The disabled community deserves representation, so why did Number 10 just downgrade their minister?
Earlier this year I wrote a blog entitled ‘The power of words’ looking at how the language we use, especially around disability, is important. Language is powerful and using the correct language when discussing disability is a way of showing the world you respect the disabled community, helping promote equality.
Looking back now to events this month, the government has come under heavy criticism following its decision-making surrounding the role of Minister of State for Disabled People, and I can see why.
Following a cabinet reshuffle in which the previous Minister for Disabled People, Tom Pursglove, was made minister for legal migration, the position remained vacant for an unusually long period of time leaving many charities to raise concerns the role was being scrapped.
After this significant backlash the government appointed Mims Davies MP who will be doing the role (without it being merged into another role). Harmony restored….except it isn’t.
On the surface the role remains unchanged with the responsibilities more or less the same albeit with some additions. However, while Tom Pursglove was a Junior Minister, Mims Davies MP is an Undersecretary of State – the most junior role in government.
In the same way using the correct language around disability shows respect; allocating senior figures in government to represent the needs of the disabled community is also a way of showing deference and a commitment to make a difference.
Not to disrespect Mims Davies who I have no doubt wants to do a good job, but as an Undersecretary of State her power is going to be limited.
The government’s incredibly poor handling of this situation comes against a backdrop of benefit cuts and a government spokesperson recently suggesting the disabled community is failing in its ‘obligations’ as citizens by not working (in a world where accessible roles are few and far between and for many working isn’t a realistic option given their levels of disability). More and more we are hearing stories of people with significant disabilities being found to be capable of work who really are not.
It’s entirely understandable the disabled community feels marginalised by the current government.
Words matter, actions matter, and from my perspective the words and actions of the government are undermining the disabled community.
The messaging is that the disabled community does not warrant representation by a government official with seniority, that it isn’t a sector of our society that we should prioritise. And that is wrong.
In fact, I would go further and say not only do we need a Minister for Disabled People with seniority and experience; the position should be one on the cabinet to ensure when anything is being discussed, the voice of the disabled community is there.