Charity Champion Award winner Paul Maynard MP writes about setting up the All Party Group for young disabled people and inviting them to Westminster to engage in the political process.
Meeting local and national charities is a regular feature of an MP’s job. How productive these meetings are in terms of bringing about positive change can vary greatly. When the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign (MDC) approached me to discuss the possibility of setting up an All-Party Group for young disabled people I was keen to make sure this did not turn into just another meeting that didn’t subsequently go anywhere; I wanted a concrete outcome. Good sentiments are important, but it became apparent that the MDC and I both wanted something more tangible.
In our view the best means of achieving a tangible outcome capable of yielding positive results for young disabled people was an APPG which built on the campaigning work the MDC was already doing. The APPG’s secretariat is provided by Trailblazers; a young disabled person’s network set up by the MDC. Trailblazers had undertaken a series of inquiries and published reports on issues that affect the lives of disabled people in areas such as higher education, transport and tourism. Having this existing campaigning activity to build on ensured there was a purpose and momentum behind the APPG meetings. It also meant the direction of the group was driven by the Trailblazers network of young campaigners as opposed to MPs.
Given the problem of the lack of engagement young disabled people feel they have with the political process, it was important to get them together with MPs and stakeholders at themed ‘select-committee’ like evidence sessions in Parliament, where they could take the lead and raise their concerns directly. The bases of each themed session are the campaigns and publications Trailblazers have previously worked on. Great effort goes into making sure these sessions are constructive and not some form of witch hunt against stakeholders. Often the sessions are a forum for highlighting best practice as well as bad practice. Yielding positive outcomes is about being able to present to stakeholders and Ministers examples of what works and what doesn’t work; and then ask them what they intend to do about it.
There is no ideal template for a collaborative relationship between an MP and a charity; nor is there an ideal template for an APPG. There are many roads to success. The key for getting real value out of both is to have a sense of purpose and inclusivity. This is what Trailblazers strive to achieve and it has been a pleasure to play a part in their work.