Four parliamentary candidates – including two disabled politicians – have explained their parties’ disability policies to an audience of activists.
The election “hustings” was organised by Inclusion London, which promotes equality for London’s Deaf and disabled people.
Kirsten Hearn, chair of Inclusion London, said the event was an opportunity for disabled people to question candidates on the policies that would affect their lives.
Adrian Berrill-Cox, the disabled Conservative candidate for Islington North, focused strongly on his party’s plans to get more disabled people into work and out of poverty, and to simplify the benefits system, which he said would help disabled people worried that starting part-time work might “compromise their benefits”.
He said a Conservative government would simplify social care assessments, push further with the rollout of personal and individual budgets and introduce combined health and social care individual budgets.
It would also set up a £1 million fund to support disabled people standing for election to public office.
Catharine Arakelian, the Labour candidate for Chingford, told the audience that the Labour government had brought in the Human Rights Act, which was “based on the core principles of dignity, fairness and respect”.
And she said that the Equality and Human Rights Commission – despite its “rocky start” – would be the “safeguard” to ensure that “the things we are trying to achieve”, such as the public sector disability equality duty, would actually happen.
She said she was also “enormously proud” of Labour’s Equality Act, which “consolidates in law everything we have tried to achieve over the last 13 years”, but warned that the task now would be to implement the act.
Arakelian said public sector services should not be allowed to “go to the wall”, as the public sector was “where we hold onto fairness”.
James Sandbach, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Putney, said that despite 15 years of disability rights legislation, disabled people’s lives were not improving, “and in many ways they seem to be getting worse”.
He pointed to the unfairness of the Labour government’s work capability assessment, introduced in 2008, which he said was “letting people down very badly”.
He said a Liberal Democrat government would improve support to help disabled people into work, and would ensure that disabled job-seekers could apply to the access to work scheme before they found a job.
Sandbach said a Liberal Democrat government would also introduce a £140 million bus scrappage scheme, which the party has said would lead to almost 2,000 new accessible buses across the country, and would be more “robust” about enforcing existing disability laws.
The Liberal Democrats would also extend winter fuel payments to all severely disabled people, he said.
Joseph Healy, the disabled Green candidate for Vauxhall, said his party would ensure every police force appointed an equality officer to improve its treatment of disability hate crime.
He said there had been a “growing trend” of increased disability hate crime and warned that the BNP should not be allowed to gain an electoral foothold because “everywhere they do there is a subsequent increase in hate crimes against LGBT people, against disabled people, against other groups”.
He said statistics on the number of disabled people not working were “disgraceful” and criticised the “culture of volunteerism” in which disabled people were encouraged to volunteer rather than being given paid jobs, including by some disability charities.
He said a Green government would repeal Labour’s “pernicious” Welfare Reform Act, because of the way it “penalises people on welfare”, and would cancel the contracts of private sector companies that assess disabled people for their entitlement to out-of-work disability benefits.
Healy also said the Green party was the only party committed to increasing public spending.
20 April 2010