Post date: 
Thursday, 12 April 2018
Marsha de Cordava, MP, asking her first question in Parliament

Marsha de Cordova is the Labour Shadow Minister for Disabled People and is registered blind. Between meetings with constituents and colleagues, Marsha spoke to Connect about why she wants more blind people working in politics.

No two days are the same for any MP, but not least for Marsha de Cordova, who is the representative for Battersea in south London. “Depending on what the business of that day is, my day can be pretty varied. I could be attending meetings and events, and also be in the Chamber,” Marsha explained.

“I go through the Order Paper (a daily list of the business of the House of Commons) with my staff and then look at what questions I want to submit to different departments, or if there is an urgent question (UQ) I want to put in.”
Earlier this year, the government decided to review the current caseload of 1.6 million claimants currently in receipt of Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Marsha asked an UQ following the announcement of the review seeking clarity as to what this would mean. She sought to understand how many people would see an increase, and a guarantee that no one would see their benefit reduced as a result of the review.
“On that particular day, I had to get myself prepared for my question, get my speech written, and ensure that I was prepared for the question when it came up in the Chamber. You don’t always get granted urgent questions as it has to be a really pressing issue,” Marsha said. “The previous evening I had been on the News at Ten talking about PIP and also on Newsnight. It was quite exciting.”

Job satisfaction

Before becoming a Labour MP, Marsha was the Engagement and Advocacy Director at Thomas Pocklington Trust and also worked for Action for Blind People.
“Throughout my career I’ve always tried to be an advocate for people who do not have a voice, particularly as a strong disability rights campaigner. I continue to do that as an MP as well,” Marsha said. “I feel lucky that I have the opportunity to serve the people of Battersea, and also be a voice for disabled people in Parliament.

“We’ve got a long way to go in terms of representation of disabled members of Parliament. There are not many of us and there needs to be more. That goes for needing more black, Asian and ethnic minority MPs as well.”

Navigating Westminster

The Palace of Westminster was built in the middle of the 19th century and as such is not an accessible building.
“One of my bugbears about my office being in the Palace is the lighting is fairly poor in this part of the estate. But it is a great, historic building, and it’s a pleasure and an honour to call this my place of work. Hopefully as part of the restoration process of the Palace, they will look at all issues of accessibility as part of the whole process.”

Adaptions for work

All of Marsha’s papers have to be produced in large print so she can read them. When it comes to external bodies launching reports, Marsha has experienced delays in getting her documents in large print, including the budget paper.
In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, Marsha explained she needed to give a parliamentary response to the government’s proposals for its new work and health programme. But Marsha’s large print version didn’t reach her office until late evening, long after the issue had been debated.
“In all my jobs, I have had reasonable adjustments and adaptations made. For example in my current role, I have a sighted assistant who is pretty much my eyes. They help me get around, navigating the building, and at external meetings and events.
“I’m pleased to say now they are sending me things on time, which is good.”

Entering politics

“I want to encourage every visually impaired person to get involved in politics. Whether it’s getting involved locally, or becoming an MP or local counsellor, they should definitely do it,” Marsha said.

“Sometimes you may have to be the first person to do something to actually break down barriers and open up access to political parties. I had to educate people when I first got politically engaged all those years ago. This will help ensure that disabled people coming behind us then don’t have to face the same barriers.

“As a disabled woman, I feel a weight of responsibility because I’m here representing many millions of disabled people. I just want to make sure that I serve and do my very best to represent their voices.”
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of Connect Magazine.

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