Conservative conference: Charity sets trio of activists loose on party conferences


A disability charity has supported and sponsored a trio of disabled activists to take their campaigning work to the three main party conferences.

The three activists – Kaliya Franklin, Pat Onions and Carlene Evans – have all been campaigning on their own issues, rather than those of Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD).

About 30 disabled people applied to take part in the new scheme, with one place available at each conference, and LCD funding their accommodation, travel and conference passes.

Franklin, a leading blogger and activist from the Wirral, campaigned around welfare reform at the Conservative conference in Birmingham, after Onions had lobbied politicians at the Labour conference in Manchester, and Carlene Evans, from Bolton, raised concerns at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, including the issues of disability hate crime and welfare reform.

Onions, from South Lanarkshire, highlighted the impact of the cuts faced by disabled people and carers as part of her campaign to persuade 100,000 people to sign her own Pat’s Petition, which calls on the government to stops its programme of cuts until it can review the overall impact on disabled people.

The petition has passed the 51,000 mark, but only has until 1 November to reach 100,000 and trigger a debate in the House of Commons.

Franklin said the LCD scheme had been “fantastic”, and was impressed that the charity had not tried to influence the content of her campaigning, although “there was support there if you wanted it”.

In just three days, Franklin spoke to Lord Freud, the welfare reform minister, Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey, the new minister for disabled people, and Jeremy Hunt, the new health secretary, and spoke at several fringe meetings.

Franklin said she thought the personal meetings had “really shaken” some of the politicians she had met.

She said: “I think it is the first time that they have realised that real sick and disabled people are terrified [of the cuts and reforms].”

Franklin said politicians had to think about their policies “in a completely different manner” when confronted with someone personally impacted by those policies.

Rebecca Rennison, LCD’s policy and parliamentary manager, said the scheme came out of a conversation with Franklin at one of last year’s party conferences, and the realisation of how “incredibly expensive” it was to attend the events.

Rennison said: “We wanted people to be completely independent in what they raised. We should be doing more and more and more to give disabled people direct access to decision-makers. Our role can be more and more about facilitating that access.”

She said she hoped the scheme would also spread awareness among disabled people that party conferences were not just about the leaders’ speeches, but also about “networking, raising the profile of your campaign, and getting a quick word with an MP you pass in a corridor”.

She said the conferences – and particularly the fringe events that make up a major part of the events – were often filled with public affairs teams “and not people with direct experience”.

She said: “Nothing is stronger than the power of someone speaking from direct experience. At party conferences, we do not see enough disabled people.”

She said MPs and ministers on the panels at fringe events “cannot argue” with service-users who speak from their own experience of claiming disability living allowance or accessing social care.

Rennison added: “It is something I hope MPs and ministers are also pleased about when they get to talk to someone with direct experience.”

She said the scheme was one part of LCD’s attempts to “put disabled people at the heart of the charity”, including recruiting more disabled trustees, and running a network of local campaign coordinators who support disabled people to campaign on the issues they choose to focus on.

11 October 2012


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