The UK’s leading disabled people’s organisation has issued an election-time call for disabled people to challenge would-be MPs over the issues the political parties are ignoring.
In a manifesto that focuses on the continuing fight for disabled people’s rights, the UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) says there has been progress over the last two decades with some “good policies and laws”.
But it says that poor implementation and enforcement mean the reality of disabled people’s lives is still one of “inequality, poverty, isolation, abuse and individual and institutional discrimination”.
The document includes key areas ignored by political parties in their general election manifestos, such as the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the need for government to recognise the importance of strong, representative disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).
Jaspal Dhani, UKDPC’s chief executive, said the manifesto recognised there had been positive policies around disability discrimination, education, independent living and personalisation.
But he said that in too many areas – such as support for disabled pupils to attend mainstream schools, healthcare, and the failure to recognise disability hate crime and take it into account in sentencing – implementation and enforcement of policies have been missing.
The manifesto will be sent to political parties, but Dhani said UKDPC also hoped that DPOs would use it to challenge parliamentary candidates in the run-up to the general election.
The manifesto calls for disability to be higher up the political agenda, with the minister for disabled people again becoming a minister of state.
Dhani said disability was “still the poor relation” when compared with race, gender and sexuality, while the minister for disabled people “does not have a great deal of influence”.
He said a report by the UN high commissioner for human rights made it clear that government bodies such as the Office for Disability Issues should sit at the heart of government.
The UKDPC manifesto calls on the government to withdraw the “reservations” it made in signing up to the UN convention, and to “fully support” the involvement of DPOs in monitoring how the convention is implemented in the UK.
The manifesto also calls for the importance of DPOs to be recognized and for them to be financially supported.
Dhani warned that many councils were now withdrawing funding from DPOs to set up new “user-led organisations” (ULOs), which often include older people and carers, in order to meet the government’s target of a ULO in every area by 2010.
He said the government’s intention had been to strengthen the disability sector, but the more “generic” interpretation in many areas was “destroying the disability movement” and was becoming “a real threat to disabled people’s voice”.
The manifesto also accuses the criminal justice system of failing to treat disabled people as “full human beings” with the same rights – including the right to life – as non-disabled people.
Dhani pointed to the “stereotypes and prejudices” around the assisted suicide debate, which mean disabled people’s lives are often “not seen as worth living”.
The manifesto also says that no disabled person should be forced into residential care without their consent, and calls for a national system of assessments of need and “appropriately funded” support.
Dhani said there was still a greater chance of a disabled person ending up in residential care than receiving support services to live in the community.
There is also a call for a new criminal offence of disability hate crime, to be accorded the “same level of weight” as existing laws on race hate crime.
And there is strong backing for disabled children to receive the necessary support for independent living, their communication needs and inclusive education.
Dhani said UKDPC opposed the Conservative manifesto’s pledge for a “moratorium on the ideologically-driven closure of special schools”, and he called on the government to continue closing and not opening new special schools.
He said: “Education is not just about the accumulation of qualifications. It is about valuing people and people growing up together.”
15 April 2010