New non-disabled chair of parliamentary disability group dodges questions


Campaigners are calling on the parliamentary group set up to campaign on disability rights to ensure that a disabled politician is appointed to help lead its work.

Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last week that the all-party parliamentary disability group (APPDG) had selected a non-disabled person as its chair for the first time since it was set up in 1969.

The new chair of the all-party group is the SNP MP and clinical psychologist, Dr Lisa Cameron.

But now the Scottish-based, cross-party campaign group One in Five has written to Cameron to ask the APPDG to appoint a disabled person as co-chair.

Jamie Szymkowiak, a disabled member of the SNP, and disabled Labour activist Pam Duncan-Glancy have told Cameron they understand how few disabled MPs there are.

But they add in the letter: “If no-one comes forward, we hope the group will ask why. Is the role inaccessible, does it put too much pressure on, could it be a job share opportunity, are MPs afraid to ‘come out’ as disabled?”

They say that if it is not possible to find a disabled parliamentarian to co-chair the APPDG, the group should “put addressing the issue of the under-representation of disabled people in politics front and centre of their work by encouraging and empowering disabled politicians of the future.”

Szymkowiak said: “The fact that this is the first time in its near 50-year history the all-party parliamentary disability group is being chaired by a non-disabled person highlights how under-represented disabled people are.

“The under-representation of disabled people in politics is not only a sad indictment of our time and letting disabled people across the UK down, but it’s letting down the very structures that are meant to be there to emancipate disabled people in the first place. 

“Disabled people have a right to represent themselves, and we can represent ourselves.”

New rules introduced by MPs in May mean that only an MP can chair an all-party group, but the rules do allow a peer to join them as co-chair.

The group’s previous co-chairs were both disabled people, the crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell and Labour’s Anne McGuire, who retired as an MP in May.

One in Five has called on the APPDG to sign its charter and help it gain the backing of every Westminster-based political party for its campaign to make politics more inclusive and accessible to disabled people.

The Scottish Conservative Party, the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Labour Party, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Socialist Party have all signed up to the charter.

For the second week running, Cameron has failed to return calls from DNS asking her to comment on her appointment as APPDG chair.

Picture: cross-party MSPs at One In Five’s launch outside the Scottish parliament in April, and One in Five ambassadors Jamie Szymkowiak (front left, holding green sign) and Pam Duncan-Glancy (front left, in wheelchair)

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