My personal highlight of the week was becoming the new 'Parliamentary Champion' for the Conservative Disability Group (CDG). It’s an opportunity to make a difference, and I am incredibly excited about it.
The CDG is an alliance of Conservative Party members from across the ability spectrum. The idea is to create a more inclusive society for disabled people by promoting Conservative solutions.
For example, the landmark Disabilities Discrimination Act was created by a Conservative Government. The Disabilities Minister then was William Hague, who made it illegal to discriminate against disabled people.
But, there is obviously more to do. Our manifesto commits the Government to a new National Disability Strategy and we have to get it right.
In Peterborough, Westcombe Engineering made a name for itself by employing people with disabilities. They understand that people with disabilities can work just as hard, or harder, and stay longer. When I visited recently, one employee had just seen the Queen after being at the company for 42 years.
Yet you’re much more likely to be unemployed if you are disabled. This employment gap should be tackled and needs to be part of the new strategy.
We also need to look at public transport. There has been progress with buses, but train operators can do better. Wheelchair users normally have to pre-book for assistance. Yet whenever stations are unmanned, this makes their travel by train impossible, as those trying to get around Fenland know all too well.
There are real health inequalities. If you have a learning disability, you’re entitled to an annual health check. Yet statistics suggest that someone with a learning disability is more likely to die before the age of 75 than anyone else. Although GP incentives have improved signposting, assumptions are still made about their health needs, leading to poor care.
This can be changed. It’s fantastic that our new Government will now provide autism and learning disability training for all health and social care staff in England. This will improve the quality of care that people receive. Mencap who should be applauded for their ‘Treat Me Well’ campaign, agree that this is an important step in bringing about a fairer healthcare system.
The new National Disability Strategy can also help meet the challenges in social care. Some of those problems are well known, particularly around funding care for older people. Yet a third of the social care budget is spent on caring for working-age disabled people.
This is hardly ever discussed. However, if we get the strategy right, many of those people can live more fulfilling and productive lives. Some, like my friends at Westcombe Engineering, could find employment.
Then the Government talks about levelling up, it doesn’t just mean building bridges and roads. Levelling up means helping people to live better lives and reach their potential.
The National Disability Strategy won’t work if it is simply able-bodied people taking decisions on others’ behalf. So if this affects you, tell me what should be in it by contacting me by email using these details.
We are a society. Levelling up is the right thing for people with disabilities, the right thing for Peterborough and the right thing for everyone.
Paul Bristow MP
Parliamentary Champion for the Conservative Disability Group
(This article originally appeared in the Peterborough Telegraph on 15th March 2020)