No less a figure than William Hague – Tory MP, leader, minister, statesman, peer, wit and raconteur – described his greatest political achievement as the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act which required employers to regard, and treat, all staff and potential recruits as equals.
Its success can be measured by the extent to which attitudes have changed for the better and how this country, more than any other, has embraced the Paralympic superhero movement and, more recently, the needs of injured military personnel and the mentally ill.
Yet, over two decades after this landmark law was enacted, perhaps the time has come to revise and refine Rotherharm-born Lord Hague’s legislation so it can become more effective in a contemporary context.
It’s shameful, for example, that a Paralympian was robbed of her dignity after a train company failed to provide an accessible toilet on a three-hour journey. If businesses can’t reform, a new law should be introduced to compel transport operators, as well as the landlords of public and office buildings, to be wheelchair-friendly and accommodating of the needs of all those with mobility or sight difficulties. Over to you, Lord Hague.
And then there are wider perceptions after senior MPs called for an urgent review of assessments for disability benefits amid warnings that eligible people are having payments withdrawn erroneously and being forced to use food banks.
This newspaper is totally supportive of the Government’s efforts to target those who abuse the system’s benevolence. What The Yorkshire Post deplores is instances where the most disabled are fighting for every last penny and entitlement because officialdom is so inflexible.
There’s a difference. It should not be like this – the test of a civilised society is how a country treats its most vulnerable and, on this basis, the state, private sector and ordinary citizens have unfinished business 20 years after the then Richmond MP’s pioneering law change. Now is the time for a new national conversation.