A successful event has taken place in Leeds where for the first time ever in Britain People with Learning Disabilities took over the running of a council chamber.
Attracted by the chance to discover how democracy works, and how to participate, the occasion attracted 50 people with a learning disability.
Organised by Leeds City Council, Mencap and the Leeds voluntary sector Learning Disabilities Forum it’s hoped that similar events will be now held across the country as part of a range of activities aimed at significantly boosting the numbers of people with learning disabilities voting at elections.
This follows a successful campaign organised during last year’s general election by Mencap that resulted in double the numbers of people with learning disabilities voting. This, though, still meant 2/3rds did not vote and following common law rules changes five years ago, which abolished the words ‘idiots and lunatics’, the aim is to see further increases in the future.
Given an opportunity to let representatives of the three major political parties know their concerns those present raised a diverse range of issues that included transport, housing, work and health. Computerised votes were taken showing that everyone wants the chance to use their free bus pass before 9.30am, a large majority want to see more work opportunities and many remain concerned about health care. There was a surprise though on housing with a split vote as to whether opportunities for people with learning disabilities need improving.
Further concerns about the impending cuts, opening times for day care centres in Leeds and the change of the Disabled Living Allowance in 2013 to a universal credit were all given an airing. As Paul Williams from the Mencap Through the Maze information services said to good applause; “we don’t get enough chances to say what concerns us, but when we do we have got plenty to say.”
There were also lots of questions fired at the councillors. Surrounded on the panelled walls by the names of some of Leeds most famous political figures from the past, those present made their own little bit of history.
What do councillors do, how do you get to be one, why become one and how do people make contact with their local one? The answers, and the one from Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, Executive Board Member for Adult Health and Social Care, on why people with a learning disability should get involved in local politics to ensure that the diversity of Leeds population is reflected in debates at area committees and council meetings, were all warmly received.
With all but one person agreeing the event had been worthwhile Susan Hanley, co-chair of Leeds Learning Partnership Board, urged people to vote on May 5th in the local elections and said afterwards that she felt it had been “enjoyable and good in raising people’s knowledge and expectations. This hopefully will encourage them to become more active politically.” For those that want to then later this year, during National Learning Disability Awareness week in June, it’s planned to take a party of people with learning disabilities from Leeds to the Houses of Parliament.
In the meantime the electoral commission has asked for a report on the day’s events with Kath Lindley from the Learning Disabilities Forum expressing her desires to “see similar events held across the country.”