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Hear from Mark Harper MP, the new chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on learning disability

6 March 2017

Hear what happened when Mencap Young Ambassador, Vijay Patel, sat down in Parliament to interview Mark Harper MP, the new chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on learning disability

Vijay Patel

The APPG is a group of MPs and Peers from across the different political parties who meet in Parliament to discuss issues facing people with a learning disability.

Ministers often attend meetings, and people with a learning disability and families always have an opportunity to contribute.

The Rt Hon Mark Harper MP (pictured left below) is the Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean and took over the chairing of the APPG on learning disability in November.

Mark Harper MP sat with Vijay Patel

 

Hear Mark Harper MP's answers to some questions asked by Mencap Young Ambassador Vijay Patel.

Why did you take on the role as chair of the APPG?

I've been interested in learning disability since 2007 when I became Shadow Disability Minister, and continued that interest when I became Disability Minister in 2014.

I believe people with a learning disability are some of the most disadvantaged in our society and my interest stems from what politicians and the Government can do to change that.

What do you hope to achieve as Chair?

We have an important programme of work this year; including supported housing, employment, apprenticeships, healthcare and the legacy of the Paralympics.

Ultimately, I think the APPG has an important role in making Ministers think about the effect policies might have on people with a learning disability.

How do you work with Mencap as an organisation?

I've worked with Mencap since I was part of the shadow team in 2007. Now they support me in my role as APPG Chair.

They don't always agree with the Government, but they are very constructive when challenging decisions!

What do you think is the most important priority for getting people with a learning disability into employment?

What people may not realise is that often people with a learning disability can't just do a job, but they can do a really, really good job. But unfortunately, employers are still nervous about hiring them.

Employers need to share the success stories, as there's no better way of encouraging other employers than by showing real examples.

How could people with a learning disability get experience in politics?

People with a learning disability should get in touch with MPs and Councillors, and ask for opportunities to get involved, perhaps through work experience or shadowing.

One of the things I have done recently is mentor Eli Heathfield, a Mencap Ambassador in my constituency. I'm delighted that Eli is now a town Councillor representing his local community. 

Attitudes start to change when the public see people with a learning disability in elected positions.

You recently volunteered with Mencap as a care worker. How did you find the day? Did anything surprise you?

What really struck me was that people with a learning disability are the same as everyone else. They want to be independent, to work and have friends.

People don't always remember this.

I was also impressed by the balance that care workers strike between enabling people to be independent whilst caring for them and safeguarding them. I was impressed by the professionalism of the staff in finding that balance.

What are the best and worst things about being an MP?

The worst thing is having to live in two places. It's not as glamorous as it sounds - and is especially difficult when you have a pet dog!

The best thing is that MPs can influence the law and make people's lives better, both across the UK and in their communities.

Do you have a favourite place to go on holiday?

I quite often go to Turkey, but last year I went to America. For me, it's important to get nice weather - I like going to places in Britain for short breaks, but for longer holidays I like to get some sun!

Do you have any hobbies?

I don't have much time for hobbies!

I like relaxing at home and talking walks in the countryside with my black Labrador, Darci.

Go to the APPG on learning disability webpage to find out more.