A leading disabled Tory has defended his government’s disability policies, dismissing three highly critical reports by the UN and concerns about the impact of Brexit on social care, rights and access to medication.
Barry Ginley, deputy chair of the Conservative Disability Group (CDG), said the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) and its special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights were “not seeing the true Britain” when they criticised the UK government for its policies on disability in 2016, 2017 and 2019.
And he insisted that he was not embarrassed when CRPD was so critical of the UK government two years ago, telling it to make more than 80 improvements to how its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.
Ginley (pictured, right, with chancellor Sajid Javid), who is disability and access officer at London’s V&A museum, said: “I am not putting my head in the sand over that.
“I know a hell of a lot of countries around the world I have visited that do little or nothing.
“For us to be criticised by the UN for stuff that we have done, being proactive and so on, I just wouldn’t give them the time of day.”
He was speaking to Disability News Service (DNS) after a fringe meeting hosted by CDG, an independent organisation of Conservative party members “who want to see a more inclusive society for disabled people”.
Ginley, who voted “leave” in the 2016 European Union referendum, said that he believed Brexit was being used as an “excuse” by its opponents.
He said: “It was raining, I got wet this morning coming to conference, some people say it’s down to Brexit, everything is down to Brexit, everything bad is down to Brexit and everything good is because we are in Europe.”
He compared “scare tactics” about the impact of Brexit on disabled people’s rights, access to personal assistants and medication to fears about the Y2K Millennium Bug in the lead-up to 1 January 2000 “when planes were going to fall out of the sky because computers weren’t going to work”.
He said: “I get told that if we come out of Europe, disabled people are going to suffer and they won’t be able to get out and about, da-de-da-de-da.
“I think personally that’s rubbish.”
Asked about concerns raised by disabled campaigners such as the crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell about a possible shortage of personal assistants after Brexit, he said: “She obviously has her experiences… but we do have plenty of British people that are still unemployed so we shouldn’t say that everyone from eastern Europe should be a PA because they are not.
“The government has said they have the right to stay in the UK after Brexit. That’s been mentioned at conference today.
“I think there has been a lot put on Brexit, these scare tactics.”
He said he had not read the government’s progress report on disability, which was hidden away on the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) website last month, and not publicised by the minister for disabled people or the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
He said: “I didn’t know the report had been published so I will go and seek it out. I would have hoped that they would have communicated it better.”
He said one of his previous roles had been as an ambassador for ODI on its Strengthening Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations project, which ended in 2015.
But told that organisations like Shaping Our Lives and the National Survivor User Network had raised repeated concerns at the number of user-led organisations that had been forced to close, he suggested that some of them “may have merged and become stronger that way”.
Although he was critical of the personal independence payment (PIP) assessment process, which he said was “a failure”, he insisted that this was due to the private sector organisations carrying out the assessments, rather than the ministers who were responsible for the system, or DWP decision-makers.
He said: “It’s not the ministers saying you have to go out to work if you are terminally-ill with cancer.
“It is the individual who has made that assessment, not the minister. It’s the human factor.”
But he said he would not defend the government over links between the fitness for work test and disabled people who had taken their own lives.
He said: “I don’t defend it. I’m not going to defend it. One lost life is one too many.
“Work should be done to ensure those kinds of benefits aren’t just whipped away from people that are vulnerable.”
Ginley said ministers should have acted to improve the work capability assessment, adding: “I am happy to say it is a failing and it is something that still definitely needs to improve.
“And that’s a Conservative member saying that of a Conservative government.”
He was also concerned and critical of the five-week wait for universal credit and the “ridiculous” proportion of subsequent payments that must be paid back by those who take a DWP loan to tide them over while waiting for that first payment.
He said CDG tries to challenge the government “when we feel it is necessary and because disability comes before party”.
He said: “We challenge when we feel we need to. Some ministers are better than others. I am not going to name names, good or bad.”
The fringe meeting had discussed how to make the UK the world’s most accessible tourist destination.
Ginley said that the V&A and other UK museums were seen as leaders on access for disabled people.
He said: “We still have a lot to do in this country, but we are far better off than most countries.
“That’s not just me saying that: it’s feedback I get from disabled people from anywhere from Taiwan to Argentina, where I was last month. British museums are seen as leaders.
“We can be tough on ourselves and say what we are doing is rubbish: actually, it’s not.
“I would challenge people to go to other parts of the world and see if you find that as accessible as what London might be.
“Yes, we still have challenges, but we are much further down the road than many other countries around the world.”
Diane Lightfoot, chief executive of the Business Disability Forum, and a member of VisitEngland’s England’s Inclusive Tourism Action Group, said the ambition of the government and tourism industry’s Tourism Sector Deal was to make the UK “the most accessible tourist destination in Europe by 2025”.
A key measure of this was to increase the number of in-bound visits by disabled people by 33 per cent.
She said VisitEngland research valued the accessible tourism market – the amount spent by disabled people and their traveling companions on day trips and domestic and in-bound overnight trips – at about £12 billion a year, and more than £14 billion in Britain.
Peter Hand, CDG’s chair, defended the decision to choose accessible tourism as the subject of the fringe when there were so many crucial issues affecting disabled people.
He told DNS after the meeting: “There are lots of issues concerning disabled people. We as CDG focus on those throughout the year.
“We are not saying it’s the only issue, far from it, but in the context of Brexit, we thought it was a valuable opportunity to help promote UK PLC, but there are many other important issues and we still think they should be discussed as well.”
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