The new minister for disabled people has been told by a disabled activist, a disabled peer and a Paralympic torch-bearer that her government is jeopardising the legacy from this summer’s Paralympic Games.
Esther McVey faced the trio of blunt warnings at her first appearance before the all party parliamentary disability group, for a meeting to discuss the legacy of London 2012.
Kush Kanodia, a director of the equality consultancy Choice International, told McVey that taking part in the Paralympic torch relay this summer had been a “life-changing experience”.
And he said that “the active involvement and integration of disabled people in UK society” would be a “wonderful legacy” from London 2012.
But he said the government’s “three-pronged attack” on disabled people, through cuts to benefits and to services and the “general lack of opportunities”, was “jeopardising the legacy”.
The disabled Labour peer Baroness Wilkins told McVey that she had a “major mountain to climb” with London 2012’s legacy.
She said McVey’s predecessor, Maria Miller, had “defended the government against disabled people” rather than being a “minister for disabled people”.
And she said she feared McVey would be “leaned on” by senior ministers to continue to support government policies that acted “against disabled people”, when “we desperately need you to fight for disabled people”.
Baroness Wilkins was one of several leading disabled figures who pleaded with McVey to distance the government from the “scrounger rhetoric” that has led to disabled people being targeted incorrectly as benefit cheats.
Andy Greene, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, challenged McVey to “look into my eyes” and insist there was a “a real lasting legacy” from the games when her government was responsible for “savage and brutal cuts” to welfare – with another £10 billion cuts to come in 2015-16 – as well as cuts to council social care funding, and the “whittling away of rights and the sale of the NHS”.
He said: “The legacy on the ground for disabled people is that it is tough now and it is going to get a lot tougher.”
McVey said that spending per year on “disability support and benefits” was “remaining at £40 billion”, while spending on disability living allowance was “remaining at £13 billion”, which was “a fifth higher than anywhere else in Europe”, and she insisted that Britain was “a global leader” in supporting disabled people.
McVey had earlier told the meeting: “I cannot speak for people who went before me but what I will guarantee is I will be a champion [for disabled people].”
She said she would be holding a summit with the media to address its portrayal of disabled people, and would ask all 100,000 Department for Work and Pensions employees to take part in a social media project on 3 December, the International Day of Disabled People, to promote disabled role models.
Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, the record-breaking retired Paralympian who worked with the London 2012 organising committee LOCOG, said the games had “completely exceeded all my expectations”, and pointed to the huge crowds and how LOCOG’s chair Lord Coe had treated the Olympics and Paralympics as equals.
She said the organising team preparing for the 2016 games in Rio had been “terrified” of what they had to live up to after witnessing London’s Paralympics.
But she also said there was “a lot of work to be done” to encourage greater participation by disabled people in sport at school and at grassroots level, which was the only way Britain could “continue to have elite success” in Paralympic sport.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell, co-chair of the all party group, said disabled people had gone “from scroungers to heroes” as a result of London 2012 “and we don’t want to go back”.
She said London 2012 had “really showed the world the true meaning of participation” and highlighted how disabled people – including managers, access consultants and artists – had been “everywhere”, which “felt really great to me”.
She highlighted gains such as positive attitudes towards disabled people promoted by the television coverage, the “large numbers of accessible homes” that will be available once the Paralympic Village has been converted from athletes’ accommodation, and the use of disabled presenters by Channel 4.
McVey said the games were “seen globally as a huge success” and provided a “fantastic platform” but “from there we have to ensure there is a permanent impact”.
18 October 2012