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Realising the abilities of all

In his latest Hayes in the House column, MP Sir John Hayes discusses the Summer Paralympics...

As I said in my column last week, Team GB have taken to the field in Tokyo for the 16th Summer Paralympic games.

These elite athletes astound and inspire with their exceptional ability – raw talent focused by determination and tempered by dedication.

MP Sir John Hayes (50875147)
MP Sir John Hayes (50875147)

It is wonderful to marvel at the few good enough to compete at the Olympics, but their spirit of ambitious achievement must be brought to bear in making the United Kingdom an even more accessible and welcoming place for the many disabled Britons.

It is an unfortunate fact that – despite all the progress we have made as nation since 1995, when William Hague’s landmark Disability Discrimination Act became law – we still do not live in a society where the quality of life for many disabled people is good enough.

There remain deep-rooted issues which mean that in many walks of life, from housing, to transport, education to health, the opportunities for disabled people don’t match those of non-disabled Britons.

One in five Britons are disabled. Any failure to tackle head on the barriers they face on a daily basis is both morally unconscionable and - in the sheer wasted talent and potential - practically absurd.

A far-reaching, comprehensive plan of action is needed to put right the flaws which exclude, inconvenience or otherwise slight our disabled countrymen. Which is why I wholeheartedly welcomed the Government’s National Disability Strategy launched last month.

Such a strategy must provide the focus and resources to make a real and lasting difference to the everyday lives of disabled people.

It’s good news that this strategy is both backed by £1.6billion worth of immediate commitments to reform and renew British society, but even better it was informed by the lived experiences of disabled people.

The UK Disability Survey received over 14,000 respondents. The invaluable insight gleaned from these individual stories, often deeply personal and moving, acted as a guiding light for the Government’s new national plan of action.

Having a home in which one feels safe and secure, a refuge from whatever else is going on in the outside world, is an essential cornerstone of a fulfilling life.

The fact that nearly half of disabled respondents to the Government’s Disability Survey have at least “some difficulty” getting in and out of where they live is just not acceptable. Neither is it acceptable that less than half of Local Plans require a proportion of accessible homes.

The bar must be raised, the planned £4billion provided in Disabled Facilities Grants to local authorities must result in future policy sufficient to accommodate all needs. This means more homes suitable for those with profound mobility issues, sight or hearing loss.

The same logic applies to travel. Whether it be a short taxi ride, bus journey or cross-county train, no one should be stranded by the circumstances of their life.

‘Public’ transport - the clue is in the name - must work for the whole public, with all kinds of abilities. The Access for All Programme has already spent over £500million to make over three quarters of rail stations step-free, and the newly formed Great British Railways has been formed with accessibility as a central tenant of its duties.

The Disability Survey was answered by an anonymous woman who said “we still only have one go at life like everyone else. Just because we can’t walk as well, see as well, hear as well…that doesn’t make us any less of a person”.

What she expressed is a fundamental truth - to be proud as ‘one nation’ requires not a strategy centred on disability, but a pledge to realise the inherent ability in each and every Briton.

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