Today we finish up my five part series interviewing the Disability spokespeople from the UK political parties. This final interview is with Mark Harper, Minister of State for Disabled People, and thus pretty far up the ladder. Mark became the Minister on 15th July 2014 having been in parliament since 2005.
JR: You’ve very recently become Disability Minister, what do you think is the really key challenge you are going to be facing in role?
My top priority is sorting out the delays in the assessment process for Personal Independence Payment – I know how important this is for disabled people. I also have to ensure we get a new provider for the Work Capability Assessment and ensure the transition from Atos Healthcare is as smooth as possible. Finally, I want to do what I can in the months ahead to improve the support we offer to enable disabled people to be able to stay in or find work.
I saw how important technology was in some cases to enable people with a communication difficulty to communicate with the world around them. Having worked in the technology sector for 7 years (for Intel Corporation) before being elected to Parliament, I felt sure that we could do more here – hence my question in Parliament and the Inclusive Technology prize I mention.
JR: Your maiden speech was on the topic of learning disability – very appropriate to your new role – can you tell us why you chose that as your very first speech to the house of commons?
The two political parties then running my county council in the run up to the 2005 general and county elections (not mine, I’ll leave your readers to work out which) were determined to close special needs schools on principle regardless of the wishes of either parents or students. I thought this was wrong and campaigned on behalf of those parents and students. Although the elections came too late for the school in my area, the people of Gloucestershire elected a Conservative administration and we were able to stop one closure in the neighbouring area. I used this as a challenge to those who say elections don’t change anything – they can and do.