The first of the Prime Minister’s MP’s has taken up the offer to walk in the shoes of people with learning disabilities as part of a campaign to encourage political leaders to hear more about their lives and the challenges they face.
Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton met with eight adults supported by national disabilities charity, Hft, at its supported living service in Tiverton today (Friday 15th February) to listen to their concerns and gain a better understanding of the issues that matter to them.
He is the first Conservative MP to respond to the charity’s Walk In Our Shoes campaign, which calls on Theresa May’s MPs to visit their local Hft service. The initiative is led by the charity’s speak out group, Voices to Be Heard, who feel that their hopes and concerns are not given the same attention by political leaders as those of people without disabilities. The campaign aims to facilitate opportunities for people with learning disabilities to share their experiences with politicians and help shape future policy decisions that affect their lives.
Walk In Our Shoes launched in March with a thunderclap appeal enlisting public support to call on Theresa May to ask her MPs to spend time finding out more about the issues that matter to people with learning disabilities by visiting their local Hft service.
On the day, the MP was given a tour of the premises and took part in a question and answer session, where people supported by Hft had the chance to talk about the issues affecting their day-to-day lives. Among the concerns raised during the session were government cuts to social care funding, welfare reform and access to public toilets.
Henry, who chairs Voices to be Heard and attended the visit, said:
“In the time I have been with Hft I have done many things with Voices to be Heard like going to Geneva, 10 Downing Street and the House of Commons. I want to prevent things reoccurring for people with learning disabilities, like having your benefits or support hours being cut. I would like to see us being more involved in the community to see things improving and for us to do more things together.”
Neil Parish said: “The Walk In Our Shoes campaign brings home to all of us the extra challenges for those with learning disabilities. Everyone has a right to the best life possible and that’s what the local Hft service in Tiverton is trying to provide. They are very well supported at Oak Tree House and I want to pay tribute to all the staff I met. They do a brilliant job. There are some funding issues which need to be looked into, as well as some individual’s care packages. I urge all MPs to experience and support this great campaign – and I very much look forward to visiting Oak Tree House again soon.”
People supported by Hft also asked Neil Parish to raise a question in parliament about what steps the government is taking so that local authorities are adequately funded to be able to ensure that public toilets are sufficiently accessible for people with disabilities
Billy Davis is Hft’s Policy and Public Affairs Manager. He helped to create the campaign which in June 2018 saw two members of the speak out group hand delivering a pair of custom-made shoes to Downing Street for the Prime Minister, along with a letter providing information about the campaign.
“We’re pleased to welcome the first Conservative MP to his local Hft service. We hope he will be the first of many of Theresa May’s MPs who take the opportunity to walk in the shoes of people with learning disabilities.
“Walk In Our Shoes offers the people supported by Hft a meaningful platform to raise awareness of the issues that matter to them. Ever since the launch of the campaign, the people we support have been eager to speak with politicians from across the parties about the issues that affect them.
“In Tiverton, access to public toilets is a real concern. We look forward to seeing how Neil Parish takes this forward in parliament.”
The visit follows on from the charity’s launch of its second annual Sector Pulse Check report this week. The research surveying learning disability providers was carried out independently by Cebr and echoes some of the concerns around funding cuts raised by adults with learning disabilities.
The report revealed that in 2018 more than half (59%) of providers had been forced to close down some parts of their organisation or hand back contracts to local authorities as a means of dealing with cost pressures. 68% envisaged having to do the same “in the near future” while 11% foresaw a reduction in the quality of care if their financial situation did not improve.
For more information on Walk In Our Shoes, visit: https://www.hft.org.uk/get-involved/campaigns/walk-in-our-shoes/