A local authority has been heavily criticised for introducing new ways of consulting on disability issues that will exclude most disabled people from taking part.
East Riding of Yorkshire Council previously ran a disability advisory and monitoring group (DAMG) which allowed disability groups and disabled campaigners to pass on their views about issues of concern.
But following a review the council – which ran the group alongside the local clinical commissioning group and NHS trust – has now scrapped DAMG and replaced it with a new group that will allow only official representatives of disability organisations to attend.
As nearly all of those organisations are not user-led organisations, there are concerns that the new disability advisory group (DAG) will exclude many disabled people from making their views known to the three public bodies.
The list of organisations invited to the first meeting appear to show that as few as two of 32 of them are disabled people’s user-led organisations, while about half are national disability charities.
Catherine Scarlett (pictured), a disabled activist who lives in the area and previously attended DAMG meetings, said she was appalled by the changes, and believed the council had wanted to stop her and other disabled people raising their concerns about the barriers they faced in accessing council and NHS services.
She said: “People like me believe passionately in self-advocacy and are perfectly able to know what should be happening, what the barriers are that we face, and what solutions can be effective in removing them.
“I was absolutely horrified that we are now being excluded and don’t even have any mechanism for bringing problems forward for consultation.
“It seems to be an incredibly regressive step to move from consulting with disabled people to deciding that other people are better placed to speak for us – it is like going back into the Dark Ages.”
In an email to two of her local councillors, Scarlett said: “The council have a duty under the public sector equality duty of the Equality Act 2010 to consult with disabled people – not able-bodied representatives of disability organisations but actual disabled people!
“You wouldn’t have a group sorting out women’s issues that was only populated by men so it is not acceptable for able-bodied people to speak for disabled people.”
Mark Baggley, a direct payments worker with Choices and Rights Disability Coalition, which is based in Hull but also covers the East Riding area, said his organisation was “concerned” about the council’s plans.
He said the coalition, a user-led disabled people’s organisation, was only notified about the decision to replace DAMG with DAG last week, and will now discuss whether it will take part in the new set-up.
Baggley said there were very few user-led groups in the East Riding area, and added: “We are concerned about it. These people have been involved. Why suddenly exclude them?
“Some disabled people have put a lot of input, a lot of time, into it. I think it’s quite insulting to exclude them.”
He said East Riding council had never supported or funded the coalition, which was funded mostly by Hull City Council.
East Riding council has been unable to say how many of the groups being invited to DAG are run and controlled by disabled people.
A council spokesman said: “The council rejects the suggestion that the creation of DAG is due to criticism of the authority or its partners; far from it.
“The council continues to welcome all forms of feedback, including that which is critical, as this can help both the council and its partners to identify areas for improvement.
“The main driver behind the change was that we were often hearing individual issues facing the members of DAMG, but had no way of knowing if these issues were experienced by others or if they were particular to that person’s situation.
“By creating a strategic level group, we will hear the voices of many and can see overarching trends and issues facing people.
“For individual concerns, the partner organisations all have methods for reporting concerns or complaints and the most direct and easiest route for individuals to raise concerns is through their councillor.”
He said that DAG’s “effectiveness” would be monitored “to ensure that we are hearing the voices of those effected by service changes and emerging trends at both a local and national level”, while its membership would “evolve through a continual search for representative organisations” and any groups that were not represented.
He claimed that DAG would “strengthen” the council’s commitment to the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty, “particularly its ‘duty of enquiry’, which requires public authorities to have an adequate evidence base for their decision making”.