Despite 16 million people in the UK being classed as disabled, the major political parties have failed to prioritise them in their manifestos ahead of the next general election.

Jonathan Wheeler

Jonathan Wheeler

The latest Family Resources Survey from the Department for Work and Pensions shows that nearly one in four (24%) of the total population is classed as disabled in the UK. That is 16 million people. However our analysis of the main political parties’ manifestos found that, across all four major parties, there were just 48 mentions of people with disabilities in over 377 pages of policy. If you take out the Green Party manifesto, across Labour, Liberal Democrats, and the Conservatives, there were only 28 mentions. With prospective candidates apparently chasing every vote this is a huge demographic to sideline and ignore.

Like many law firms, our work doesn’t just stop at the door of the court. We want to win our clients’ cases for sure, but equally we can effect wider change by campaigning to support our injured clients and others with disabilities. In the past, through a combination of lobbying and case work, we helped to change the law on the time limits within which abuse survivors could bring compensation claims. More recently I worked in partnership with others to amend the civil court rules to make special provision for vulnerable parties and witnesses. As a firm we have conducted research into the problems people with disabilities have in accessing transport in London, and our court rooms, as well as shining a light on health inequalities in the NHS.

Sadly, a lot of the issues we see are because injured people’s needs have not been prioritised in legislation. We recently launched our Manifesto for Injured People, which highlights what we feel should be the priorities of the next government This was informed by our work representing injured people, and our partnerships with charities in this space.

Making the UK more accessible

Accessibility of our transport systems is an issue for many of our clients and those with disabilities. We previously ran a campaign titled Going the Extra Mile where we researched the accessibility of public transport, focussing on London. From our study and those by other organisations, the statistics on public transport accessibility make for a very disappointing read. A recent report (March 2022) from Motability on the Transport Accessibility Gap’ highlighted some of the most concerning statistics on the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities when they travel: The commute for wheelchair users was up to five times longer than for non-disabled people in London. In addition one in five disabled people reported being unable to travel at all due to the lack of appropriate transport options. Investment in accessible transport is vital to ensure equal opportunities, freedom and independence for individuals with disabilities.

Changing the culture of cover-up in the NHS

Our medical negligence teams see first-hand where the NHS can improve outcomes for patients. Whilst there have been attempts to make improvements over recent years, there are still major cultural issues within the NHS surrounding the duty of candour and whistleblowing.

We have represented clients harmed by several rogue surgeons, including Dr Roger Bainton, oral and maxillofacial surgeon consultant who was based at University Hospital of North Staffordshire. It was not until legal action was taken by one of his patients that Dr Bainton was suspended. Given there were other affected patients, the poor standard of care being provided by Dr Bainton would not have been a secret. Yet, the culture of cover up in the NHS means patients often have to rely on legal routes of redress rather than these doctors being reported at an earlier juncture by their colleagues, limiting the harm they could cause.

The key challenge faced by health and social care providers is overcoming the deeply entrenched cultural issues within those sectors. Whilst there have been attempts to encourage whistleblowers in the NHS, many still pay a heavy price for coming forward. As serious injury specialists we understand the devastating impact of medical negligence. Creating a safe environment for whistleblowing in the NHS will improve patient safety by identifying these issues before further (avoidable) harm is caused to patients.

Prioritise access to justice

Our justice system is struggling with the severe backlog of cases affecting criminal, civil and coroners’ courts. This poses a severe threat to justice and is leaving families unfairly waiting years for answers. Our military team represents bereaved families at inquests in the coroner’s courts. We have personal experience of a four year wait for an inquest, with a family left hanging on for answers in all that time. Delays reduce the integrity of evidence and result in missed opportunities to prevent future deaths. It is at least positive that court delays have been mentioned in all the major parties’ manifestos.

Just this week, Mikey Erhardt, campaigns and policy officer at Disability Rights UK wrote ‘Neither Labour nor Tories are going far enough for disabled people – we deserve better.’ As we approach polling day, and beyond, we hope the parties wake up to the needs of injured and disabled people. In many places, the law is lacking and we simply must do better.

Read more about our campaign to champion change here.


Jonathan Wheeler is managing partner and Lucy Wakeley is public affairs executive at Bolt Burdon Kemp