Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has been caught using an accessible toilet, just minutes after telling a live television audience that parents must teach their children “right from wrong”.
Duncan Smith – responsible for a series of sweeping welfare reforms that will see savage cuts to spending on disability benefits – had been one of the guests in a live debate on the riots that had swept across England.
At the end of Saturday’s debate, hosted by Channel 4, the Conservative cabinet minister told the audience that the one thing the riots had shown him was the need for “communities where people take responsibility for their actions for bringing up their children, for teaching them right from wrong”.
Minutes later, the work and pensions secretary – who is not disabled – was caught coming out of an accessible toilet on the ground floor of the building.
Sean McGovern, a wheelchair-user and chair of Lambeth Pan-Disability Forum, who had been in the front row of the audience and spoke during the debate, had been waiting in some discomfort to use the accessible toilet, and challenged Duncan Smith.
When McGovern reminded him of the words he had used in the debate, Duncan Smith replied that “someone told me I could use it”.
McGovern told Disability News Service: “He had been sitting there pontificating, telling us what we should be doing as a society, only then to walk away and flout the ‘rules and regulations’ because he can, because he is who he is.”
A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman said: “He wouldn’t have been jumping the queue. He would have been using facilities he was directed to use by the event’s organisers.”
But she refused to say whether this response had come from Duncan Smith, or even whether she had contacted him to pass on the request for a comment.
Disabled activist Kaliya Franklin, co-founder of The Broken of Britain, who published McGovern’s account of the incident on her blog, said: “Recognising when the needs of others take priority over our own is a fundamental part of knowing right from wrong and taking responsibility for our own actions.
“As minister for DWP, IDS is expected to have a greater understanding and sensitivity to the needs of disabled people, especially as the many ‘reforms’ to disability benefits and services are predicated on a claim that accessible facilities are now readily available wherever needed.
“Given the minister’s commendable desire for everyone to be held responsible for their personal behaviour through community service, sick and disabled people will expect the punishment to fit ‘the crime’.
“Apologising and committing to inspecting the standard of accessible facilities, cleaning them himself where needed, would show strong leadership and set an example to the rest of the country that ministers are not exempt from the standards they themselves set for others and demonstrate that we really are ‘all in it together’.”
Channel 4 has so far failed to comment.
18 August 2011