Anne Begg MP

Challenge: to close the 'power gap' in public bodies on all protected grounds

Anne Begg believes that MPs like herself and the former Home Secretary David Blunkett have proved to the electorate that disability is no barrier to being a successful and effective MP. “The fact that there are already people out there doing it will make it easier for the next generation [of would be MPs],” she says. “But they still need the qualities, the qualifications, the determination and the ability for hard work. There’s no free pass in this job.”

Begg, who was elected Labour MP for Aberdeen South in 1997, was the first MP to permanently use a wheelchair:

“I want to dispel the notion that having a disability is the end of the world, and that your life chances come to an end.”

She is aware, however, that there is still a stigma surrounding disability. “I was very conscious that if I failed as an MP it wasn’t just me that was failing, but that I was potentially setting back the cause of people in wheelchairs being elected.”

The wheelchair has presented some challenges to her full participation in the house: for example, she cites the rule that MPs have just eight minutes to vote once the division bell has rung. Rather than request extra time, Begg worked with the authorities to make it easier to get her wheelchair into the division lobby to vote. The system usually works, though she admits: “I missed two votes yesterday because the one lift I needed to get out of the building quickly to vote broke down.”

Begg believes that although the number of MPs with visible disabilities currently stands at about five, there are more in the Commons who are prevented from speaking out due to fear of prejudice. “If you have a mental health problem and declared that, then there is a fear of prejudice in the electorate. There could be MPs with quite severe mental health problems. The truth is, we don’t know how many MPs there are with disabilities.”

Significant findings: power and voice

> Significant challenges: civic power

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