If as disabled people we were to base our choice at the election purely on disability, Peter White says casting our vote would be a thankless task.
If you’re not expecting a magenta bus to come along to tell you, sorry ask you, what your voting intentions are or if there’s no space on your tax demand which says, ‘you’ve been handy to the party just put down the first number you think of’, then what exactly do you base your voting intentions on if you’re disabled?
Of course you may say instantly that this question is based on a false premise because your vote, as with much else in your life, isn’t predicated on your disability. You might go on to argue, in any case when did disability play any major part in the main parties’ declared policies? And I’d have to admit that in that, you’d have a very fair point.
I’ve been following British elections professionally since the early 1970s and often my role as the presenter of various disability programmes or as a disability affairs correspondent, has been to quiz the somewhat token disability spokespeople about their proposed policies. I can assure you that looking for a needle in a haystack would have been a fairly simple task compared with getting straight answers to such questions. Back in 1979 for instance, when for the first time the issue of a disability allowance was seriously in the air, neither Conservatives, Labour or Liberals (as they were known then) would give any indication of their intentions, which is just as well, since it wasn’t until the early 1990s that the Disability Living Allowance appeared on the scene. The most you have been likely to get, then and now, are the broadest of generalisations with phrases like ‘support for those able to get back into employment, a safety net for those who can’t’, with its clear underlying message, ‘we know the difference between the two’.
So could you base your decision on what had actually been delivered say, over the past 40 years or so? Well, I wish you joy of that. It was Labour which introduced a bill about access to services in 1970. It was the Conservatives who brought in Disability Living Allowance over 20 years later. It was the Conservatives who introduced the first anti-discrimination legislation. It was Labour who gave it teeth, or at least one tooth, with the Disability Rights Commission. It was both Labour and the coalition who have been vying with each other ever since to cut benefits and reduce access to the law.
It’s a tricky choice but what about the smaller parties, then? You would surely, in all honesty, have to include the Lib Dems among those, but with another coalition seeming ever more likely you don’t have a clue who they might coalesce with or what policies of theirs, as yet not spelt out, they might fight hardest for. And that’s the problem with the other small parties too. UKIP, the Greens, The DUP, Scottish Nationalists, any of those could have a role in government come May the ninth But we haven’t the faintest idea who with or what they might do with it.
Here’s another idea. What about forming a party which very specifically does address the issues on disability you may feel the others are ignoring? I’ve even got a name for it: what about United Kingdom Independence for Disabled people, or UKIDP? That could cause some head scratching over the ballot paper!