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‘Disabled People Must Have the Capacity and Freedom to Vote’

There are 14 million disabled people in the UK – are politicians even considering them in this election campaign?

A National Day of Action on 4 March 2024 against proposed reforms aiming to again cut benefits for disabled people. Photo: Peter Marshall/Alamy

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With the election looming, I’ve been reflecting on my political journey and whether any politician has ever made a difference in my life or the lives of disabled people. 

Culture, arguably, had a much bigger effect. I’m from the first punk generation and believe the movement had an impact on many of us in a multitude of ways. 

Living under the tyranny of Thatcherism, Maggie became something of a cartoon villain in my younger years. Her approach to disabled people was to primarily ignore us, but I also despised her hypocrisy as a woman in power pushing concepts of an outmoded family life and a love of Victorian values.

I studied Victorian society and culture not long after the punk era, which took my ways of thinking to places once unimaginable. 

I came to love one of the grandfathers of British socialism, William Morris, a leader of the Socialist League and editor of the organisation’s official magazine, the Commonweal. It was a time when other influences wound around me and flowered into what was plainly a wistful crush on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Helped by the poems of Tennyson, it was all about Arthurian legend, knights, beautiful women, and the height of yearning, romantic love. 

How I came crashing down once I’d read Marx, learned about the London poor, and seen Booth’s Poverty Map

Yet Morris’ brand of British socialism – alongside the anarchist optimism of Kropotkin’s ‘Mutual Aid’ theory – has remained close to my heart. 

And so I wish with all my strength to remove a Government that strikes me as the most self-interested and obscenely privileged in generations. My dystopian self wonders where it will all end. Who will be the slaves to satisfy the needs of such out-of-touch and offensively wealthy ‘public servants’ in future generations? 

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But since my recent skirmish with serious ill-health, I am resolute in looking for a better future. It’s easy to see the news only in terms of the gloomiest stories, told by a powerful media, under the control of a particular political agenda; while those speaking with an opposing voice are constantly bullied out of the arena and denied any genuinely balanced free speech. 

Yet, we are here – and I believe there are millions of us. 

It’s simply difficult to be heard, and this is particularly true for disabled people. 

Interest and Access

According to the DPO Forum, in its Disabled People’s Manifesto, “there are 14 million disabled people in the UK, making up a fifth of the population”, and “we are not a homogenous group: we have different impairments, are different genders, sexual orientations, come from different backgrounds, and live different lives”. 

This is important to acknowledge as polling day looms. 

Politicians should be seeking our votes, with genuine understanding and a breadth of ideas to collaborate with disabled people as we fight, as always, for genuine equality and inclusion. Is this the case?

I’ve heard Keir Starmer called a lot of things, and my sense here in Hastings is that he is not well-liked as Labour Leader. I am not entirely sure what the party is promising the disabled voter, although Shadow Minister for Disabled People, Vicky Foxcroft, seems at least consistent in her commitments, which is more than can be said for the Conservatives I’ve had the misfortune of encountering at close quarters for many years. 

I will vote for Labour as I see very few other options. I hope Starmer doesn’t weaken our NHS by allowing more private healthcare to infiltrate it. I do feel Labour is boosted by an overwhelming malaise in politics generally, and by the ever-expanding disconnect of Conservative policy from the daily reality of most people.

What I do hope is that disabled people have the capacity and freedom to vote, and urge everyone to support and share information within communities to make sure this happens. 

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In the 2019 election, here in Hastings, it was felt that local Conservatives made more effort when it came to this, and it is also likely to reflect the fact that those with more money have more options – a taxi to the polling station, for example, is something unlikely to be available to those with lower incomes. 

There are still issues with access – a friend recently recounted a story of assisting a mobility-impaired voter across a road and up a flight of stairs to their local polling station, where they were denied their right to vote on the grounds that, by being assisted, their vote was being ‘influenced’. 

Information on postal voting can also be hard to prise out of councils in accessible formats. Then there’s the introduction of voter ID, which is likely to create yet more barriers.

But vote, I will. Encouraging all to do so, remembering those who’ve gone before us and fought for that right. 

Penny Pepper is an award-winning author, poet and disabled activist

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