Liberal Democrat Party Conference: Shana's Diary
MS Society staff and volunteers are travelling to Brighton, Manchester and Birmingham for the Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative party conferences.
Shana Pezaro volunteered at Liberal Democrat Conference. Read her conference diary below, or watch her video diary.
Saturday 22 September
First we had a private meeting with Norman Lamb MP, the new Social Care Minister. He was fab, fab, FAB! Totally committed to integrating social care and health and wants lots more people assessed as moderate need in order to get preventative social care.
I also talked about the need to be able to employ carers on a self employed basis, as more people would be able to get help, it would cost councils less, budgets could be pooled, and people with fluctuating conditions like MS could use their money more effectively. He was very interested, totally got it - hurrah!
Sunday 23 September
Director of Policy and Research Nick and I had a good meeting with Lord German. We talked about Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA). He gave us information and listened to our concerns.
I know Lord German well, so it was useful to be able to talk about the proposed PIP assessment criteria and how they related to me. This highlighted several major flaws: I am quite evidently entitled to higher rate disabled benefits, yet came out as lower rate using the descriptors. He asked me to let him know how I score when the next draft of the descriptors come out. Then we had a coffee and I filled him in on my ridiculous internet dating escapades.
Senior Public Affairs Officer Danni and I then met Baroness Jolly, who is brilliant. We talked about health issues around changing stuctures of the NHS, the postcode lottery of access to medications and services, and the need for integrated health and social care.
We also asked her a question about prescription charges that had been sent in by an MS Society member. Baroness Jolly said that the last time they decided which illnesses got free prescriptions was 1968! I couldn’t believe it! She is going to look into this as an issue for people with MS.
And that’s why I love conference – you can bring problems to the attention of people who can actually effect change.
A debate on “Equal Citizenship – Supporting Independence for Sick and Disabled People” looked at the impact of the Welfare Reform Act.
You never know until the debate starts whether you will be called to speak or not… but I was, live on the BBC! I spoke about flaws with PIP, why lessons must be learned from the disastrously implemented Work Capability Assessments (WCA) and the impact of timelimiting contributory ESA.
At the end of the debate the party voted against further cuts to welfare which affect people with illnesses or disabilities. We now have to ensure the Lib Dem ministers stick to this, but I think they will…
Then Danni and I attended an event about carers in relation to the future of social care. I explained to Steve Webb MP (a minister in the Department for Work and Pensions) that there's a barrier to me forming a long term relationship, because the reality is that if we lived together my partner would be means tested, and have to pay towards some or all of my care. I would become financially and physically dependent on them. He said he didn't know what to say, and didn't want to sound glib with any response.
Debates on social care so often focus on families with elderly relatives or disabled children. I wanted to keep the voice of the working age adult heard and bring issues that are not even considered into the public domain.
Monday 24 September
I took part in a Radio 5 Live debate with Lib Dem MPs, Ministers and Peers. I used the opportunity to talk about the vote the previous day and told the panel that the party membership had drawn a line.
Later that day I met up with Danni for a meeting with Baroness Celia Thomas. I really like Celia and she always keeps me up to date with what's happening behind the scenes. She gave us some useful information about where the PIP process was at, and what could realistically be changed at this stage.
Our final meeting of day was with Baroness Williams, the most amazing woman I have ever met. Nick, Danni and I all went to the meeting and I was surprised to discover she knew lots about me and had seen several of my speeches! I was able to give a personal perspective whilst Danni and Nick talked through the intricacies of health care models and strategy.
Finally, Danni and I went to a late evening social care fringe. There was a panel member (a journalist, not an MP) who said some pretty appalling things. I was glad I was there to stand up to him.
Tuesday 25 September
I was absolutely exhausted by Tuesday! In the morning Danni and I met with Duncan Hames MP. He was lovely, but said it’s easier for him to be vocal in parliament if one of his constituents with MS contacts him with their problems. It really hit home to me how important it is that we tell our MPs what our concerns and difficulties are.
Then the final meeting was with Steve Webb MP, joint with Leonard Cheshire Disability. I was very tired and had lost my ability to articulate myself sensibly. Fortunately, I know Steve, so I just told him outright that the proposed PIP mobility descriptors are utter nonsense.
He tried to argue, so I pointed out that I could be assessed as lower rate disabled; he had to agree this was ridiculous. He asked if I was going on with him to another meeting; I scowled and said "No, I'm going to bed. I need my afternoon sleep, enough already."
Shana is a great advocate and champion for the MS community and immensely helpful in providing a real life example of how government policies directly impact people with MS. I'm not sure we would have had such a successful time at conference if it was not for her.Danni Manzi, Senior Public Affairs Officer
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