distant memory - disabled people needs to be given opportunities to be more visible in society. Sense is currently running a campaign exploring the barriers and challenges that disabled people face in making and sustaining friendships. What mattered most includes opportunities to mix with other people, and being able to get out and about. People also highlighted resources which could act as barriers or enablers, such as money, social care support, information, other people's time. Throughout the campaign we've found just how hard people find it to be active parts of their community, to form relationships and to have the same life chances as everyone else. That should be a spur to look at new types of services such as buddying schemes for disabled people.
There is clearly a huge challenge here for the Conservative government, particularly given the spending restrictions outlined in their manifesto. There are undoubtedly more questions than answers too at the moment. But more of the same isn't a viable or feasible option for the lives of individuals with disabilities across the UK.
We would urge Justin Tomlinson and his colleagues to engage and work with charities and stakeholders such as Sense, to develop a government-wide plan for disabled people and ensure individuals can receive every opportunity in life to reach their potential.Suggest a correction