Coalition MPs who play leading roles in disability-related parliamentary groups – but still voted to slash disabled people’s benefits – have been accused of hypocrisy.
At least five Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs voted to overturn four disability-related amendments to the welfare reform bill – all of which had been introduced in the House of Lords – even though they play key roles in all-party parliamentary groups that promote the interests of disabled people.
The five include the disabled Conservative MP Paul Maynard, who chairs the young disabled people’s group and is vice-chair of the muscular dystrophy group, and the Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Lloyd, who is vice-chair of the groups on deafness and MS, and himself has a hearing impairment.
Others include the Conservative MPs Chris Skidmore, secretary of the disability group, Charles Walker, co-chair of the mental health group, and John Baron, chair of the cancer group.
All five voted to cut the time-limit for claiming the contributory form of employment and support allowance (ESA) – for those in the work-related activity group – from two years to one; reinstate contributory ESA time-limits for some people receiving cancer treatment; and prevent disabled young people with the highest support needs claiming contributory ESA.
They also voted to cut benefits for young disabled people with lower support needs, which will see most families with a disabled child losing £27 per week.
When asked about accusations of hypocrisy, Maynard said he believed there was “none at all”, and directed Disability News Service to comments he had made in the Commons.
He added: “If anyone in my constituency wishes to question me further they are more than willing to do so. I have no further comment to make.” He then hung up.
In the Commons, Maynard had questioned the reason for removing contributory ESA from disabled young people and asked whether it might deter them from forming relationships, an issue he said had been raised by the young disabled people’s parliamentary group.
But he stressed that the government had his “full support”, and voted to overturn all four Lords amendments.
A spokesman for Baron said that promoting the interests of cancer patients was “an important part of the APPG’s work” but “not its sole role”.
He said Baron had “considered the [ESA cancer treatment] vote carefully” and after questioning the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions was “satisfied that cancer patients would continue to receive benefit and that he could vote with the government”.
He said this decision was “largely based upon the assurances he received” that cancer patients who needed to be in the ESA support group – for those who do not have to carry out any work-related activity – could stay there for as long as their condition demanded.
He said Baron had no plans to step down as chair of the all-party cancer group.
Walker, who declined to comment, has stated that he has “championed the issue of mental health” and sees it as his duty as an MP to “speak up for those people who too often find themselves without a voice”.
Skidmore, who also declined to comment, spoke last summer – after organising a photo shoot to boost the number of MPs joining the disability group – of how he “went into politics to help those who need help. That’s what public service should be about.”
Lloyd was not available to comment.
But Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins, the disabled Labour peer and vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary disability group, said the decisions of those MPs who voted to overturn the Lords amendments while also playing leading roles in all-party groups related to disability were “outrageous”.
She said: “I think they should consider seriously how they voted. I am sure the people they represent will judge them accordingly.”
Disabled activist and blogger Kaliya Franklin said that the “average” disabled person might find the five MPs’ behaviour “perturbing” and “struggle to understand the potential hypocrisy in those decisions”.
Neil Coyle, director of policy and campaigns for Disability Rights UK, said: “It is very disappointing that some MPs who hold officer roles in all-party parliamentary groups focused on supporting disabled people chose to cut the help and finance that many thousands of disabled people and their families currently receive.
“MPs must make their own decisions about their future roles in such groups, but we will continue to work with MPs to highlight the concerns and aspirations of disabled people.”
9 February 2012