Boris Johnson promised to improve the lives of disabled Britons before coronavirus - we won’t let him forget us now

Earlier in the year the prime minister spearheaded what was billed as a new government drive to help disabled people get better access to jobs and services

James Moore@JimMooreJourno
Thursday 17 September 2020 12:51
Boris Johnson promised to increase opportunities and increase access for the disabled
Boris Johnson promised to increase opportunities and increase access for the disabled

Covid-19 has exerted a brutal toll on disabled Britons. It’d be nice to write about that changing when we have a workable vaccine, leading to a strengthening economic recovery, leading to life getting back to something resembling normality.  

But even were this not cloud cuckoo-land - a coronavirus vaccine is unlikely to be a magic bullet and just getting people to take it means combatting a small army of anti-vax fruit loops - I’d have some concerns. Britain wasn’t exactly a bed of roses for disabled people before 2020 decided to drop an anvil made of lead on the heads of every single one of us.  

Political will is required for the future to be something other than anxiety inducing on a good day, and frankly frightening on a bad one.

This brings us to Boris Johnson and, yes, I know what you’re thinking.  

Relying on the man who's currently trying to get his own Brexit undone to heal our pain is a bit like banking on the family dog to be a good boy when you leave an expensive rib-eye steak on the table in easy reach and then leave the room.  

But here’s the thing. Just a few short weeks before he belatedly realised that the virus that was scorching a path across the world was very serious, Bozza did something surprising. He spearheaded what was billed as a new government drive to help disabled people get better access to jobs and services.  

To that end, he wrote to every cabinet minister asking them how their departments could increase opportunities and promote better access to things like jobs and services.  

The Sun said it had seen a copy of the letter and the language used was reminiscent of an earlier incarnation of Boris Johnson. I’m thinking of the man who successfully persuaded London that he was a modern, open-minded, liberal Tory, to the extent that the resolutely Labour supporting city twice made him its mayor. It could hardly be further from the nasty reactionary nationalist who rules the roost today.  

Said the PM: “Despite progress, many disabled people find it hard to access services that others take for granted. That isn’t just unfair, it is also a criminal waste of potential that shamefully and quite needlessly constrains the prosperity of our entire nation.”

I mean, that’s something I could have written. In fact, it’s basically what I have been writing for the best part of the last decade only to have government departments respond by saying it’s great, we’re doing this, and this, and this. The letter was a recognition that it’s anything but great and action is required to change that.  

Total failure of social distancing during House of Commons vote, claims MP

The trouble is that since then it all seems to have been forgotten. This morning my name appears on an open letter signed by more than 30,000 disability campaigners put together by charity Scope that seeks to remind the prime minister of the promises he made.

It’s backed up by research Scope commissioned from YouGov, which conducted a poll among 874 people with a health problem or disability who are, like me, in employment. It found just 14 per cent feel safe in going back to work, but 34 per cent feel under pressure to return to the office as a result of pressure from the government and/or their employer.  

Nearly half (49 per cent) have concerns about using public transport, while one in four are worried about losing their job because it can’t be made safe. About nine out of 10 (87 per cent) fear people not respecting social distancing. I count myself among them, because they are not.  

It’s been a grim few months for everyone, but they have been particularly nasty for those of us with disabilities and health conditions. The virus has had an outsized impact upon us. A disproportionate number of us have died. The necessary measures designed to restrict its spread have also made life more difficult.  

We have, during this period, been forgotten. That cannot be allowed to continue during the next phase.  

Johnson has proved time and again that he’s more than willing to quietly forget promises he finds inconvenient. He must not be allowed to forget this one. To that end, the letter is a good start.  

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