Social Justice

Half of disabled people in the UK feel ignored this general election: 'We have a right to be heard'

Nearly half of disabled people feel they are not important to political parties, new research from national disability charity Sense ahead of the general election shows

Mohammed Azeem and support worker Caz

Mohammed Azeem (right) and support worker Caz Smith (left). Image: Sense

Mohammed Azeem feels “let down, frustrated, angry, demoralised and depressed” by politicians as a disabled man, and he is in two minds about whether he will vote in the general election.

He has voted every year since he has been eligible to vote, for more than 20 years, and is a former party member. But he does not believe any of the political parties are championing disabled people.

Azeem, who is visually impaired, is far from alone. Nearly half (47%) of disabled people in the UK feel they are not important to political parties, according to new research from disability charity Sense.

One in four disabled people (26%) are not optimistic life will improve under a new government, and a third (33%) believe their vote won’t make a difference to disabled people’s lives.

“I’ve been voting for the last 20 years, and since then, I have not seen much of a change in society,” Azeem said. “And to be honest, the way things are looking, I can’t see anything changing even if we have a new government.”

There are 16.1 million disabled people in the UK – just under one in four people. A disproportionate number live in poverty, and more than two thirds of people who use food banks are disabled.

Disabled people rely heavily on public services which have faced chronic underfunding and cuts – including the NHS, social care and public transport. There are also millions of people claiming disability benefits, which can be a “traumatic” system to navigate, as extensively reported by the Big Issue.

“I feel let down, frustrated, angry, demoralised, depressed,” Azeem said. “You see the news every day, and it’s total rubbish. Even if we talk to councillors or MPs, we’re not getting heard.”

The key proposals from Labour and Conservatives which impact disabled people have revolved around pushing them into work to cut back the welfare bill. 

Labour has announced plans for more local employment support and to clear the backlog of Access to Work claims. It also plans to introduce the full right to equal pay for disabled people.

Keir Starmer said this week that “handouts from the state do not nurture the same sense of self-reliant dignity as a fair wage”, prompting fears that Labour may take a tough approach to social security and heighten the stigma around benefits.

Labour also wants to improve inclusivity in mainstream schools, and ensure special schools cater to those with the most complex needs. And it has said it will explore how the NHS can better support disabled adults, as well as improve protection from hate crimes.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives want to toughen the benefits system so that it is more difficult for people to access financial support – once again, to drive disabled people into work.

Proposals include replacing regular personal independence payments (PIP) with one-off grants or vouchers, tightening the eligibility criteria and increased use of sanctions.

But the disability benefits system is already challenging to navigate. Azeem said: “The benefits system needs to be looked over. They are thinking about making changes that are not good.

“Filling out the application form for PIP is a pain from the start. There are so many questions that can be avoided. And also the assessment is a nightmare.” 

He says that disabled people often want to work but employers rarely offer the support and flexibility that they need, and many disabled people are unable to work.

“I myself have been struggling to find employment,” Mohammed said. “I’ve had interviews, but I’m not getting successful. That’s another issue for us, people with disabilities. There’s not much of an opportunity for us to get into employment.”

Azeem is a 39-year-old from the West Midlands and he has a visual impairment. Image: Sense

Sense is calling for disabled people to be prioritised by the next UK government. Key asks include ensuring disabled people can afford the essentials, better funding and provision in social care, equal access to education, reforming the benefits system and tackling barriers to employment.

Sense chief executive Richard Kramer said: “It’s a disgrace that disabled people, and the societal inequalities they face, have received so little attention by politicians during the election campaign. 

“It’s unsurprising, then, that so few disabled people believe that life will improve under a new UK government. But it must improve. The pandemic and the subsequent cost of living crisis has exacerbated many of the problems that disabled people and their families already faced.  

“Disabled people are struggling to pay for essentials like food and energy. The social care sector, which so many depend on, is in crisis, and the welfare system is in urgent need of reform. Whoever forms the next UK government must show disabled people that they do matter to them.”

Despite feeling ignored by politicians, more than three quarters (76%) of disabled people say they still plan to vote in the general election, even though nearly a quarter of those (21%) are yet to decide which party they will vote for.

“We need to be heard,” Azeem said. “We have a right to be heard. I live in this country. I was born in this country. My vote should be valued.”

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