The minister for disabled people has been criticised for pulling out of a key speech about her reforms and disability living allowance (DLA) cuts to an audience of disabled people and other campaigners.
Esther McVey was due to give the opening keynote address to the National Disabilities Conference, an event backed by her own Department for Work and Pensions and a number of disability organisations.
But despite having confirmed earlier in the year that she would speak at the event on 4 July, she has now pulled out due to “parliamentary business”.
Some disabled activists have linked her decision to this week’s announcement of a new cap on social security spending – including disability benefits – by the chancellor, George Osborne.
She had been due to speak on issues such as “making independence a reality” for disabled people, and how the new personal independence payment – which is replacing working-age DLA – would “provide fairer support to those disabled people who need it most”.
The Conservative minister was due to deliver her speech at 9.30am, a time when there is usually little or no activity in parliament.
A spokesman for the conference organiser, Government Knowledge, said: “Unfortunately, she has had to withdraw from the conference due to parliamentary business.
“It is disappointing for us as organisers, but obviously parliament comes first.”
The decision to pull out of attending the conference has been greeted with astonishment by campaigners.
Dr Sarah Campbell (@Spoonydoc), principal co-author of the Spartacus report, which led to the We Are Spartacus online movement, said on Twitter: “For me it confirms a complete high-handed disregard for disabled people’s views despite claims to the contrary.
“As minister for disabled people what ‘business’ is more important than keynote address at National Disabilities Conference?”
Anita Bellows (?@AnitaBellows12) added: “Might mean she knows she already lost the argument. Support is wearing thin.”
Another disabled activist, Adam Lotun, described it as “a truly significant snub to us all”.
He said: “She gets paid to take the rough with the smooth… this is a snub of pure cowardliness.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “We don’t comment on the minister’s diary – however, it is useful to point out that ministers conduct a wide range of activities relating to their parliamentary responsibilities, including meetings and visits away from the House of Commons.”
27 June 2013