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Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living

From 'bloodied knees' to the House of Commons as a disabled MP

Date: 15/7/2015
Summary: Conservative MP Robert Halfon says having a disability means he has been forced to work twice as hard to get to where he is.

Before the general election, all Robert Halfon was hoping for was to be re-elected as member of parliament for Harlow. He has since been made a deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party and a minister without portfolio.

Now 46, Halfon was born with mild cerebral palsy. He has since developed osteoarthritis due in part to many operations, and walks using crutches.

As a child, Halfon could not walk at all for some time. He says he can't remember how he did get around because he has unconsciously blanked out many childhood memories. He knows his father took him all over the world to see doctors who might help him become mobile.

All he does remember is that when he finally did walk it was on tiptoes, and jokes that he would have made a good ballet dancer. He fell over a lot in those days, and though he's quick to point out he always got back up, his knees were always "full of blood".

Halfon doesn't like the tag "disabled", it irritates him. He says although his legs are "messed up", he's never thought of himself as disabled, preferring "differently-abled", taking the emphasis away from his disability.

"Someone upstairs decided I wouldn't be an Olympic runner. They made me a Tory MP instead," he says.

But even becoming a politician has its physical challenges and he says he has had to work twice as hard to get to where he is, on the way finding creative ways around some of the tasks expected of him.

During the lead-up to the recent general election, one innovation was to engage with potential voters from behind a roadside stall which he set up by the A414 in his constituency - to avoid door-to-door canvassing. He says this approach has been 10 times more successful than traditional methods.

"One lady dropped off a big box of cakes for me, and a van who had been driving past for days giving me the V-sign, stopped. I thought they were going to kill me or do something, but instead, they got out, tapped me on the back and wished me luck," he says.

Halfon has earned himself a reputation for being a dedicated campaigner: cutting fuel duty, restricting energy companies from making excessive profits and free parking at NHS hospitals are some of the issues he has tackled as a Conservative MP. In 2014 Chancellor George Osborne made him his Parliamentary Private Secretary.

Though positive discrimination policies can be used to help disabled people into jobs where representation is lacking, Halfon is opposed to them. He says if he thought any of his appointments were due to his disability, he would not have accepted them. And when challenged on the idea that benefits could be seen by some as being a form of positive discrimination - compensation for the extra costs of disability - Halfon rejects that definition. He takes the Conservative party's view that benefits are there to help and protect the elderly and most vulnerable, as well as to enable people to work if they are able.

Source BBC

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