One of the roles I accepted soon after being elected as a member of parliament was to become the new Chairman of the Conservative Disability Group. The CDG was formed some 25 years ago to champion new legislation to make life easier for disabled people.
The result was two ground breaking pieces of legislation introduced by Margaret Thatcher under the last Conservative government. First, the Disability Services Act which required local authorities to take their responsibilities to disabled people seriously and provide necessary support and secondly the Disability Discrimination Act to improve access.
Last week, the Conservative Disability Group held a major conference to discuss the challenges that disabled people face today attended by leading charities such as Scope and Mencap. One emerging theme was the need for greater flexibility in the way that support for disabled people and their carers operates and the need to reduce bureaucracy. At the moment people find themselves endlessly filling out forms, giving the same information over and over again. One idea is to condense all of that into a "single assessment" so that need is identified in detail once only and that all government departments recognise that. If someone has a long term condition, then it only really needs to be assessed once because the difficulties they face remain the same.
We also need to give people with impairments or the carers of the severely disabled much more control over how their financial support package is spent. I have come across parents of severely disabled children who complain that, while they are offered large sums of money for professional carers, what would really make a difference to their lives is more support to allow one parent to become a full time carer and stay at home. In some cases parents need to be present anyway to administer medication and the revolving door of different carers can lead to the situation where they feel their home is not really their own.
We are entering a period when money is tight but one of the things that the new government has been very clear about as it embarks on a programme to reduce public spending is that it is determined to protect the most vulnerable in our society. As a result, many of the changes announced to Housing Benefit for other benefits such as Employment Support and Job Seekers, will not apply to those with serious disabilities. But beyond that we also need to do more to help those with less serious impairments back in to the workplace. Over fifty percent of disabled people already do some work and the government has announced a new Work Choice programme to help others lead fulfilling, working lives.
The thing about disability is that each and every case is unique and different people value different sorts of support. The system needs to be flexible enough to allow people that choice.
George Eustice can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.