One of the privileges of being an MEP is that I meet individuals and groups from across the country doing fantastic work for their communities and for other people.
Last week in the European Parliament I met an impressive Welsh woman, Sara Pickard, who represents Europe on the council of Inclusion International. It is a network of people with intellectual disabilities and their families. Sara works for Mencap Cymru and is also active in Empower Us, a project led by self-advocates to ensure their voices are heard. On top of all this, Sara is also a community councillor.
Self-advocates learn how to speak up tor themselves and make their own decisions. Self-advocacy means knowing your rights and responsibilities and acting upon that knowledge.
Without self-advocacy, many people with disabilities are voiceless. In fact, in the last general election, one in four people with disabilities found polling stations inaccessible, which is totally unacceptable.
Political participation varies between countries in Europe. For example, in Germany, Poland and Greece, people with intellectual disabilities are deprived of the right to vote. This is completely at odds with Inclusion International’s motto, “Nothing about us without us”.
The problem goes further than just political participation. Years of austerity by the Westminster government have introduced the “fit for work” tests, the bedroom tax and benefit cuts, which have increased poverty. 18 per cent of people with disabilities aged 16-64 in the UK are now living in food poverty, compared with 7.5 per cent of non-disabled people.
The situation is now so serious that in September, the United Nations published a scathing report into the UK’s record on disability rights. It found that the UK has failed to reflect in law and policy the UN Convention on Disabled People’s Rights, which enshrines the rights of people to live independently, to work and to enjoy social protection without discrimination.
So in 2018 we have to do better. When all the debate on our future outside the European Union is going on, we have to ensure that we build a society in Wales that is just and inclusive. That will be my resolution this New Year and I look forward to working with all of you.
Merry Christmas to all of you.