Conservative MP Paul Maynard talks to Jeremy Dunning about how he will influence policy on disability in parliament
With a first-class degree from Oxford and a past role as a political adviser, Paul Maynard may appear to have a typical MP’s background. But the 34-year-old is parliament’s first MP with cerebral palsy. He is also diagnosed with epilepsy.
He was on the Conservative A-list of candidates designed to make the party more diverse and took the new seat of Blackpool North and Thornton Cleveleys on a notional 7% swing from Labour.
Maynard’s condition is mild and bar some co-ordination issues he is able to get around with few problems. It is also clear that he does not want his condition to define him.
“I would far rather be seen as the individual I am, that I have the responsibility to do the best I can for myself and not rely on other people to do it for me.”
Between the ages of three and five Maynard attended a special school in Winsford, Cheshire, for intensive physio, some of which involved standing in metal callipers. This helped him into mainstream education, where he had speech therapy and, ultimately, to Oxford to study history.
Without the two years in a special school he does not believe he would have succeeded to such an extent, a point he made in his maiden speech to the Commons.
“My parents were having to fight to get the education I needed, to gain the speech therapy I needed and all that kind of thing,” he says. “They were having to take responsibility for getting what I needed and not waiting for it to come along on a plate. I wouldn’t suggest that means that everybody should have to fight for the care they need. It should be available when it’s needed.”
Maynard says he will bring his first-hand perspective to the Commons on disability rights, access and benefits, and that tackling perceptions of disability will be a key priority. Maynard himself received negative comments about his condition during the election campaign.
“It’s not just legislative equality, it’s changing the way people think so they don’t see disability anymore,” he says. “That’s why making sure we progress on disability hate crime is so important because that is about changing the way people think.”
Maynard has already taken this issue up in parliament and has asked disability minister Maria Miller about government efforts to tackle hate crime. He is also involved with the all-party parliamentary group on paediatric mobility and is keen to improve services for people with muscular dystrophy, an issue on which he has already asked parliamentary questions.
Reform of disability living allowance
Other positions Maynard takes up will play less well with disability groups. For instance, Maynard says there is a case for reform of disability living allowance on the grounds that some in receipt of the benefit may not require it.
Last month’s Budget announced plans to force all existing and new disability living allowance claimants of working age to undergo a medical eligibility assessment, in order to reduce spending on the benefit.
“It’s the case that we do have a massive structural deficit that economic recovery alone cannot deal with and if that means that we reassess how we provide services to get a better service in the end then I’m all for that,” Maynard says.
“Spending money is no measure of how good a service is or how good a person you are. We need better spending, which might be more or might be less.”
However, like disability campaigners, he does have concerns about the work capability assessment (WCA), which is designed to determine whether disabled people are fit to work and is under government review.
Maynard says he has come across cases in his constituency of people being wrongly assessed as able to work under the WCA and has asked Miller about the review.
Maynard has to manage his condition to prevent himself getting too tired. His hope is that he will be able to get at least an hour to himself each day, though as with any MP, life is hectic.
MPs with a disability
● Jack Cohen, Conservative MP for Liverpool Fairfield 1918-31, lost both legs at the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917.
● Ian Fraser, Conservative MP for St Pancras North 1924-29, 1931-7 and for Lonsdale 1940-58, blinded at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
● Jack Ashley, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent South 1966-1992, who became profoundly deaf in 1967 after a routine operation.
● David Blunkett, Labour MP for Sheffield Brightside since 1987, has been blind since birth.
● Anne Begg, Labour MP for Aberdeen South since 1997 and the first MP who uses a wheelchair. She was born with the rare genetic condition Gaucher’s disease, which has resulted in her bones breaking regularly.