Although the General Election surprised us all by creating an outright, one party Government, the dust hasn’t completely settled.
As the list of Prime Minister, David Cameron’s Cabinet ministers was announced, disabled peoples’ ears may have been pricked by the name: Mark Harper. Yes, you’re absolutely right; he’s been writing an exclusive, regular column in Able Magazine since his appointment as Minister for Disabled People in 2014 – it was reported on Saturday evening that he was joining the Cabinet as Chief Whip.
That means, of course, that we are currently awaiting the appointment of another Minister for Disabled People. This will be the fifth such appointment under David Cameron albeit the first due to a post election ‘promotion’ leaving the post vacant. The other appointments were all part of the ordinary reshuffles that take place over the lifetime of a Parliament, although it perhaps needs to be said that Able Magazine heard from more than a couple of disgruntled readers who felt that the post wasn’t being treated as seriously as it should be and that some consistency would help enormously in the influence of the role.
The ‘Disabled People’ portfolio sits within the Department for Work and Pensions but is a role that often crosses into other areas such as Health and Employment; it’s no surprise really, given that there are over 11 million disabled people in the UK.
The role is now that of a Minister of State and has been elevated in recent years, even beyond that of previous incumbents, including John Major and William Hague (whatever happened to them?). The Minister for Disabled People has access to the Prime Minister on disability issues and attempts to influence policy towards better outcomes for disabled people.
So, what can we expect from the new Minister for Disabled People? More of the same, probably, but that’s more down to the prevailing ‘party line’ than the individual politician. The fact is that David Cameron has already ruled out a cut in Child Tax Credit and so other welfare benefits, including disability benefits may be up for discussion as part of the drive to claw back the £12bn funding gap.
If disabled people are to lose benefits, then surely it’s only fair to replace them with at least the opportunity for more disabled people to try to make ends meet through better access to employment. The Disability Confident scheme introduced by the Conservatives a couple of years ago was a good idea but so much more needs to be done. Many disabled people still face challenges and barriers to work and would welcome any intervention that the new minister might care to make.
Also related to benefits is the ongoing question of health and social care. This is going to become a bigger issue over the next few years and we can only hope that the new minister develops an understanding about the needs of disabled people and is able to campaign with courage from within the Government for a fair settlement.
Finally, as an ongoing project, disabled people need to continue to be recognised as ‘people first’ under the mantra of the social model of disability. This will hopefully include a broad discussion about further access to education and other life chances. In short, the momentum gained over the past five years and including the boost given by the London Paralympics of 2012 needs to continue.
Although there are many suitable candidates to replace Mark Harper, I’m going to go for Robert Halfon MP as my best guess as to who will be selected. He’s the MP, you may remember, from the recent BBC Two documentary ‘Inside The Commons’. Halfon came across very well during the series as a compassionate campaigner and diligent worker. In fact, he was hand-picked by Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, to become his Parliamentary Private Secretary, with Osborne describing him as a “brilliant campaigner”. Halfon is also disabled and uses crutches to aid his mobility.
Remember, you heard it here first!