Young, disabled and believed in

glasgow conference 2014I am young and partially sighted (registered blind so far as law is concerned). At times it can feel as if these factors make me fairly insignificant in economic and political society.

Factually, I have far less economic potential than my parents. What little savings are in my name have been scuppered to get through university. My peers and I face harsher economic prospects with less opportunity to buy and control our own destinies than our parents.

Politically, I am part of a demographic that isn’t valued or represented by the quintessential modern politician, who learning from trends set by 1980s Conservatives (and followed still by that party today) seeks victory based on cold statistics and media spin. It helps them win in a First Past The Post system, but that comes at cost of developing best policy for, including engagement with, and seeking to represent, young people. So many of us cannot vote for being too young, and by voting age not enough young people do vote. So we do not entice this winning obsessive type politician. The system is biased against the future generation, and broken.

Add to this disability. We are told that one in five people are disabled; but this means little. Different types of disability require equally different and personal solutions to overcome challenges which could exist in the worlds of work, rest, or play. When you spread out a fifth of the population, with different challenges, who may not all even define as disabled, then it makes a poor cohesive group or voter demographic to easily engage with, campaign to or on behalf of.

Economic participation of the sight loss community can feel even grimmer. Two thirds of people registered blind are out of work and rely on social security to live. Everything I do is part of a fight, to be in that better off third, and make that third bigger.

I refuse to see myself, young people, or those with sight loss or any other disability, in negative and heartless frames of reference. But to all too many people, or at least the institutions they give their names to, it can feel as if this is what we all are.

So now for the positive bit. Yes, this article isn’t a miserable rant. I was just setting you up.

I fell for and later joined the Liberal Democrats because we do not represent the status quo. First Past The Post doesn’t keep us in power, and we do not have auto-enrol trade unions, media groups or business lobbyists that give us influence. Liberal Democrats work in, with, and stand for the people and communities which make us up, who we seek to represent and make life better for.

I chose to write this article about being young and disabled because it is those two factors which have been identified, not negatively, but positively, by the Liberal Democrats, in the party targeting funding – limited after our general election result last year – to help the likes of me attend and shape our Autumn Conference in Brighton. The Liberal Democrats want the likes of me to become skilled and experienced, to help empower our local, young, disabled, and any other sorts of communities in politics come future campaigns and elections.

Rather than charging extra for conferences to makeup for finite party resources, the party instead asks members to donate to our Conference Access Fund. This fund is helping me afford travel from Glasgow to accommodation in Brighton they are helping me afford.

What am I going to do there? Sightsee, drink, sulk in the misery of being young and blind? Well, maybe the first two – just with new liberal friends, after we have networked, debated motions, and learnt together, in the great training programme on offer at conference.

The Liberal Democrats believe in me. I believe in the #LibDemFightback. With more wonderful members old and new, coming and helped to come to Brighton, we can embody and represent more of our British communities, to built a Britain open to all of us and which facilitates our successes in life.

Thank you to all who are part of the #LibDemFightback, and especially those supporting the Conference Access Fund. I look forward to being amongst the third of registered blind people in work, and alongside making that third bigger, will be paying back into the fund to help our next generation of members!

Editor’s Note: If, like Matthew, you could benefit from the Conference Access Fund, you can apply here.

* Matthew Clark is beginning his senior honours year in History and Business Management at the University of Glasgow. He is Treasurer of the Glasgow University Liberal Democrats and an ordinary member of the North Glasgow local party executive. He is partially sighted and works with various sight loss charities, including campaigning with RNIB Scotland, and being a trustee of VICTA, who support young people and their families effected by sight loss across the UK. He has also volunteered with Citizens Advice and been a leader in his university Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Group.

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 31st Aug '16 - 2:01pm

    Matthew ,

    Oh, I think ,actually ,you are mature , able , and unbelievable ! Yet I , yes ,indeed and this party, must and do believe in you ! You are a credit to yourself , your values , our party and its values. Never give up the enthusiasm you so eloquently and marvellously express. I am young middle aged and have been through a lot , it is people like you help me get younger as we all get older !

  • David Garlick 1st Sep '16 - 10:51am

    Thanks Matthew for this shot in the arm and congratulations for grabbing life by the scruff of the neck and making a success of it. Something many of fail to do.

  • Stevan Rose 1st Sep '16 - 11:01pm

    Good on you Matthew, enjoy the Conference!

  • Matthew Clark 5th Sep '16 - 11:33pm

    Thank you for your kind and encouraging comments here. It means a lot to be part of a party that believes in people first and foremostly. Look forward to us doing more of that and meeting some of you at conference.

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