Chris Bryant: Our hypocrisy makes life even tougher for disabled people who work


Chris Bryant
Friday 31 August 2012 20:20

Somehow "idiot" was never enough. If you really wanted to be abusive, it was "spastic", "cretin", "moron" or "mong". That, of course, was way back when.

Local education authorities still made provision, under the forward-thinking Education Act 1944, for the "educationally subnormal". Councils ran work units for men invalided out of the army. These were the days before prosthetic blades, the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and the flowering of the Paralympics.

Thank God (and political correctness) we are a bit more enlightened now. Even the Daily Mail can celebrate "the triumph of will over adversity" of the Paralympians.

But there's a great old hypocrisy here, because the vast majority of people living with disabilities are not superhuman at all. If anything, they are all too painfully human. They go to ordinary schools, work in ordinary jobs and live thoroughly ordinary lives. But over the past two years, those lives have got immeasurably tougher. It's not just the changes in welfare benefits that have been preached through Parliament with missionary zeal as if anyone who needed help because of their debilitating condition was a social pariah. Nor the cuts to social services and the hikes in care costs that have seen disabled people cast more and more on their own resources.

No, the biggest problem is that the areas with the highest level of people with disability (often regions formerly dependent on heavy industry) have the highest rates of unemployment – and, for many disabled people, moving is just not an option. Which is what makes the Government's closure of so many Remploy factories so indefensible. I can understand the Tory MP Paul Maynard's ideological crusade against segregated employment. After all, the vast majority of disabled people who work are in mainstream employment. But the truth is that those about to be made redundant from Remploy face a more than uphill struggle in a very difficult job market.

Paradoxically, David Cameron's reshuffle next week (or whenever it comes) will probably propel Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, into the Cabinet as Welsh Secretary, partly because she's about the only Tory MP to have visited Wales in the past 20 years, and because she has shown such steely determination over Remploy with a Commons statement that was remarkably free of the milk of human kindness. I hope she remembers that just as every Paralympian has needed financial support so, too, do the workers at Remploy.

Running on empty is a racket

Why is car rental such a rip-off? We hired a car from Barcelona airport to drive to France, only to be told that we had to fork out an extra €98 for a full tank of petrol and that we had to return the car with an empty tank. Short of draining the tank into some jerry cans on our return (à la Francis Maude), I don't see how you can return a car with an empty tank. What is more, our little car had a capacity of 54 litres, which would normally cost about €79 to fill in Spain. So (for it was they) have a nice little earner, overcharging by €19 and retaining the third of a tank that we returned with.

The Chancellor's Tories are skint

I sympathise with the Knutsford Conservative Club in George Osborne's constituency, which is reported to be so short of cash it may have to fold. The Rhondda has its fair share of troubled Labour, Constitutional and Conservative Clubs. Indeed, when Francis Pym stood in the Rhondda West seat in 1959 for the Tories, he quipped that if everyone who drank in a Con Club in the Rhondda voted Conservative he'd win. He came third.

Let MPs resign in the modern way

One of the more bizarre elements of what we laughingly call the British constitution is that, since 1624, it has been impossible for an MP to resign his or her seat, other than by being appointed to "any office or place of profit from the crown". Unfortunately, this depends on the Chancellor, so when Louise Mensch decided to resign as MP for Corby on 6 August, she spent three weeks in limbo as George Osborne had forgotten or refused to sign the papers.

It's a shame this fiction is now restricted to the two sinecures of the Manor of Northstead or the Chiltern Hundreds, and you can no longer resign by becoming the Steward of the Honour of Otford, but in truth it's nonsense. MPs should be able to resign by writing to the Speaker, as MPs have often resigned to fight by-elections for their own political reasons. They take a risk. George Lansbury lost his temper with Herbert Asquith in 1912 and resigned over women's suffrage. He lost the subsequent by‑election and was out of the House for a decade.

Talking of Corby, I used to be the youth chaplain for the diocese covering the Soke of Peterborough, Northamptonshire and Rutland and used to chuckle every time I drove up the M1. As you arrive, there is a large sign saying "Welcome to Northamptonshire" which is followed, 200m later, by another: "Keep your distance".

Twitter: @chrisbryantMP

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