Looking ahead to influence change
A key part of our work at Sense is building the profile and understanding of complex disabilities in parliament. With a general election coming up next year our Policy and Public Affairs Manager, Melissa, shares her thoughts on how we’re planning to engage.
Like all Public Affairs professionals, I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking about the local elections (with a small break to think about the Coronation) and it’s got my brain firing about the big one. The general election.
We’ve got less than 18 months left with the current government before they hit the polls. So, what does this mean for our public affairs plans? How can we be making sure that the needs and priorities of people with complex disabilities are considered now and in the future?
In this blog I’m going to examine the avenues I think we should be taking over the next few months before the Prime Minister stands in front of Number 10 and tells us all to head to the polling stations.
What opportunities are there to influence parliament?
So first things first the Government still has 18 months to get through it’s legislative programme, that’s a lot of laws it can get through so plenty of chance for amendments and clauses to be added.
There’s still going to be plenty of inquiries and consultations for us to get our teeth into. We can make sure the voices of the people support are heard and our causes championed. We’re hoping that Parliament will be looking at how to support people in the cost of living crisis particularly with their energy bills. This might be through a social tariff or more support paying to run their medical equipment. Either way this will be a huge opportunity to ensure the voices of people with complex disabilities are heard.
Rest assured there will be lots of debates between now and the general election. Debates provide opportunities for us to brief parliamentarians on key issues to raise. We also have the opportunity to suggest debates they might want to have or questions to table. Over the next few months we’ll be continuing to monitor developments, build new relationships and play our part to raise the profile of deafblindness and complex disabilities.
In Autumn we’ll have the King’s Speech which along with more legislative plans means there’ll be the private members bill ballot. A great opportunity for all charities to pitch MPs for a bill, and as we know from the BSL Act these can lead to real change for people. We’ll definitely be having a think about what we can be asking MPs to put forward.
Getting in some ‘quick wins’
Whilst on one hand 18 months is a long time, in parliamentary terms it’s also not that long. We know that the government will be looking at things they can achieve quickly and easily over the next few months. We’ve been looking at our policy proposals and have a couple that we will be highlighting with them:
- Job centre assistive technology fund: our recent research identified that Half of jobseekers with complex disabilities (50%) didn’t feel that they had the support and equipment they needed to look for work. Currently, job centres don’t have specialist assistive technology available for people to use to look for work. Just £5million would provide every job centre with assistive technology to help more disabled jobseekers.
- MSI Education Fund: families of deafblind children are struggling to access the vital specialist support that they need and are entitled to. Multi sensory impairment (MSI) teachers play a vital role in supporting deafblind children to access education but there aren’t enough of them. Over half of local authorities don’t employ MSI teachers. It would take just £34million to train, recruit and retain enough MSI teachers to support deafblind children.
Making it local
Whilst we spend a lot of our time influencing national government, we know that local connections matter too. Sense has over 120 shops and an extensive network of services across the country. We are also opening new hubs across the country, like this one in Loughborough.
We know that seeing services in action, meeting people with lived experience and finding out about local issues are all important to MPs. We arrange visits, meetings and events so that MPs can find out more about Sense in their local area. Providing opportunities for local engagement is really powerful and we’ll look to do more of that over the next few months.
Not forgetting the work behind the scenes
Whilst parliamentarians are key for making strategic and legislative decisions, civil servants and department officials are the ones who need to make them happen. They work in the details, drafting guidance, gathering insight from stakeholders and advising ministers. They can also make changes that don’t require legislation.
Building and maintaining relationships with civil servants is an important part of influencing change. We want to make sure that they know about deafblindness and complex disabilities and that they know that we can support with policy recommendations and review.
Over the next few months we know that there will be ongoing work on following on from the SEND review and consultation on children’s social care. These are real opportunities to improve the education and care that children with complex disabilities receive so we will ensure to take up all the opportunities we have. There’s also the Health and Disability Whitepaper which will be looking at employment and benefits for disabled people. We’ll be working on all of these to make sure they address the issues raised with us from people Sense supports.
Engaging political parties
With the general election creeping closer, the political parties are busy crafting their manifestos. This is a great opportunity for our policies to shine. By passionately advocating for our causes and securing commitments in their manifestos, we ensure that no matter who wins the election, our issues remain front and centre of the new government’s agenda.
Where better to do this than Party Conference? We went for the first time last year and it was a real success so we’ll be going again. These next few months I’m sure we’ll all be polishing up our elevator pitches to chat to MPs and prospective party candidates on what we think they should be focusing on at the next election. We will be showcasing new research at this year’s party conferences to make sure that we are seen as experts to engage with while parties are writing their manifestos.
What happens now?
These next 18 months brings both challenges and opportunities for us. We’ll likely see some things move very quickly, whilst others slow down ahead of the general election. We also know that the general election will likely bring a lot of change, with lots of MPs saying that they’ll be stepping down.
By staying in the loop with the government’s legislative programme, actively participating in ongoing parliamentary processes, collaborating with civil servants, and engaging with political parties, we can shape policies and secure commitments that make a real difference for people with complex disabilities. We’ll also be continuing our programme of research to build evidence of what matters to people, and what solutions would be effective.
It’s going to be a busy few months but we’re looking forward to it. Most importantly, we’re looking forward to being able to make change happen for people with deafblindness and complex disabilities.