A small step to tackling disability discrimination
by Eugene Grant
The Conservatives’ proposal for a £1 million fund to help people with disabilities become MPs is a very welcome step towards breaking down many of the barriers facing disabled people; but, the road ahead is a long one.
Under the Conservatives’ plans, people with disabilities would receive subsidies from a public life fund to cover costs such as sign language interpreters, specialist equipment, transport, and adapting premises to become more accessible. Such plans, it is hoped, would help make parliament more reflective of the wider population - twenty percent of which are thought to have a disability. At present, only 5 per cent of MPs are registered disabled.
This is a discrepancy well noted by Mark Harper, the shadow minister for disabled people. Quoted in the Guardian, Mr Harper points out: “Despite there being over 10 million disabled people in the UK, they are still under-represented in public life. It is important that we break down the barriers which prevent disabled people from standing for public office.”
This acknowledgement will be appreciated by much of the disabled population. But it is a long time coming. The Disability Discrimination Act has done much to protect people against disability discrimination. However, Labour Force Surveys show that as many as 1.3 million disabled people are available for and willing to work, but only 50 per cent of the disabled population (of working age) are in employment. For those with mental health problems, the figure is less than half of this. For those people with disabilities who are employed, most are paid less than their non-disabled counterparts. Outside the realms of work, many of our disabled population experience physical, emotional, and verbal abuse in their everyday lives. The story of Mary Fox is exceptionally tragic, but the abuse her son experienced will be all too familiar for many disabled people.
Speaking at Demos’s launch of The Character Inquiry on Monday, David Cameron outlined his belief in the need for a good society, characterised by mutual obligation and individual responsibility. According to Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, an individual’s capabilities and the pursuit of individual freedom “depend on the nature of the social arrangements” and here, he points out, “the state and society cannot escape responsibility”.
The Conservatives’ new proposals bring them a step closer to realising this responsibility. But it is a step on a long path towards an equal and fair society.