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.