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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Anna Morell

Dis Life: 'Conference showed having disabled people in government can bring change for better'

Doing it for ourselves (because we don’t have enough MPs to do it for us)

At the Labour Party conference this weekend, I spoke at the Daily Mirror’s disability event along with Rachel Charlton-Dailey, Corrie star Cherylee Houston and Shadow Disability Minister Vicky Foxcroft MP.

This was a follow up to the Mirror’s Disabled Britain Doing It For Ourselves series this past summer.

One of the strongest messages from the event was that without disabled people in government, we’re unlikely to see much change for the better when it comes to us leading fully independent, productive lives.

There are 650 MPs. There are single figures of self-identified disabled MPs. That’s likely around one per cent of all the MPs. How does that work? Shouldn’t our MPs be reflective of the people they serve? Shouldn’t there be nearer 140 disabled MPs to reflect the fifth of us who are disabled?

Claire Coutinho MP was also at this week's event in Liverpool (PA)

Sure, there’d be a hella bun fight for the two accessible parking bays reserved for staff at Westminster (one of which, last time I was there, was filled with building detritus), but don’t we need leadership on disability from the top down? Lived experience transforms professions.

It’s time Parliament started looking disability in the eye, and realising that the changes we ask for as disabled people benefit everyone – that’s what the social model of disability does. A win for us is a win for all.

One of our Ministers is missing…

I’m wondering if you could help me. I’ve been looking everywhere for the Minister of State for Disabled People, but we appear to have lost her. I’ve looked down the back of the sofa, and round the website, but it appears that when Liz Truss moved into Number Ten and promoted the old Minister of State for Disabled People, Chloe Smith, our new one got lost somewhere in the
removals van.

Instead, we’ve been given an Under Secretary of State, Claire Coutinho MP. We had one of these from 1997 to 2013. And then we got an upgrade back up to Minister of State. And then a couple of years later, we got a downgrade again to Under Secretary of State. And then for the past six years, we’ve had a Minister of State again.

A fifth of us are disabled. A ministerial post about disability should be a significant role, and its focus should be on the social model of disability – bringing about true equity and access across all aspects of society for us. It’s a big task, and a big task needs a big Minister.

Surely, after a quarter of a century of the Disability Discrimination Act becoming law, it’s time the post wasn’t seen as a lower tier or middling Ministerial role, but a big pair of shoes that needs a big Minister to fill them? If you happen to find out why we no longer have a Minister of State, do let us know.

Something else I can’t find either – the National Disability Strategy. A high court ruling found that the Strategy was unlawful because the government had failed to properly consult on it with disabled people. If you’re designing something for us, for the love of god, do it with us.

So rather than taking this on board and talking to us in a meaningful way, the Government is now spaffing money up the lawyer wall challenging the court’s decision. The upshot is, we’re missing a strategy. We’re missing meaningful change in society to make disabled lives better. We’re not being levelled up.

I would walk 500 miles…

I nearly became one of The Proclaimers at the weekend. My 500 mile trip from Kent to Liverpool was fraught with barriers. In recent years, Southeastern trains has changed the ramps it uses. It used to have long ramps that folded open lengthwise, like centurion shields.

But it’s now opted for a mix and match approach, using shorter stubby ramps at steeper, more painful angles. And, to my horror, at London stations, a wheeled ramp with horned handles, that isn’t wide enough to handle all wheelchair sizes. I couldn’t wheel up on to the train at all. If anyone has worked out the secret of levitation, do let me know.

I then attempted to take an Avanti West Coast train up to Liverpool. Except the accessible loo curves out into the corridor, so again, I couldn’t get my wheelchair through into the carriage while I was in it.

I have a condition called Lipoedema. It is one of many medical conditions that makes people big, without any dieting going to make us smaller. So why do these companies buy trains that only work for small people? What blinkers stop them from realising this is discrimination?

And then in Liverpool itself, a city I hold in high regard for the warmth, sense and compassion of its residents, I found one of the rare outliers driving a cab, who took off before I was seated without checking to see I was safe, which resulted in pain for me, and pain for my companion, who I injured as I fell. It’s not great when the person who is supposed to be pushing you around in your wheelchair
(I need this sometimes) ends up on crutches.

The golden rule with disabled people is ask us what we need – don’t assume. Because (I know it’s an oldie, but it’s still so true) to assume makes an ass out of u, and me – especially if I fall down hard on mine.

Anna Morell works for Disability Rights UK – the UK’s leading organisation led by, run by, and working for Disabled people.

It works with Disabled People’s Organisations and Government across the UK to influence regional and national change for better rights, benefits, quality of life and economic opportunities for Disabled people.

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