David Cameron has been heavily criticised for appearing to use his disabled son and father in his main party conference speech in a bid to justify cuts to disability benefits.
Cameron spent part of his speech to the annual Conservative party conference in Birmingham trying to explain the need for another £10 billion in cuts to welfare spending, announced earlier in the week by his chancellor, George Osborne.
He also spoke of how he used to push his own son, Ivan, around in his wheelchair, but “always thought that some people saw the wheelchair, not the boy”, and suggested that the success of the Paralympics meant that now “more people would see the boy and not the wheelchair”.
He described later in his speech how his disabled father, Ian, had worked hard “from the moment he left school”, although he failed to mention that his dad was born into a wealthy family, and was educated at Eton, before being fast-tracked into a partnership in the family stockbroking business.
Only two days before the speech, Osborne had been accused of risking further hostility to disabled people on out-of-work benefits by describing a “shift-worker” who leaves for work and “looks up at the closed blinds of their next door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits”.
John McArdle, a founding member of the grassroots disabled people’s organisation Black Triangle, said he and other members were furious at how Cameron had used his disabled son and father – both of whom were now dead – to try to whip up support for cuts to disability benefits.
He pointed to the thousands of disabled children who would lose support as a result of government cuts.
McArdle said: “The experience of disability for his family does not speak to the experience of disability for the 99 per cent of families with disabled children in Britain.
“What is so upsetting is that the prime minister seems to lack insight into the tremendous damage he is doing to the disabled community through his cuts.”
He added: “Our supporters are absolutely livid. This is a full-frontal attack on disability rights, using two disabled people who aren’t even here to speak for themselves.”
The disabled activist and blogger Kaliya Franklin added: “I think it is fantastic that Ian Cameron worked as a significantly disabled person in the time that he did, but I don’t think that he would have been able to work in the way he did if he was a coal miner’s son from the north-east with the same kind of impairment.
“I think that privilege is insidious and you simply cannot understand what it is like to exist in a world without it when you have always had that.”
11 October 2012