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Twenty years ago, Scope changed its name from The Spastics Society.

The word ‘spastic’ had become a term of abuse, and we wanted to challenge attitudes by saying something positive about disability.

Two years before our decision, the Conservative Secretary of State for Social Security, Tony Newton, made an important progressive statement of his own.

He introduced Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and sent a clear message that it was to give disabled people “greater independence and greater control over their own lives” (the debate is a fascinating read…)

The Government of John Major was the first to understand that there is a financial penalty attached to being disabled – from paying for home adaptations and disability equipment to taking taxis due to inaccessible transport. DLA was designed to help cover some of these extra costs.

This was a very important recognition. Twenty years on, there is an opportunity for progressive Conservatives to be bold again.

Today, Scope estimates the financial penalty of disability to be an average of £550 per month. It is critical that the payment disabled people get to meet these extra costs is protected, but we also have to look at the ways in which market and policy failures can be addressed to reduce extra costs for disabled people.

For example, mainstream technology has become more affordable and accessible for many, but technological advances have not brought down the high cost of specialist equipment that disabled people need. An electric wheelchair can cost up to £6,000 – not to mention the cost of fixing one when it breaks.

As one lady told Scope, “Christmas last year I had a problem with my wheelchair… I went to the shop and it was going to be a hundred pounds. Well where are we going to find the money for that? But we’ve got to find the money for it because I need it.”

Today Scope launched a report which challenges all political parties to commit in their manifestos to improve the lives of disabled people. One of the most crucial aspects of this challenge is for parties to commit to end the financial penalty that disabled people face.

Progressive Conservatives must see this as a real opportunity. The Department of Work and Pensions cannot bear sole responsibility for driving down the extra costs that disabled people face. All Government Departments must look at why these extra costs are so high and what can be done to tackle them.

Disability has not always been a comfortable topic for Ministers in the Coalition Government, with Iain Duncan-Smith in a very different position to that of Tony Newton before him. But in seeking innovation in ways to drive down the financial penalty of being a disabled person, the Conservative Manifesto of 2015 could capitalise on an area in which it has a real progressive history.

Elliot Dunster is the Parliamentary Manager of Scope.

Follow Elliot on Twitter.

Views held by contributors are not necessarily those of Bright Blue, as good as they often are.

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