Four days ago, the disabled community lost one of its most influential champions. Lord Alf Morris of Manchester has been dubbed by many as ‘The Father of Disability Rights’. It is a title he justly deserves. His legacy is an admirable one. But in a world crippled by economic crisis, and with disability discrimination and prejudice still all too apparent, who will continue the work of this great politician?
Having grown up with a father who was blinded in the First World War, Lord Morris had first hand experience of the challenges facing a family with a disabled member. The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 was the first piece of legislation of its kind in the world and formed the foundations for many other initiatives not just in the UK, but abroad. His tirelessness and dogged determination did much to enfranchise disabled people and ultimately encourage them to adopt a fuller role in society.
The cause for disability rights and general disability awareness has come a long way since Lord Morris began his crusade decades ago. Today, disabled people enjoy far greater protection against abuse and discrimination as well as greater social recognition, the best example of which has to be the forthcoming Paralympic Games.
However, though Lord Morris’s endeavours must be applauded, his work is far from over. On the contrary, it is suggested that the disabled community need a new champion to pick up the cause, where he left off. Whilst the Paralymic Games are something to be celebrated, they only provide a temporary distraction from a more serious plight at home.
Much has been made, for instance, of the UK government cuts which have left disabled people feeling vulnerable and forgotten. The changes made to the Disability Living Allowance are far reaching and potentially undermine the work of individuals such as Lord Morris.
More worryingly, it was recently reported in the press that disability hate crime has reached its highest levels since records began. With financial support under threat and certain areas of the media intent on identifying disabled people as ‘benefit scroungers’, there is a risk that the progress made so far, may falter.
It is a great shame that the Labour Peer passed away before he could witness the London Paralympic Games. No doubt he would have been brimming with pride to see so many athletes compete on the international stage in what promises to be the biggest sporting event for disabled people ever. However, he would have been acutely aware of the effort it took to come this far.
Life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, they say. This may be true. But in the world of politics it is probably more apt to liken it to a relay. Lord Morris ran an impressive first quarter for the disabled community in his political life. Now, as times grow more arduous and the importance of protecting vulnerable sections of society increases, we look to see who else is brave enough to run with his baton.