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3rd March 2013

What does the rise of UKIP mean for those with disabilities?

After the news that UKIP beat Labour and the Conservatives to take 2nd place in the Eastleigh byelection, Arun Mehta looks at the party and members attitudes towards disability

As a young disabled person, and with friends and family members who also have different physical and mental disabilities, I’m always tremendously interested how these issues fit into the UK political narrative.

After the shock result in the Eastleigh by-election last week, it appears that the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) could be a force to be reckoned with come the next general election. They didn’t win and some detractors may have brushed this away as a one off during a government mid-term; but the feeling among some of the electorate cannot be ignored. They are floating away from the major parties and are landing their X’s on alternatives on the ballot paper.

The current trend of former major party voters wanting to give the current political establishment a kicking seems to be gaining some kind of traction. It has yet to fully take a formidable shape. However, that could all change if this trend remains the status quo

UKIP put in its election arsenal the promises of an in/out EU referendum, less immigration to the United Kingdom and a clamp down on so-called “political correctness.” These are all cheap but alluring buzzwords that currently strike a tone with some of the general public. There is an appetite for these political issues, and Nigel Farage appears to be satisfying many hungers by serving them with this large, three course banquet.

This emergence of the UKIP narrative has me very concerned. Forget the half-truths used to promote an EU referendum, the demonization of immigrants, the occasional denial of climate change, telling women how to dress and the other things that would go the right-winger’s guide to politics; it’s what’s not being talked about that currently concerns me.

After browsing through the UKIP web site, I have not found anything really of substance in regards to the caring for the disabled people in our society. There is one line from the policy of benefit reform. Under UKIP policy, the party would support the morphing together of Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), Student Maintenance and Incapacity Benefit payments.

I feel this reform is far too simplified, because you are asking a government department to deal with three completely different topics here; education, unemployment and disabilities. How is it manageable to give these individually specialized domains to a government office for them to juggle? It’s far too much workload, and I don’t see that office coping well with all the individual demands they bring.

Another alarming indication from UKIP’s stance towards the disabled were the personal comments of former UKIP candidate Geoffrey Clark. He stated there should be “a compulsory abortion when the foetus is detected as having Downs, spina bifida or a similar syndrome, which if it is born, could render the child a burden on the state as well as on the family.” – While some disabilities are severe, it’s not impossible live a fulfilling life while suffering from a condition. Disabled charities across the board including Mencap were appalled at these suggestions given by the candidate.

To be fair, UKIP Head Office did distance themselves from Mr Clark’s abhorrent views, and eventually suspended him. Rightly so, because these points of views shouldn’t be accepted in modern day Britain; but then UKIP responded with the following: “As in any party, our members have a range of views and opinions which may not always accord with party policy. Geoff makes clear that this is a personal manifesto, not a party document.”

This individual case does show complete disconnections between grassroots supporters of the party, and the higher-ups supposedly running it. Surely it should be hammered in to all your candidates that these sorts of views are deplorable. I have to say, if some UKIP candidates aren’t going to put up with unborn disabled children, I shudder to think what they would do with the already living.

It leaves me wondering how UKIP supporters really feel about the rights of disabled people and if they even recognised the conditions such as autism and dyslexia. Both of which I have to deal with on a daily basis.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not ready to slam my front door on a UKIP candidate just yet. What I would like from UKIP and from Nigel Farage is a bit of reassurance; that the most vulnerable members of our society are not forsaken. Because after so much progress has been made over the last few years to put the wellbeing of the mentally and physically challenged on the political agenda. This purple and yellow coloured party with its silence on the issue appears, for me, to be a massive step backwards.

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