Philip J Connolly
Disabled people and the General Election
It is still up to two years to the general election so why act now? In a word - timing. We have a new Prime Minister, a new economic strategy (mid-November), a new austerity crisis and a new choice to think about with all opposition parties thriving in the opinion polls. This is also the time to make mistakes. The time we didn't read the briefing on the lobbying act, the time we didn't have deep engagement plans with the electorate, the time we hadn't worked out our policy asks could also be now. So where should or could we start and what could one person's influence be?
Firstly ,we could set some targets on disability voter registration. We could offer to help register possible voters in marginal wards. Internationally there are how this can influence minority representation. In the last ten years campaigns against voter suppression in Georgia, USA have seen 800,000 black and minority ethnic people register. The effort has been spearheaded by Stacey Abrams. Her own biggest success was in 2020 delivering Georgia and its sixteen congressional representatives to the Democrats by a mere 12,000 votes. My understanding is that around four in every five disabled people are registered to vote with about three in four of them actually voting. So there is scope for someone to be our Stacey Abrams?
Next are the issues from which our policy positions derive. Traditionally these issues have been the ones of accessibility, independent living, social protection and economic participation. I would also suggest pre-distribution so that the demand side of the economy also features the contribution of disabled people in generating wealth and the narrative on disability shifts to include what disabled people give as well as what they receive. Here our plans are boosted by new data. Sheffield Hallam University have mapped the prevalence of disability. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have mapped the constituencies where the numbers that stand to be affected by whether Universal Credit is upgraded by the rate of inflation figure or not, exceed the size of the parliamentary majority for the constiutency. Many local authorities are currently mapping their services including those delivered by the voluntary and community sector.
The political parties or the electoral commission could be asked for the contact details of the candidates. Sitting MPs can be scrutinised for their voting record given on the "They work for us" website. The opinion polling companies could be asked for local polling on the key issues of concern to disabled people. . This information could be used to assess whether there are gaps between the main party's policy stances and the public at large. Tailored briefings could then be sent to all candidates.
A Communications plan could support short term goals e.g. an appeal regarding policy positions to all candidates, medium term e.g., radio phone in programmes and short term e.g. twitter thunderclaps and twobby activities.
The deep engagement plans could be as extensive and as deep as the number of active supporters will allow. Some MPs most notably Johnny Mercer knocked on almost every door to win but that's not our ask of you. There are close to 90,000 disabled students in UK universities and there are over twelve million disabled people or those with a long-term health condition in wider society. In addition, there are over six million carers too. This all suggests both an over-arching list of policy demands and stratified lists e.g., for carers. Deep engagement does require to meet and even more importantly to listen to as many newly registered voters as possible.
The equalities agenda is becoming more and more influential in Government policy. I read Government policy. I have seen advances in relation to the opportunities made available to black and minority ethnic people and so too for members of the LGBTQI+ community but relatively few for the disabled and long-term sick community. Yet we are the largest minority community with the lowest rates of participation. No other community can experience equality until we do because we are in every community whether its a community of geography, a community of interest or a cyber-community. We are the biggest minority everywhere.
We are a disadvantaged community, but that shouldn't hide our advantages to policy makers. We are in the main legally resident in the UK with underutilised certificated skills at a time of Brexit induced skill shortages. We may not look like an elite but that's a problem for the institutionally biased. Disabled people have been statistically correlated with being innovative by the Government's own agency Innovate UK. Innovation has in turn been linked to resiliency but instead of supporting us to make the offer of exchanging resilience for greater inclusion; Government support seldom reaches us. There is no disability enterprise strategy. We are absent from both the Jobs Strategy and the Levelling UP strategy.
Perhaps it is because reasonable adjustments often require expenditure so may have their own line in the accounts that there are relatively few policy interventions on our behalf. The answer to this policy disconnect is that reasonable adjustments and the programmes like Access to Work (AtW) that subsidise them offer a return on investment. It’s the same reason that every new version of your IT brings ever more access features. As far back as 2004 the then Minister for disabled people stated that for every £1 spent on the AtW programme the Government saved £1.49 in reduced benefits and up to £1.70 when taxes were included too.
The next General Election is time to engage with the values that underpin the treatment of disabled people. We are not scapegoats for the high court finding that the national disability strategy to be illegal because all Government policy is supposed to have taken our views into account. The Disability Resilience Network wants all wealth generation plans such as the national infrastructure plan to be reappraised for its contribution to disabled people's economic participation.
You can volunteer to be part of our general election campaign. You may live in a constituency where they weigh the votes or you may live in a constituency where the tellers are often required to recount the votes. Either way you could spend the next two years being our DRN changemaker representative and that will count for a lot, almost more than anything else.
As Ceasar Chavez, the US farmworker union leader used to say: "Don't agonise, organise."
Visit www.disabilityresiliencenetwork.com and join the DRN by filling out the form there and submitting it.