With the general election fast approaching and amid the campaign buzz, it’s important to keep sight of what matters to you. “Vote for a party that will support you not just financially, but culturally – and significantly in terms of energy prices,” is the message from SNP Spokesperson for Disabilities Marion Fellows MP, at Westminster.

Interview by Lauren Hunter

The current political landscape is undeniably difficult. Fellows admits that sometimes it’s a “David versus Goliath” situation. But clearly, she has a tenacity of spirit to fight for what the party feels is right for disabled people in Scotland. “We want to treat disabled people with dignity, fairness, and respect, which we’re doing through Scottish Social Security [the new Scottish equivalent to the DWP]”, Fellows explains. The now much more streamlined process for the Adult Disability Payment is a far cry from the notorious problems of PIP, its counterpart elsewhere in the UK. 

Yet, with constantly changing DWP policy, the UK Government is making this transition harder for Scottish disabled people, and the SNP’s hands are tied in terms of the power it can exert. “At the moment, although we’re totally against what the Government are doing, we can’t do anything about it because it’s not devolved. Where benefits are devolved, we are trying to make it easier for people to access them, and not put barriers in the way of people actually getting the benefits that they need and deserve because of their disability.”

However, Fellows and her party feel major issues still lie on the horizon. “We don’t believe that the present position is working, and worse, there’s no evidence that Labour are going to be any different. They’re pushing disabled people with conditionality and that could lead to them being sanctioned and losing benefits. The whole system needs to be more supportive of disabled people. It needs to provide a cushion so that people can live and then get money for the additional cost of being disabled – it costs a disabled household about £970 more on average per month.

Labour have not really shown any commitment to fight that.”

On the matter of commitment, Fellows is steadfast. “I’m able bodied so I don’t have the advantage of being able to personally understand what people are going through. Sometimes I do feel a bit bad about that,” she says. “But I’ve taken on this role and it has transformed my life. I’m now an advocate, and even when I’m no longer an MP, I’ll still be an advocate of disabled rights and treating people properly.

Disabled people need empathisers, sympathisers, and advocates, because too many of them can’t advocate for themselves,” she explains. In her view, this is one of the most significant points as the Parliamentary term draws to a close. “The biggest problem that disabled people have is that they are having to become more active because their needs are being ignored by both major parties. That’s the politest way I can put it.”

Fellows’ position is not made any easier by the Government’s current handling of disability, in light of their decision to scrap the role of Minister for Disabled People and merge it with others under the jurisdiction of the DWP, which Mims Davies MP now takes charge of. “We need to have a committed disabilities minister, and we need to have cross-government working on the treatment of disabled people – that’s paramount.

What the Government say they’re dealing with, is ‘low hanging fruit’ stuff. Yes, of course, disabled-friendly playgrounds are important. Yes, of course, it’s important that people with guide dogs have the guarantee that the enforcement of the law is actually taken. All of that is important but it doesn’t address the real fundamental issues; cost of living, energy costs, and also the fact that people are being pushed into unsuitable work. The idea that there’s a whole swathe of jobs out there that you can do virtually, is nonsense.”

Ultimately, she believes the Scottish Government, under the SNP, is putting their best foot forward. “Disabled people in Scotland are certainly treated better. There’s no doubt about that,” she says. 

But what is her campaign slogan to the electorate north of the border? “Labour are not promising any huge changes and that is fairly concerning – so disabled voters in Scotland should vote for SNP to keep a strong voice in Westminster.”