Today’s columnist, Paul Blomfield MP: Celebrate the contribution

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So what do Stephen Hawking, Ludvig van Beethoven, Frida Kahlo, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Helen Keller have in common? These are great people who have or had a disability.

It’s not just in science, music, art and politics where people with disabilities have made significant contributions. It’s every day in our communities. Not only do half of people with disabilities have jobs, but millions more volunteer in their local community and support others. In Sheffield there are nearly 17,000 people with long-term health problems or disabilities who provide unpaid care.

Today is International Day of People with Disabilities, which promotes dignity, rights and well-being. While many disabilities are visible, many are not, and there are many more people affected than you would think. In the UK there are 11 million people with a disability and 103,715 people in Sheffield – nearly a fifth of the population.

The Government should be helping people with disabilities to play the fullest part in society they can. But too often, it is putting barriers in their way.

In the last Parliament, the Government hit people with disabilities hard by introducing the hated bedroom tax; expanding the punitive work capability assessment; imposing massive cuts on local authorities; and abolishing the independent living fund.

Now, we’re told there will be a £30 a week cut to the amount paid to people who doctors certify as too ill or disabled to work. The cut might not seem like much to the Prime Minister, but it is the difference between being able to afford the bus fare to get out, and not.

At my Big Conversation community consultation in October people told me about crisis in the care sector – overworked and underpaid care workers forced to see more elderly and disabled people in less time. Cuts to local authorities are squeezing social care budgets, forcing care workers to trim their visits to 10 minutes, only enough time to pop food in the microwave and be on their way. No time for the chat over a cuppa that means so much.

The Government needs to stop treating people with disabilities as a drain and start recognising the enormous contribution they make. There are many barriers for people with disabilities. The Government should be helping to take them away, not erecting more.

The next Stephen Hawking should be encouraged because of Government action, not succeed in spite of it.