And so ends another week of political chaos in the Houses of Parliament. Hidden amongst the noise was the loss of yet another Minister for Disabled People. Sarah Newton, who had held the position since November 2017, resigned her post in order to vote how she felt led, in one of the many Brexit votes that have taken place this week.
This news brought sadness to us at Sense, as we had found her to be a strong advocate for change within Government. Our meetings with her were positive and her willingness to engage with stakeholders and disabled people directly was admirable. Her approach was methodical and we had high hopes for the change that she was going to be able to bring.
This isn’t the first time though that we have seen change in the role of Minister for Disabled People. This crucial parliamentary brief has seen five ministers come and go since 2013, each serving on average a year in office. This constant churn only serves to bring further uncertainty for disabled people. Change in leadership brings a pause in momentum, changes to work plans and ultimately, further delays any hopes for change that we may have been waiting for.
All too often, we see the issues that matter to disabled people fragmented across different Government departments, from welfare reform to changes to social care, but also transport, sport and all areas of life. This isn’t how people live their lives though and a broader perspective is needed recognising that people have inter-connected needs that span all areas of Government work.
This is why we need a Minister for Disabled People. Someone who links it all together, understands the interplay between policies and departments and who champions the needs of disabled people throughout Government. To truly be effective in this, the starting point needs to be how we can work together to improve the life chances of disabled people, so that they can live the lives they want to lead. From childhood to old age, disabled people need to be given equal opportunities and control over their lives.
Whilst the political future of our country and our relationship with the EU is more certainly an important issue that needs to be resolved, whatever your views or thoughts on this may be, it mustn’t be forgotten that outside the walls of Westminster, life goes on. Disabled people continue to not have access to the support they need, to experience barriers to employment and social opportunities, and to be subject to policy changes that negatively impact on their quality of life.
We don’t yet know who the new Minister will be but we know what we want. We want to see a Government-wide plan for supporting and enabling disabled people, ensuring that they can receive every opportunity in life to reach their potential. For this to be successful, it must have disabled people at the heart of it – one of our organisational principles at Sense is ‘no decision about me without me’ and this must be reflected at all levels of decision making.
But, crucially, it goes even further than that. We want to move past plans, papers and initiatives – all too many of these have come and gone, falling by the wayside. We need to see action so that we can see real and tangible change for disabled people.