What happened when Sense attended the 2022 Conservative and Labour Party Conferences

In September and October 2022, armed with a polaroid camera and a giant map, the Sense policy and public affairs team headed up to Labour and Conservative Party Conferences.

A member of the Sense policy team at our party conference stand with a sign saying "I'm supporting people with complex disabilities".

We were there to talk to parliamentarians about Sense’s ground-breaking research into the number of people with complex disabilities, explain how Sense supports people and highlight our campaigns.

What was our focus at the party conferences?

Earlier this year Sense conducted research into the number of people with complex disabilities across the UK. We wanted to share this information (including breakdowns by region) with MPs, peers and councillors.

We also wanted to generally raise awareness of Sense and the work we do to support people with our total communication approach.

To explain this, we took objects of reference with us to the conferences. These included a spoon, a rock climbing rock, astro turf and plaited fabric.

What are objects of reference?  

Objects of reference are physical objects that are used in communication to represent something, like an event or a person. For example, Rhiannon is a young girl who is deafblind. Feeding a toddler can be a challenge at the best of times, but it was even harder for Rhiannon’s parents who had no clear way to communicate with her about what was happening.

Sense staff introduced a spoon, and taught Rhiannon to know that when she felt the spoon, food was coming. As Rhiannon developed her understanding, the tables turned, as she began using the spoon to tell her parents she wanted food!

Read more about objects of reference.

These objects clearly show that you can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to social care. They also show the need to spend time getting to know people, as it can take a long time for someone to accept an object of reference.

Through using the objects of reference we were able to demonstrate the value of good social care and the need to invest in the social care workforce.

What did we achieve?

Across the two conferences we managed to meet with over 50 parliamentarians, including Keir Starmer, Mark Drakeford, Therese Coffey and Penny Mordaunt.

We were able to talk about the work of Sense and our current campaigns on supporting people with complex disabilities through the cost of living crisis and improving SEND provisions for children with multi-sensory impairments.

What did we do apart from having a stand?

As well as talking to people on our stand, we went to different fringe events while we were there. Speakers at both Labour and Conservative conferences spoke about the need for further investment and reform in social care.

There was a view in both parties that support for children with SEND and people with complex disabilities is not good enough, however there was no consensus on how to improve it.

Sense's policy team talk to Labour leader Keir Starmer.

What next?

As everyone watching the news will know, there are a lot of changes going through parliament at the moment. There’s never been a more important time to be close with parliamentarians.

We’ll be using the connections we’ve made at both conferences to further our campaigns and invite people to our services around the UK.