The Conservative party is refusing to defend its record in government on disability issues, after declining invitations to take part in three national, disability-related election hustings.
While the Tories’ coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, have put up leading politicians to defend the government’s record in two of the hustings – and withdrew from the third due to “unforeseen travel difficulties” – the Conservative party have refused to take part in all three.
The first national event, on 24 March, was organised by the Alliance for Inclusive Education; the second, on 2 April, was run by Learning Disability Alliance England; and the third, organised by the British Deaf Association, took place this week on 8 April.
In all three, the Conservatives were invited but refused to send a representative, such as Mark Harper (pictured), their minister for disabled people.
UKIP attended two of the events, and were prevented by illness from attending the third; the Green party attended all three of the hustings.
Kate Green, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, attended all three events to put forward her party’s views on disability issues such as the closure of the Independent Living Fund, inclusive education, Access to Work reforms, and cuts to social care.
Green said: “It’s very disappointing that not a single Tory is prepared to defend their policy record to disabled people.
“Either they don’t care or they don’t dare to explain why the last Tory government hit disabled people so hard.
“They haven’t explained what their planned £12 billion of welfare cuts – if they win the next general election – would mean for disability benefits.
“But they can’t hide forever: on 7 May, more than 11 million disabled people can vote to have their say.”
A spokesman for Harper, based in his constituency office in Cinderford, Gloucestershire, yesterday (9 March) refused to answer questions about the minister.
Initially, Harper’s spokesman directed Disability News Service (DNS) to the press office of the Department for Work and Pensions.
After DNS pointed out that Harper’s ministerial department could no longer answer questions on his behalf because of the election, Harper’s spokesman added: “I’m afraid as you have come through to the campaign office, we cannot help you any further.”
After thanking DNS for the call, he hung up.
DNS called back and left a request for a comment on Harper’s answerphone, but he has yet to respond.
The Conservative party has also refused to comment.