Celia Hensman: The disabled community must be better represented in Parliament and local councils

23 Aug

Celia Hensman is the Digital & Communications Executive for The Conservative Disability Group.

The Conservative Party in government has a proud history of introducing policies and practices aimed at enabling and empowering those living with disabilities to have the freedoms, opportunities and support to productively live their lives in the way that they choose.

These include The Disability Discrimination Act 1995; Access To Work in 1994; the introduction of Disability Living Allowance in 1992; and more recently the publication of the National Disability Strategy.

As the population grows older, consequentially the number of those living with a disability also increases. Estimated at 13.9 million, now more than ever our elected representatives must reflect the disabled diversity of the United Kingdom.

Currently, parliamentary and local council representatives do not reflect the disabled diversity of our society. Within the incumbent Westminster, figures demonstrate that the number of MPs, out of a total of 363, who have declared a disability is shockingly low. With nearly 14 million disabled people living in the UK, it is fundamental that disability is adequately represented, both in Parliament and local authorities.

Unfortunately, historically many health and social care-related policies have been designed without due care and attention to the needs and want of the disabled community, whose lives are arguably affected more than the general populace each day by these decisions. It is vital that the voices of the disabled community are heard, observed, acknowledged and – crucially – woven into legislation and decision making.

Our parliamentary representatives are simply that; our representatives, and 13.9 million people are shouting for greater representation. Accessibility and disability inclusivity is a right, not a privilege, and should be considered throughout policy formation, at a core level, this is achieved through the increase of the number of disabled persons elected. The increase of disabled representation is not a want it is a need, the need to ensure as a society we are progressing forward and not stagnating.

The Conservative Disability Group (CDG) fundamentally believes that having a disability, whether visible or non-visible is not a negative. Disabilities for too long have been stereotyped as a solely negative trait. Yes, there are negative aspects of living with a disability – this is undeniable – however as a society we must move away from this intrinsic thought that those of us living with a disability are categorised as utterly hindered and unable.

Disability does not equate to less ability. Living with a disability gives you a unique set of powerful attributes such as greater empathy, resilience, determination and the ability to think outside of the box, to name but a few. These attributes make for the ideal elected representative.

The disabled community is exhausted by the prospect that in society for too long one’s ability is preemptively assumed based on a disability before one’s actual capabilities have even been examined. To remove this stigma, we must work hard, as a united disabled and disabled supporting community to educate, inform and advise.

Often, discrimination against disabled individuals is not enacted from hate, but from accessibility barriers born from a lack of education, awareness, and understanding. Education of those not exposed to disabilities and demonstration of the strengths and power of disabled individuals lies at the heart of change.

Disabled people sharing their experiences, expertise, and knowledge must be at the core of policy formation, disabled and able-bodied persons alike working as a united allied community. One cannot logically dispute against the argument that, for example, health and social care policy are best designed in collaboration with the disabled community, to argue against would be to dispute that our strong female leaders should not be absent from the beating heart of legislation for the advancement of gender equality.

Because of this, for over 30 years, the CDG has been advocating for greater disabled representation, support, equality, and opportunity across the many facets of the Party. The movement forward for increasing the number of disabled members being selected as candidates has previously been relatively stagnant, however, times are changing, the party is entering into a revolutionary and exciting period of leaping towards increased disabled representation.

For over a year, the CDG has witnessed energetic, collaborative, and concerted action from CCHQ to effectuate the positive change sought by disabled party members across the length of our nation. Working closely with Dr. Caroline Johnson MP, the Vice-Chair for Disabilities, and the Outreach team, the wheels of Ability2Win have been set in motion.

Ability2Win, officially launching in September, builds upon the Disability Campaign Toolkit, which provides advice for activists with disabilities who would like to stand as councillors, as well as for association officers who want practical tips on how to make their association and its processes more inclusive. Ability2Win will give our disabled candidates the platform to showcase their abilities with support through training, development and mentoring.

The support provided by Conservative MPs and local leaders, will enhance candidates’ knowledge and strengthen innately powerful attributes and skills, equipping candidates to head towards an election. One must not be concerned, that the aim of Ability2Win and the work of the CDG is to distribute unfair advantage or abled discrimination, Ability2Win ensures that we are levelling up the opportunities available to all members of the Conservative Party.

Our candidates must better reflect the beautiful and increasing diversity of the society within which we live. The CDG in collaboration with the Party is working harder than ever to tear down accessibility barriers brick by brick, paving the way for increased diversity and inclusivity in our representation.

Caroline Johnson: Tiers are a tough but necessary step for the country. We must hold our nerve over winter.

26 Nov

Dr Caroline Johnson is the MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham.

Today the Government will announce the new tiers that will apply across different areas of the country, after analysis of the latest ONS data out yesterday.

The Prime Minister was clear that after this second period of lockdown we would return to a three-tier local and regional approach. We know that the new tiering system will be tougher than before we went into national restrictions, and I know many colleagues have expressed concerns about their constituents and local businesses facing further restrictive measures.

I share their concerns, however the scientific advice has been clear that, while the previous tiers did reduce the R rate, they were not quite enough to bring R below 1, and therefore it is right that the tiers have had to be toughened in some ways as we head into colder winter months, so that we can protect the NHS and save lives.

While it is completely understandable that people want to avoid the toughest restrictions if possible, adherence to these tiers is how we will avoid another national lockdown and the only way we will get through the tough winter months that still lie ahead.

As sorely tempting as it is to get back to some normality of life, especially over the festive season, whether that be heading to the pub or meeting friends and family, it would be wrong to risk lives and overwhelming the NHS when the real prospect of ending restrictions with vaccines and mass testing is now within reach.

And I believe the public understands this. A recent poll by ComRes showed that in England, adults are three times as likely to support moving to a tiered approach than oppose.

To its credit, the Government has listened to concerns and learned lessons from the original tiered system, and made important changes. Sensibly, the 10pm closing time for hospitality has been shifted to 11pm with a 10pm last orders, to allow for more staggered departures. Across all tiers, non-essential retail will be able to remain open and operate in a Covid secure way, in a vital boost for small businesses over the Christmas period.

As a doctor, I am particularly pleased that gyms will be reopening and outdoor sports – like tennis and golf – can resume across all tiers, so people can keep fit. Spectator sports can also resume outside in some tiers with capacity limits and social distancing, and collective worship and weddings can resume.

And as before, the Government will continue to provide financial support to areas, including cash grants for closed businesses and extra funding for local authorities.

The principle of targeting the toughest measures in areas where the virus is most prevalent remains the right one. Crucially, the Government has published clear indicators which will determine the tier each area will go into on December 2 and how areas then move between tiers thereafter. Those indicators will include case detection rates in all age groups, case detection rates in the over 60s, the rate at which cases are rising or falling, positivity rate, and pressure on local NHS services.

Tiers will be reviewed every 14 days against these indicators, providing much needed clarity and a route out of restrictions. These tiers are designed to keep the R below 1 and therefore allow areas to move down the tiers, rather than simply escalate as the epidemic grows.

I know there are some areas of the country that have been under some form of restrictions since the summer, which is why it is right that those areas in Tier 3 restrictions will be being prioritised for community testing rollouts.

There is at last some light at the end of what has been a long tunnel. All the indications are that through the collective effort of the people of Liverpool, the community testing trial has been a success and is ready to be rolled out much further, to 13 million people before Christmas, including NHS staff and care homes.

Community testing is not the silver bullet, but it is a powerful tool at our disposal – one that offers us new and exciting possibilities. There will be a clear incentive for everyone in areas where the virus prevalence is high to get a test, to help reduce the spread of the virus and eventually minimise the restrictions in your area.

We have also had a slew of positive news on vaccines over the last week and thanks to the work of the Vaccine Taskforce we have secured more than 350 million doses of vaccines of all kinds. The development of vaccines has been hugely impressive work at an unprecedented speed.

However, even if these vaccines are approved – we still have some road ahead of us before all those who need a vaccine have been inoculated. That is why it is so important that we hold firm and return to the tiered system so that we can get through the next few months.

It would be fatal now to become complacent. We must hold our nerve, reluctantly but resolutely re-enter the regional tiers and get through the winter. If we can continue to show the discipline and resolve that has characterised the entire country’s steadfast response to this crisis, then next spring we can build back better from Coronavirus and it could truly be a season of renewal like no other.