Opinion: ‘A true levelling up is what’s required’

Councillor Shaz Nawaz, Labour Group leader on Peterborough City Council

Sunday, 29th August 2021, 2:15 pm
Inpirational Paralympians... Picture provided by ParalympicsGB/imagecomms of Great Britain's Maisie Summers-Newton (centre) celebrates with her gold medal after winning the women's 200m Individual Medley SM6 alongside second placed Ukraine's Yelyzaveta Mereshko (left) with her silver medal and third placed Germany's Verena Schott with her bronze medal during day two of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at the Tokyo International Forum in Japan.

This past Tuesday, the Paralympic Games began in Tokyo. I urge everyone to watch; it’s sport at its finest and purest, athletes overcome physical limits through training and will to achieve incredible goals.

Watching Johnny Peacock run or Ellie Simmonds swim is just as inspiring as any spectacle that the Olympics has to offer: Britain can expect to do well on the medals table. I am delighted that coverage has improved over the years: it used to be that the Paralympics was a media afterthought. In recent years, Channel 4 has done a superb job in promoting the games.

As we admire the athletes, we should keep in mind that our provision for those with physical and other limitations simply isn’t sufficient. This was brought home in a recent advertisement for Channel 4’s coverage: we saw athletes preparing, sweating, pushing themselves. Then this was contrasted with a store that hadn’t made provision for wheelchairs to enter their premises.

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The Equality Act of 2010 was supposed to ensure that organisations take positive steps towards ensuring access.

However, can we say that in the past 11 years our progress has been satisfactory?

I am lucky, I’m able bodied. But if I look at my life through the prism of a disabled person, I can see many instances in which this access just simply isn’t there: it can be a flight of stairs in a building, or a lift which doesn’t have labels in Braille for the blind, or a lack of provision for those with cerebral palsy. As a councillor, I often get requests from constituents who face these kinds of challenges: they want facilities or public services to be maintained so they can help themselves and be productive members of society.

There are economic as well as moral incentives: according to a 2019 study by the charity Scope, the value of the “purple pound” is approximately £2.74 billion.

Furthermore, as the Paralympics shows, disability does not mean a lack of ambition or drive. Rather, the ability to overcome challenges is a valuable quality: it has been stated that one of the most vital personal attributes in our present era is grit. Grit allows one to see problems as challenges rather than hard stops; it endows the persistence to overcome challenges and provides confidence to take on other obstacles.

In a time in which it can be easy to be blinded by difficulties, grit is key to survival.

The country is deluged with priorities: the coronavirus is still with us, the picture of our autumn is uncertain, the economy’s post-Brexit future is still yet to come into focus, and the tragedy of Afghanistan will require imagination and skill to navigate. However, I hope that we won’t lose sight of the disabled in the maelstrom: if we can improve our provision, we will do some necessary “levelling up”. When the day comes that the Labour Group takes over management of the city council, improvements in this area will be one of our main priorities.