What Not Appointing A New Disabilities Minister Says To Families Like Mine

After the most recent minister resigned, we're told there won't be a new one until after Brexit – that just tells you how our community is viewed

A few months ago, myself and family were leading Scope’s campaign to petition for a minister for disabled children and families. We raised over 40,000 signatures from ardent campaigners and concerned families. It’s ironic that as we wait for this Government to make a decision on this, the only other position for disabled people in power is making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Over the last decade or so since the coalition came to power, we thought that with all the freshness and seemingly gregarious nature of this new political era, disabled people had a cause to think that their struggles for acceptance and access would be a thing of the past. However as we have seen, the clock was not so much wound back but propelled seemingly out of control.

For context, you only have to look to our Brexit-obsessed parliament today and its hordes of paper-waving buffoons in suits to see that daily struggles, not just for us, but for real people are blindsided as the self interest of politics takes over.

Recently, parties have begun to fracture and the UK is seen as a laughing stock globally due to its inability to organise a preferable “celebration” in a brewery. This fracture has exposed once again the underlying message from Westminster, the one that says disabled people have slipped so far of the radar that they are not even registering. Why? Well, scan the papers or the web and you will notice that the minister for disabled people is a voided position, there is no minister – to quote Monty Python, it is an ex-position.

Sarah Newton, who was the most recent disability minister, departed from the government and now, apparently, due to toxic Brexit, there is no time to fill the position until after Brexit has twitched its last. This tells you a great deal on how we, as a community are viewed.

I cannot imagine another department being treated in such a lacklustre fashion. It’s not so much that this minister actually progresses anything for us, it’s the fact that at the moment there is no one in the system thinking or concerned for what terrible political choices are doing to 14million people. Of course there are behind the scenes junior ministers no doubt, but the government needs to be seen to have a minister in situ regardless, even if it is just a placebo appointment. The fact that this position remains empty is sending out all the wrong signals from a government continuing to do all the wrong things to a group of people who remain utterly perplexed at their treatment from elected peers.

The Conservative party vice chair James Cleverly wants to hold off the role, insisting that work is continuing behind the scenes to implement policy. Cleverly can say all he wants, and the tabloids can continue to bury the news, citing it no doubt as irrelevant, but to me, to my daughter, to charities, carers, parents and local MPs, the coldness of the political talk is angering many people already thinking that there will never be anyone in power doing the right thing for the disabled.

People may be wondering what the fuss is about. Well, consider the fact that we have had eight ministers in this position in the last ten years, that since that time thousands of people have had benefits capped or removed, that disability poverty is a now a real social concern, and that the onset of Universal Credit is going to make just day to day living harder, then you can see that not having someone to hold to account is the final possible straw that will break the camel’s back.

A minister for disabled people, although a position never deemed relevant enough for mainstream media, is a position that must be continually in place. There is absolutely no reason why it cannot be filled now. Hows about this for an idea – hows about appointing someone with an actual disability? Someone who has experience of living day to day with disability? Someone who has empathy towards the very people they are supposed to represent?

This would send out the strongest signal that finally, the system is not as cold and methodical around ability as it is showing itself to be, that a whole department is prepared to be totally inclusive and listen to the appointed head with open minds and open ears. This would also send a message to the UN, who in 2016 published its report on the serious violations of disabled rights in Britain, citing that the system has “laws, regulations and practices that discriminate” Acting now to make an appointment would surely curry favour with the UN who are no doubt keeping a stern eye open.

As I type this article, the news is again swamped with the inadequacies of Parliament to make a decision on removing itself from Europe. No doubt the voices calling for a minister will become tomorrow’s chip papers as another fiasco overtakes the country. But think about being disabled for just a moment. Think about how, suddenly you have no place in politics, think about who is going to be listening to you as your mobility car is snatched away or your care package is revoked as carers exodus the country due to immigration fears. The problems of disabled people are real and due to poor policies are magnified and spiralling out of their control. An appointed officeholder with context would send out the strongest signal, not the worst, that politics values all its citizens and that humanity is not defined by your ability. Perhaps me and the family need to roll up our sleeves on another petition because Brexit is not a good enough reason to leave a country without a minister for disabled people.


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