Two former government advisors have spoken of how they hope their new MBEs will boost their work campaigning for disabled people’s rights.
Both Clenton Farquharson and Miro Griffiths are former members of Equality 2025, the government’s now-defunct, high-level network of disabled advisors, and both work as disability consultants and advisors.
They were both recognised with MBEs in the Queen’s birthday honours.
Farquharson said he hoped to use his MBE to address injustices that were still “massive issues for disabled people”, such as those around welfare reform and education.
He is likely to focus much of his campaigning efforts on the implementation of the government’s new Children and Families Act.
His biggest fear is that families of disabled children and young people will not have access to the information and advocacy they will need to navigate their way through the new system.
The act introduces a range of major reforms across adoption, family justice, and the special educational needs (SEN) system, including new education, health and care plans for disabled children and young people, which will last from birth to the age of 25, replacing statements of SEN and setting out all the support a family should receive.
But Farquharson is concerned that many families have no idea what the new act will mean for their children.
Most people describe him as a “pragmatist”, he says. He works as an consultant, mentor, advocate and trainer on inclusion and equality issues at the user-led community interest company Community Navigator Services.
He is also a vice-chair of Healthwatch Birmingham, “helping to champion the consumer voice to make sure that people who use services – patients and carers – have a voice,” and a co-chair of the Think Local Act Personal personalisation partnership.
He said: “If I see a barrier I will try and find different ways to go around that barrier, to try and get the voice of people at the centre.
“I have some doors that are open to me that other people who are seldom heard do not have.
“I think it is a duty – whether it is me or other people who have those open doors – that we shine a spotlight on those things that those other people would say if they were in that room.”
He said he was “shocked” when he received the letter asking if he would accept an MBE.
He said: “I thought the letter was a joke. I thought that somebody was winding me up, because things like that don’t happen to people like me.”
He didn’t know for sure that it wasn’t a joke until his name appeared in the newspapers last weekend alongside the other recipients.
The MBE is a reward for nearly 20 years’ work, but he insists that it is not an “individual recognition”, particularly praising his colleagues at CNS for the hard work which has “helped me on this road to chipping away at injustice”.
He said: “I am delighted to get it but it is not an individual recognition to me, it is a collective of people I have come into contact with who have helped support me on this journey.”
Griffiths says he was “very, very surprised and honoured” by his MBE.
He works as a freelance consultant, and his client list includes the European Network on Independent Living, Think Local Act Personal, and In Control, while he is a member of the National Co-Production Advisory Group, and a trustee of the Alliance for Inclusive Education, while also lecturing on disability at The University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores University, and Manchester Metropolitan University.
Griffiths said he didn’t think the award would change the day-to-day conversations he had, but it might “validate some of my views when I am talking to people higher up”.
He said: “Hopefully it will help me have greater influence talking to people within decision-making positions.
“I think it is a very dangerous time to be disabled. [I hope it will mean] I can get people in those positions to actually listen and turn those views into actions.”
As a user of the Independent Living Fund, he says he is deeply concerned about the impact of its planned closure next June.
“My view is we need to keep it open, it is vitally important.”
He is now working closely with his local authority to discuss what it can do to support local people – in the Wirral – when ILF closes.
He is keen to help build a strong – and united – voice of disabled people on this and other issues. “If I can get a platform to speak about it I will do.”
Other concerns include the government’s plans to “dismantle” the Disabled Students’ Allowance system, and the closure of disabled people’s organisations and centres for independent living.
He is also deeply involved in the roll-out of personalisation and other issues around independent living, and – as a member of the Labour party – says he will be “keeping an eye on what Labour says on disability in the run-up to the general election.
Another disabled campaigner to receive an MBE is Gavin Harding, who is recognised for services to people with learning difficulties.
He is a founding member of the government’s National Learning Disability Programme Board, and is a town councillor and deputy mayor in Selby, north Yorkshire, and a trustee of Voices for People and Inclusion North.
Kelly Gallagher, who won Britain’s first gold medal at a winter Paralympic Games when she triumphed in the super-G event for visually-impaired skiers in Sochi in March – also becoming the first British alpine skier to win gold at either a Paralympic or Olympic Games – has also been recognised with an MBE, along with her guide Charlotte Evans.
Another disabled sporting star to be rewarded with an MBE was Anne Wafula-Strike, for services to disability sport and charity.
As well as representing Britain at athletics, she has written an autobiography – which tells of the discrimination she faced in her native Kenya before attending university, qualifying as a teacher and starting a new life in the UK – has spoken publicly about disability at home and internationally, was a media pundit during the London 2012 Paralympics, and is a key ambassador for The British Polio Fellowship.
She said: “I still cannot believe the news, I am still in shock. I found out a while ago and it has been hard to keep it a secret.
“I try to help charities like The British Polio Fellowship, as I am who I am because of charity work and the opportunities I was given as a result. I know it makes a difference to somebody’s life.”
18 June 2014
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com