I get to meet so many amazing people in this job, but it was a real red-letter day when I was asked to meet with a group of people who live with mental health challenges. They had travelled up from Hove and Portslade to parliament to meet me and share their life’s experiences and the challenges they face in daily life.
The stories I heard were simultaneously inspiring and deeply upsetting. I was inspired by the sheer effort …and determination the people I met put in every day to overcome the barriers to fulfilling a rewarding work, social, and family life. But when they told me about the loss of support, the problems with housing and transport, and in particular the fear generated by the current programme of welfare reforms I was extremely upset. Anyone hearing the same would be too.
Many of the people I met had written me letters about the specific challenges they faced and in some cases explained some of extreme consequences caused by current policy that was too personal to tell me about in a group. I’ve written back personally to each.
One of the things I found difficult to hear was how many had experienced reticence from local employers when applying for work due to misconceptions about what its like having people with mental health challenges on their team. This is something I’ve heard from many people with other disabilities too and I want to explore ways in which we as a community can overcome this barrier. Government is keen to kick people for not working but says little about the hostility that disabled people face from potential employers when going through the application process.
Since getting to parliament I’ve campaigned a lot on adult social care. It’s a broad issue and I’ve focussed on different aspects of it. Disability rights and the people with physical or mental health challenges deserve the very best support we as a society can give. Having seen the way DWP act these days in the frontline and how their ministers perform in the Commons I am ashamed to say that their vulnerability and voicelessness is too often being exploited these days. The closest I have come to loosing my temper in the Chamber was when Iain Duncan-Smith was at the dispatch box – I’m afraid I literally saw red and before I knew it was on my feet yelling at him…exactly the kind of thing t hat gives MP’s a bad name!!!
At the end of our meeting the people I met said ‘thank you so much for sparing the time to meet us’ which made me feel very embarrassed indeed. They had gone through the time, trouble, and expense to come all the way to parliament to meet me and I learned so much from each of them – I was the one who was grateful that they did. All the best, Peter