Liberal Democrat Pary Conference 2011
Last week like hundreds of other charity campaigners I had a very busy few days at the Liberal Democrat party conference in Birmingham.
Each year, Mencap attends all three of the UK’s main political party conferences and this year I attended the Lib Dem conference for the very first time, having never attended a party conference before.
I was very excited about this opportunity, as I was really looking forward to meeting MPs, government ministers and senior Councillors as well as other charities.
I was also hoping to raise concerns that many people with a learning disability have about the Government’s plans for welfare reform.
Since the coalition Government came to power last May it has outlined many changes to social care and welfare such as Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) which will all have a massive impact on people with a learning disability.
Not surprisingly Mencap had a very busy schedule for the conference. This included a Learning Disability Coalition bowling event with MPs, a Disability Benefits Consortium fringe event on welfare reform with Jenny Willott MP and a Care and Support Alliance fringe event on the future of adult social care which was hosted by an alliance of 20 care organisations, including Mencap, and chaired by journalist Jackie Ashley of The Guardian.
Speakers at the Care and Support Alliance event included Andrew Dilnot, who was the lead commissioner for the Dilnot Commission report into the future funding of social care, Norman Lamb MP and care services minister Paul Burstow MP. Changes to welfare and social care were widely discussed with many attendees raising concerns about the impact of these changes on people with a disability and the importance of them not losing out in the Government’s reforms.
Later at the Care and Support Alliance reception I was able to raise my concerns about the lack of accessible Government consultations with Paul Burstow MP. If the Government wants everyone to be engaged in the political process it is important that all of its public documents are accessible.
I found a Criminal Justice Alliance fringe event on delivering a fairer, more efficient and effective justice system really interesting. With public authorities failing to effectively tackle disability hate crime, criminal justice is a serious issue for people with a learning disability. The panel discussed many issues including how shorter sentences cost the Government more in the longer term. At Mencap we would like to see people with a learning disability better supported through the criminal justice system and are campaigning to end disability hate crime.
The conference also gave me the chance to watch Liberal Democrat party members discuss, and vote on, party policies. These included debates and motions on Employment and Support Allowance, adult social care and the party’s response to the Health and Social Care bill. I found it really interesting to see what the party thought about these issues.
I’m hoping to gain further insight into the work of the Government at my work shadowing day at the Department for Local Government later this week.
Look out for a further blog on this.