There are a few days to go before the general election - how many disabled people's voices have you heard in our national debate so far?
Stories of our misfortune or ill treatment are often brought into the wider debate to help sway public opinion, but very rarely do we get to speak for ourselves about the realities of living with a disability in the UK today. And our voices should count, now more than ever. Because our demographic could influence the vote in unprecedented ways. There are over 13million disabled people in this country. That's one in five people.
Take the furore about social care. Approximately a third of the people who use care are under 65, and account for half the budget, yet are repeatedly excluded from the public debate on the future of our care system. Likewise, where are the questions to politicians about how we get more disabled people into work? In 21st Century Britain only half of disabled people who want to work are in employment at any one time. For over a decade, the disability employment gap has remained at almost a complete standstill. Imagine the boost to the economy if we could harness the industry, power and creativity of some of those 13 million disabled people who want to work.
But this issue isn't being debated nationally. Additionally and most worrying of all, cuts are leaving disabled people behind and in many instances, in a critical state. And let's not even get started on the PIP assessments...basically, it's time to speak up.
With these issues in mind, here's my mini-manifesto for the next Government.
Firstly, the next Government must take a long hard look at the issue of the financial penalty of being disabled. Life as a disabled person is eye-wateringly expensive. From energy and equipment to insurance and care we get hit in our pocket at every turn. Research by the charity Scope shows that these costs add up to on average £550 extra per month. Here we can look to the business sector to instigate change. Businesses need to stop seeing disability as a niche market and instead harness the £249 billion spent each year by disabled households. In so doing the cost of living can be affected.
Take the example of the grandmother of a disabled child who demanded M&S stock body suits for disabled children. The actions of this one woman helped to reduce the cost of these essential items from around £12 to £4. If the actions of one woman can make such an impact, imagine what a whole government can do?
Secondly, social care. We need a system that works for disabled people. We have the legislation in place. The Care Act has the principle of wellbeing enshrined in it. That means that disabled people who qualify for care - any many who need it, don't 'qualify' - should be able to live their lives. But too often the system fails to deliver the basics, like help with getting dressed and getting out of the house. That's critical. Try holding down a job if you can't do that. But obviously our needs are much more complex than just putting on our shoes. We need a system that doesn't see some disabled people restricted to washing every two or three days, or choosing between their carer preparing a meal or getting their medicine. These are choices that nobody should have to make.
The next Government must find a way to fund social care and reform the system so that it works for working age disabled people. If we factor in the added pressure a crumbling care system is heaping on the NHS, it's in all our interests to make sure we do.
We need a bit of blue sky, forward thinking and compassion from the next Prime Minister and every Government department to commit to playing their part. How can we tear up the old rule book? It's only half working for us at best. We need a society where we are supported to build relationships, have freedom of choice over where we live and work, take part in the local community and can physically get into places we want to go!
So its time to come together and use our voices to have our needs met. Find out which political party manifesto best reflects your interests and see what they pledge to do for disabled people.
This election, let's come together to show the country that we refuse to be overlooked. To show those in power that our votes are precious and that they must work hard to win them, and in the long run, keep them. Our voices and our votes are more important than you think.
Sophie Morgan is a Patron at disability charity Scope. Find out more about the charity's priorities for the next Government.