As has already been mentioned in the recent blog entry by Baroness Grey-Thompson, on Thursday, ahead of the biggest ever lobby of Parliament by disabled people this Wednesday, I introduced a debate calling attention to the impact of Government policies on disabled people. The general opinion was that it went very well. We had an Olympian maiden speech from Lord Fellowes of West Stafford who, extrapolating from his own experience, demonstrated remarkable empathy with the situation of disabled people. There was certainly plenty to draw attention to so it was disappointing that we had Lord Taylor of Holbeach responding to the debate instead of Lord Freud who had been knocked down by a cyclist and had had to go to hospital. The word was that Lord Freud had sustained no lasting damage and Lord Taylor nobly stepped into the breach but he was obviously not in a position to respond to points made in the way that Lord Freud would have been.
It was also disappointing that time ran out and absurdly rigid House rules prevented me from making any reply to the debate, not even to observe the normal courtesies of thanking the speakers, etc. even when there was no pressure of time (the House rose before 5).
Had I been able to reply I should have said that, even for someone as hard-boiled as me, it had been a powerful and moving debate, with a number of the speeches bringing out the realities of life as a disabled person–something I wasn’t able to do as much as I should have liked in my introduction. I thought a number of speakers brought out how the vulnerability of disabled people is much more endemic and ongoing than the benefits system allows for, and Baroness Browning in particular stressed how hard won support is in face of an assessment system which is callous, bureaucratic, dismissive, disrespectful and Kafkaesque.
A number of speakers showed how failure to provide the necessary support could be a false economy, and I think this is something which would merit further attention. Baroness Campbell showed how this could lead to the undermining of human rights, and altogether the burden on disabled people is disproportionate.
I hope ministers will reflect on the debate, and that it will be used to inform the various reports which have to be submitted this summer on the UK’s compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled P. We still have some work to do I’m afraid to get the Libdems to see that it is just as important for them to push back against the Government’s harsh policies for welfare reform as on the Health Service.