Today (13 February), Prime Minister Boris Johnson is preparing to reshuffle his cabinet in his first major reshuffle since becoming PM. Ahead of the announcements, we look back at our interview with Justin Tomlinson, Minister of State for Disabled People.
On 4 April 2019, Justin Tomlinson replaced Sarah Newton as Minister of State for Disabled People. Lorne Gillies spoke to the new Minister to discover what his plans are for the lives and opportunities of disabled people.
How has serving as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Disabled People prepared you for this role?
I mean it when I say I was thrilled to be reappointed, because I’m genuinely passionate about breaking down the barriers disabled people can face in everyday life.
When I was in this role previously I found that it’s really important to get out and about to see first-hand the impact of what we do here in Westminster for disabled people around the country.
How do you feel the UK Government can work to improve the experiences of disabled people living in the UK?
One area I’m really keen to make progress in is how we listen to and then incorporate disabled people’s day-to-day experiences into policy development. This year we’re building a regional stakeholder network of nine groups across the country. Each group will consist of local disabled people and disabled people’s organisations, led by a chair who will regularly report their views directly back to me.
The groups will discuss the difficulties disabled people face in a range of areas. By drawing on lived experience our policy makers will be better placed to tackle the issues disabled people encounter.
In your opinion, what is the biggest issue the disabled community face?
The issue of hidden disability comes up time and time again. We’ve really moved forwards in challenging some of the negative perceptions of disability, but too often people think disability is only what we can see. There are so many people who are struggling simply because just by looking at them, you’d have no idea they have a disability – and these people are often overlooked or even receive abuse for using disabled facilities like toilets or parking spaces.
How can we work to eradicate this issue?
I want to mention Grace Warnock from East Lothian, who has Crohn’s disease and sadly faced criticism for using a disabled toilet because she didn’t look “disabled”. Driven by her own experiences, she created Grace’s Sign for disabled toilet doors, a campaign to raise awareness that not everybody who uses these facilities has a visible disability. I will do all I can to ensure her brave stand really does make a difference, not just in the UK but internationally.
Finally, what message do you have for the disabled community?
I want to build your trust in DWP. We’re spending more than ever before on disability benefits, we’ve seen disabled people more likely to be in work than unemployed for the first time, and we’re working closely with businesses to promote the Purple Pound and ensure disabled consumers have a better experience.
I will listen to and work with you so that we can get it right more often and build your trust. We are genuinely here to help.