As Shadow Minister for Disabled People, I announced the launch of my Disability Equality Roadshow, due to start in 2016, at a Parliamentary event held as part of the UN’s International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPD) with the help of Arslaan Hussain, a constituent in Oldham East and Saddleworth.
The event was attended by over 100 invited guests including vice president of the RNIB, Lord Low of Dalston, fashion model Chelsey Jay, and Thalidomide campaigner Mikey Argy, who joined Arslaan on stage in a question and answer panel session which I chaired.
After the event Arslaan – who was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2013 and started using a wheelchair in 2014 after the side affects of his treatment damaged his legs – said: “I was really nervous about appearing at such a high profile event attended by so many influential people but I was really flattered that Debbie asked me to take part and represent disabled people in Oldham. It’s quite something to be asked to go to Parliament and share my thoughts about what life is like for disabled people in Britain in the 21st century, in front of such a large and diverse audience, but I really enjoyed the experience and met loads of great people.”
Arslaan is in constant pain but, after months of physiotherapy, he’s starting to take his first steps again. He says: “Mine is a very painful condition and I struggle each and every day. Since being in a wheelchair I’ve seen life in a very different way and I’ve seen how differently disabled people are treated by society. But what I would say to anyone who is going through hard times is I can tell you that after every hardship there is a light at the end of the tunnel!”
The theme of this year’s UN IDPD is about inclusion, access and empowerment for people of all abilities. One of the reasons I created the Disability Equality Roadshow is because I believe that it is crucial society listens to disabled people and recognises and addresses the way in which it creates barriers and excludes them from so many things in life that the rest of us take for granted.
Labour’s Disability Equality Roadshow will allow disabled people across the UK to voice their opinions about how, as a society, we should be supporting them in the most effective and appropriate ways and to define what a social security system for disabled people, fit for the 21st century, should look like.
Over the last few years the Government has treated disabled people appallingly, from the £23.8bn cuts in support to 3.7m disabled people to the dehumanising and ineffective of Work Capability Assessments (WCA) for working age disabled people. Doctors and disability rights organisations have repeatedly raised concerns that the WCA has had an adverse effect on the mental health of claimants. But the Government take no notice.
The Government even ignored recent independent academic research which shows that the WCA process is associated with an increase in suicides, self-reported mental health problems and antidepressant prescribing. The research shows that up to 590 disabled people may have committed suicide between 2010-2013* as a result of going through the WCA process. These recent findings, and all the evidence from medical experts and disability organisations, have gone unheeded by the Government who simply refuse to listen.
But Labour will listen. The views and experiences of disabled people have to be right at the heart of, not just the overhaul of the WCA, but other aspects of social security policy too. Labour wants disabled people to be able to play a central role in both the development and monitoring of this.
Coronation Street star, Cherylee Houston, couldn’t attend Debbie’s event but provided a comment on the issues of inclusion, access and empowerment for disabled people, saying: “We live in very scary times for disabled people.
“Everybody has the right to be introduced to the potential of their dreams. People sometimes forget that disabled people are people who have just as much to offer and by denying our dreams and restricting disabled peoples’ full potential we are in fact denying the full potential of our society overall. Please, please let’s stop standing in each other’s way and leaving people out, lets make sure everyone is included: from transport, to eduction, to buildings, to employment and care. Why don’t we let everyone live to their full potential? We’d be a much richer society if we did.”
You can watch a short video from the event below: