The government has refused to say if the former minister for disabled people will present any medals to Paralympic athletes over the final days of London 2012.
The failure to clarify whether Maria Miller – announced yesterday (Tuesday) as the new culture secretary – will present medals at the games comes after the chancellor, George Osborne, was loudly booed during a medal ceremony in the Olympic Stadium.
Miller has presided over massively unpopular cuts and reforms to disability living allowance, announced the closure of the Independent Living Fund, and failed to ensure an assessment of the cumulative impact on disabled people of a raft of welfare reforms and cuts to services.
She has also been accused of “misrepresenting” the views of disabled people’s organisations by repeatedly implying that the government’s welfare reforms are backed by the disability movement and other disability organisations.
Following the angry reaction of the crowd in the Olympic Stadium on Monday to George Osborne, there are likely to be fears in Miller’s new department of a similar reaction – particularly from disabled people – if she is asked to present any medals.
As the new secretary of state for culture, media and sport – replacing Jeremy Hunt – Miller would be an obvious choice to hand out medals for a high-profile Paralympic event in the last few days of the games. She is also the new women and equalities minister.
But she has become a deeply divisive figure for many activists and has several times been the victim of angry heckling when speaking at events attended by disabled people.
A spokeswoman for the Government Olympic Communication office told Disability News Service: “As has been the case over the last days, ministerial involvement in the medal ceremonies is fairly fluid so we are not publishing or giving advance notice of who is giving out medals when and where.
“Obviously it will be quite apparent which ministers will be taking part when their ceremonies are taking place.”
In October 2011, both Miller and Boris Johnson received repeated, angry heckling at the London mayor’s Disability Capital event.
The following month, she faced particular anger from delegates to a conference on Tackling Disability Poverty when she tried to justify the government’s sweeping welfare reforms by pointing to the need to tackle the number of people “defrauding” the system.
Last week, members of Disabled People Against Cuts invaded Miller’s department’s offices in Whitehall during a mass protest that marked the end of five days of nationwide action against the government’s “fitness for work” assessment contractor Atos, a major sponsor of the London 2012 Paralympics.
4 September 2012