Behind the headlines

The UK Disabled People’s Parliament may be wound up because of a
lack of funding. It was launched last year with a grant of
£119,000 from the European Year of the Disabled People and
Comic Relief. But the money proved insufficient to meet would-be
members’ expenses and as a result planned elections had to be
scrapped. Only 70 disabled people took part in the parliament’s
first sitting instead of the hoped for 180. The British Council of
Disabled People, which runs the forum, says the parliament is now
on hold while it tries to generate some cash.

Bob Hudson, professor of partnership studies, Health
Services Management Centre, University of Birmingham

“The British Council of Disabled People’s philosophy is that only
people with a disability can truly appreciate the nature of
disability discrimination, and full membership is accordingly
denied to non-disabled people. This in itself can marginalise
disabled people, and seems to define them by their disability. The
Disabled People’s Parliament may well serve a useful purpose, but
the danger is that it becomes the preserve of a small number of
activists who may not be in touch with the views of the ‘ordinary’
millions affected by such impairments as arthritis and

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and

“The evidence overwhelmingly shows that disabled people are
socially excluded because of institutional discrimination and
public attitudes. The European Parliament has enabled the
disability movement to demand political action and legislative
commitment to disability issues. Why can’t the government fund the
British proposal which was based on market research showing 80 per
cent of disabled people were in favour?”

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth

“A plethora of experiments in democracy have taken off in recent
years, including shadow parliaments for disenfranchised groups. But
these often have little influence on national and local politics.
The mantra of participation in quasi-democratic processes is
recited without questioning the lack of change that has resulted
for those they represent. Participation and representation must be
a catalyst for change, not a pressure cooker valve to let off

Julia Ross, social services director, London Borough of
Barking and Dagenham

“For disabled people to have more say it seems that they will need
to create their own institutions to influence politicians – and the
rest of us. The development of direct payments is a political
issue, representing a small shift in the power relationship between
users and social workers but a major change in the hearts and minds
for people in social care. It’s been painfully slow as Stephen
Ladyman reminded us all recently. It followed years of lobbying by
disabled people.”

Martin Green, chief executive,Counsel and

“The idea of parliaments for special interest groups can provide a
useful forum for debate. However, these parliaments need to be
focused and have a clear strategy on how they feed their views back
to Westminster. Above all they must have broad support from within
their own constituency and if they can not secure this they should
not attempt to meet because with out proper support their cause
could be seriously weakened.”

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