“People with disabilities are so much more than benefits!” That was how Emma Lewell-Buck MP responded to a question at UNISON’s disabled members’ conference this afternoon, about how much of the media represents disabled people.
The guest speaker – the Labour member for South Shields and shadow education minister responsible for children and families’ policy – said that much of the media coverage of disabled people is, too often, inextricably bound up with reporting about benefits.
That, she continued, was in large part because Parliament makes that link too – that disabled people are only seen in terms of benefits they claim.
“I and my Labour colleagues are determined to move away from the way disabled people are treated,” she said.
Ms Lewell-Buck herself has dyspraxia and mild dyslexia. She was in her late twenties, studying for an MA, when she was diagnosed and she says that it explained why “I couldn’t tie my laces and button my coat” as a child.
Now, “everything I do, I have to plan for – down to the tiniest detail”. But she considers herself fortunate to be in a position where she can raise the subject. Before entering Parliament, she didn’t dare tell her employer, as she was “painfully aware it could affect my career”.
“I’ve embraced my disability – it doesn’t define me, but it’s a part of me,” said Ms Lewell-Buck.
There are “10 million of us [disabled people] in the UK,” she told delegates.
Yet even given such numbers, matters in the UK are regressing, with cuts, fabrication about disabled people and “downright cruelty”.
In the case of work capability assessments, Ms Lewell-Buck had plenty of examples of the way that people were treated by the private company assessors. “How did you catch it?” one assessor asked of someone with Down’s Syndrome.
“For disabled people in the UK,” she said, “the most disabling factor for their daily lives is Tory-led Britain”.