Change is needed “right at the top” to help increase representation of people with disabilities in politics, ministers have been told.
SNP MP Dr Lisa Cameron, who chairs Westminster’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for Disability, also warned that people with disabilities have “largely felt invisible” during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking to STV News, Dr Cameron outlined her work in increasing awareness amongst MPs in becoming disability confident employers and helping people to enter politics through work experience and internship schemes.
It comes ahead of an adjournment debate in the Commons on Monday evening being led by Dr Cameron which raises the issues following the United Nations International Day of Disabled Persons last week.
“What we wanted to do was to raise was the profile again because I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Disability in the Commons, and have done so since 2015,” she told STV News of her decision to bring forward the debate.
“(I) wanted to really raise that there’s still a lack of representation of people with disabilities in politics and that we need to have change right at the top.
“And also that people with disabilities have largely felt invisible during this pandemic.
“Often they’ve had their care services cut, experienced a lack of support, many have not had any respite in terms of families who support people with disabilities or young children with disabilities.
“And it really has to be at the forefront of the Government’s work on social care, on education, employment and really, at the forefront of policy across government in terms of Cabinet Office.
“So that no matter what background you come from in the UK, and if you have a disability, you can meet your full potential, and that support is there, and equality is there too in the system.”
Dr Cameron said only 13% of MPs were signed up to the UK Government’s Disability Confident scheme when she began her work in raising awareness across Parliament.
She said: “Parliament and MPs have to really walk the walk on that, not just be telling businesses what to do, but also making sure that their offices are inclusive of people with disability, that they support people with disabilities through mentorship programmes to get into politics and that parties right across the spectrum make sure that people can come forward and can stand and that they’re supportive of that in terms of equality.
“So, this year during the Covid lockdown, we worked as an all-party group with MPs.
“When we started the work, only 13% were signed up to the Government’s Disability Confident scheme, as disability confident employers.
“So only 13% were registered and we thought that was really poor. So we’ve been doing workshops across all the parties to help people register as disability confident employers to make sure that their offices are aware that they can offer work experience and internships and that they can be registered and accredited to be a disability confident employer and offer opportunities to people in constituencies right across the United Kingdom.”
Dr Cameron indicated that entering politics still appears to be an inaccessible route for many people with disabilities.
She said: “I think they see it as really inaccessible to be honest. Those that speak to us on the All Party Parliamentary Group, and they come from all four nations, it still seems quite elusive, there are very few role models who are MPs who have disabilities who come out and speak about it.
“And I think the more that that can happen the better, but I think there’s a huge amount of work right across all the parties to overcome the challenges in the system so that people can apply, so that they’re supported to come through, that they have finance available for any adaptations they need, become candidates or to travel et cetera.
“They may need carers or may need a sign language interpreter, so there are additional challenges and hurdles that people with disabilities have to consider and have to try and overcome and we need to work together to do that cross-party.”