The Government's new plan to help the disabled is a laughable PR stunt and nothing more

Penny Mordaunt has announced the ‘first ever Global Disability Summit’. It's worth noting that it was while she was in her last job as Minister for Disabled People that the UN issued a report lambasting the UK for committing 'systematic violations of the rights of disabled people'

James Moore
Thursday 30 November 2017 13:15
Penny Mordaunt has announced the first Global Disability Summit
Penny Mordaunt has announced the first Global Disability Summit

The scene: Prime Minister Theresa May is drumming her fingers loudly on her desk in Number 10 Downing Street. She sighs heavily and starts talking to the air.

May: “What can we do, what can we do? Nearly everyone under the age of 40 thinks we kick puppies for fun. And some of the older ones too. How can we change this?”

Suddenly there is a flash of light and a loud crack. A woman in a fancy business suit with a stick in her hand appears.

May: “Hey! Who the heck are you? Security!”

Woman in Fancy Business Suit: “Oh for goodness sake, would you take a chill pill or run around in a wheat field for five minutes. I’m here to help. I have the answers you need, for I am your Fairy PR Mother!”

May: “You don’t look like the Fairy Godmothers you see in Disney movies.”

Fairy PR Mother: “That’s because I’m a baddie! Get with the programme. Now listen, we’re in the festive season, right? So ask yourself this: What made Ebenezer Scrooge loveable?”

May: “Erm, he was nice to Tiny Tim?”

Fairy PR Mother: “Bingo. So get your ministers to make a big fuss about how much they want to help disabled people. They can be Terri May’s Tiny Tims! They’ll make your Government lovable!”

May: “It’s Theresa. And the problem is we keep being awful to them. We’ve slashed their support. We’ve done nothing to help them get into work. The UN says we’ve presided over a humanitarian disaster with our polices. Brexit means we’ve got no cash in the kitty, and the employers hate it so we don’t dare make them do anything to help.”

Fairy PR Mother: “Terri. This is PR. Tweak a bit of this, and a bit of that, and dress it up as a bold new strategy. Add a target that’s so long term no one will notice when you forget about it. Hold a conference and make a big song and dance about it. Get your press officers to tell every journalist who’ll listen that you’re a world leader.”

May: “But the public will never buy it.”

Fairy PR Mother: “They bought all the bull they were told about Brexit didn’t they?”

And so the PM followed her advice. You can see the results today. To May and her Fairy PR Mother’s delight, a headline on the BBC News website declares: “Disability plan will help a million people into work, ministers say.”

Come now! Surely that means the Government’s going to something meaningful.

Conservative MP accuses mother of disabled child of lying

What, like insisting public-sector contracts are only be awarded when bids offer employment or training opportunities for disabled people, as advocated by Disability Rights UK?

Sorry. There’s nothing like that. Instead we have some tepid changes to the “fit note” scheme, some support for people with mental health issues (which is admittedly welcome), and reform of statutory sick pay.

Even the Fairy PR Mother would struggle to sell what BBC News presents as a big deal.

Its report does note that it is by no means the first time such a pledge has been made. In fact under David Cameron, the Government said it would halve the disability employment gap by 2020, the proposal being kicked into the long grass notwithstanding.

So, result!

And there’s more.

Fresh from getting a job in Cabinet as International Development Secretary solely because she’s a Brexiteer like her scandal-hit predecessor Priti Patel, here’s Penny Mordaunt, the former “Minister for Disabled People”. Yes there is such a thing. No it doesn’t lead to much getting done, and certainly not in Mordaunt’s case.

She’s tackling the conference part of the Fairy PR Mother’s plan, with the announcement of the UK’s “first ever Global Disability Summit”.

It’s going to “bring together global leaders and technology companies next year to tackle the barriers that prevent people living with disabilities in the world’s poorest countries from reaching their full potential”.

Perhaps it’s worth noting at this point that it was while Mordaunt was in her last job that the United Nations issued a report lambasting the UK Government for committing “systematic violations of the rights of disabled people”.

Set against that, Mordaunt trying to position herself as a leading voice on behalf disabled people in developing nations is almost funny, albeit in a bleakly comedic sort of way.

The reality is that it isn’t so much puppies that this Government has kicked. It’s crutches. And white sticks. And wheelchairs. And guide dogs (I know, I know, they have puppies). And the disabled people that use them and other things to try and live as normal a life as possible.

I’m hopeful that people won’t be fooled by the cheap headlines the Fairy PR Mother has generated. Because the fact is that the kicking is still going on.

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