Two new disabled MPs have been elected to Parliament following last Thursday’s election, bringing the total to five.
The new MPs, both Labour, are Marsha De Cordova, who is registered blind, and Jared O’Mara, who has cerebral palsy. They join three other disabled MPs who kept their seats: Robert Halfon and Paul Maynard, who also have cerebral palsy, and Stephen Lloyd, who is hearing impaired.
Marsha De Cordova overturned the Conservative majority in Battersea, beating former minister Jane Ellison by 25,292 votes to 22,876. She said during her campaign that she wanted to be “a voice to the voiceless”. In her victory speech she said, “As a visually impaired person myself, I feel passionately about the rights of disabled people.
“Accessibility in our public places and on public transport still falls short of what is reasonable. I will use my time in Parliament to lobby for improvements in these areas.
“In the fifth richest country in the world, there can be no excuse for leaving behind a large number of our citizens.”
Jared O’Mara took the seat of Sheffield Hallam from Nick Clegg, the liberal democrat who was deputy Prime Minister under the Coalition Government elected in 2010. Jared, who is 35, snatched the seat by 21,881 votes to 19,756: an amazing result that shocked the nation.
Jared recently told an interviewer, “Having a disability can make us more passionate, resilient, empathetic and hardworking than non-disabled candidates by virtue of everything being harder for us in life.”
Certainly the results in Battersea and Sheffield Hallam are encouraging news for disabled people. But why are there not more disabled MPs than there are?
It is a point picked up by Sophie Morgan, the TV presenter, who is a patron of disability charity Scope, and is herself in a wheelchair. In a blog in the Huffington Post she commented, “There are 13 million disabled people in the UK, and that means we should be aiming for 20% of the MPs sitting in the Commons identifying as disabled.”
The fact that, proportionally, disabled people are horrendously under-represented in Parliament, is worrying. But for disabled people, the practical problems involved in campaigning can be immense. In a guest post for Scope’s blog last year, Jared O’Mara highlighted some of the difficulties he has faced.
“I have reduced mobility, poor balance, and regular bouts of tiredness and fatigue. I can also only type with my left index finger.
“Even before becoming a candidate, I’ve had to struggle up and down difficult stairs just to get to candidacy interviews.
“All the extra campaign work on top of working full time is more tiring for me than it would be for a non-disabled person.”
All the more credit to him, then, for getting where he has. But more needs to be done to help other disabled people enter, and succeed, in politics.
As Jared has said, “I feel that every disabled candidate, whatever the party, could be better supported by the powers that be and more should be done to get disabled people with a wide range of disabilities into public life.”