Election Column: Challenges faced by the disabled

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Promises promises... Yes, it’s General Election time and, as the chance to retain or change the Government looms closer, the nation’s disabled people have a major decision to make, as for the first time in years there is clear water between the two major parties’ manifestos.

To carry on as before under the Conservatives or to change things under Labour.

Disability rights is seen as a very small part of any political party’s agenda.

Of course, having a disability doesn’t stop anyone from being affected by the average day-to-day difficulties, but there are added extras which need to be taken into account. Even being able to vote can prove difficult. Many polling stations are still inaccessible and although there is the option of postal or proxy voting, it’s still not the same as being able to place your cross in person. The same goes for the party manifestos, which can prove difficult for those with sight problems or learning difficulties.

Disability rights is seen by many as a very small part of any political party’s agenda – as it is with most minority groups – but for those living with it day to day, what happens in Parliament can have a major effect on our lives. And far be it from me wanting to tell people how to vote I have taken a brief look at the major parties’ manifestos to see what they plan to do. The things I do for you, eh?

This time the Conservatives under Teresa May say they will ‘bridge the disability gap’ and to make it ‘completely unacceptable for people with disabilities to be treated negatively.’ However the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party claims that over the past seven years disabled people have been ‘failed’ by the Government and aims to tackle discrimination, remove barriers and ensure social security delivers dignity and empowerment, not isolation and stigma.”

The Liberal Democrats meanwhile under their last leader, Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg, launched a ‘Disability Manifesto’ before the General Election in 2015, detailing what they would do to ‘break down the unfair divisions in our society.’ The present manifesto doesn’t say whether this still stands or not, but they’ll need to regain quite a few parliamentary places for them to have any say. Of course, these are all just words.
 It can be difficult for governing parties to fulfil these promises, but you can bet that the actions of whoever wins in a week’s time will reverberate loudly for the disabled population.

The Conservatives of course were the main actors in the Coalition Government from 2010 and when they won outright two years ago, it made them feel that their policies were justified. Among these were several changes to the benefits system like the change from the long-standing Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments and the tightening up of the rules on Employment And Support Allowance, which was actually introduced by the New Labour government in 2008, to replace Incapacity Benefit. They also introduced the Work Capability Assessment, which was controversial but became more so under the Coalition, with thousands of successful appeals against its judgements and reports of people dying shortly after being declared ‘fit for work.’ Not all disabled people think the current government is doing a bad job – and I point out that contrary to what seems to be a common piece of thinking, our lives are not entirely made up of claiming benefits.

We do other things sometimes too and like any other group there are many who are apathetic and may not vote. However, try as I might I couldn’t find a Disabled People For Cuts group…

So there we go. The choice is yours.