As a new Minister for Disabled People is appointed, Ian Macrae reflects on whether we dare to hope.
After a period of reflection, the result of the general election looks no more reassuring for disabled people than it did following the announcement of the exit poll’s prediction at 10pm on 7 May.
Some commentators have sought to find solace in the fact that David Cameron and the Conservatives have only a small majority which could render the Government liable to dissent and rebellion among truculent backbenchers. But such rebellions, even if they happen, are likely to be in traditional areas of discontent on the right of the Tory party, most notably and likely, Europe and Britain’s membership of the EU. They are unlikely to be against further cuts to social security.
But looming over the Conservative manifesto, overshadowing its warm promises of halving the disability employment gap and protecting disability benefits from any benefit freeze, was that throw-away line in what turned out to be George Osborne’s final coalition budget, an undertaking to further cut the social security bill by £12 billion.
Still to be substantially answered is the question where will those cuts be made. And this is where the rhetorical emphasis on getting more people – and that means more disabled people – into work can begin to sound menacing if not actually threatening, looking as it does like more of the same.
Into the middle of all this comes a new, untried and apparently inexperienced Minister for Disabled People. When the appointment of Justin Tomlinson was announced the reaction of many disability activists and commentators was: “Who he?”
And indeed there is relatively little about anything concrete, and nothing specific about an interest in disability matters to be garnered either from his own website or from his entry in Wikipedia. One anecdote, neither corroborated nor denied by Mr Tomlinson, has it that he placed a bet on his becoming Prime Minister before 2038 from which, if bookies have to pay on it he will gain, it’s claimed, £500,000. If he makes that ascent he will be the second politician to do so. The other being the last Conservative to hold a small majority in the House of Commons, one John Major. Following an equally unexpected victory in 1992 he brought in Disability Living Allowance and three years later the Disability Discrimination Act. We dare not hope for so much today.