End of the road for Equality 2025


theweeksubThe government has decided to scrap its high-level advice body of disabled people, Equality 2025, following an independent review.

It is the second disabled-led advice body to be told this week that it faces abolition, following the decision of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to over-rule an independent reviewer and recommend that its statutory disability committee should be disbanded.

Announcing the decision to abolish Equality 2025 in only two months’ time, the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) launched a three-month consultation to find a new way of providing that advice.

Although its nine members will end their terms in September, the chair, Rachel Perkins, will continue to advise the government on policy, strategy and arrangements for replacing Equality 2025, until her contract ends in March 2014.

ODI has made it clear that the replacement for Equality 2025 will not consist solely of disabled people, and will include input from people with “particular expertise on disability issues”.

This would mirror its earlier decision to sideline the Network of Networks, a collection of 12 disabled people’s organisations, and replace it with the Disability Action Alliance, which includes user-led and non-user-led members.

ODI said it wanted to replace Equality 2025 with a list of “expert advisors” to inform policy development across government, as well as a “forum” of 30-40 members, which will provide “engagement on priorities and strategic direction”.

The forum’s work will include “horizon scanning for important future issues which are likely to affect disabled people”, progress on the government’s Fulfilling Potential disability strategy, and implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Despite this huge increase in the number of people involved in giving advice, ODI said the annual budget would remain at about £80,000.

This suggests that none of those on the forum or the list of advisors will be paid anything more than expenses.

In its consultation document, ODI said it wanted to hear from a broader range of disabled people, including hard-to-reach groups; to “expand co-production and partnership working in all areas of strategy and policy”; and for Equality 2025’s replacement to be more open, transparent and flexible.

In the last year, Equality 2025 has given confidential advice to government departments across 47 policy areas.

But in his review of Equality 2025, Rich Watts recommended that it should be scrapped and replaced.

He said Equality 2025 was not able to provide strategic expert advice in all subject areas, while there was “a need to incorporate more lived experience expertise in policy development which is currently not being delivered”.

Watts, programme lead for mental health at the National Development Team for inclusion, said that engagement with government departments had been “patchy” and that any engagement there had been had often come as because of Perkins’ impressive reputation.

But he said there were “clear instances” in which Equality 2025 had provided “valuable confidential insight and advice”, although the “general view was that there isn’t sufficient strategic expertise across Equality 2025 to fulfil this role in all policy areas”.

He concluded: “Equality 2025 has an important function, but could have been more effective in delivering its functions.

“The role of chair of Equality 2025 has been effective and valued by all who had direct engagement with her, but engagement with the group as a whole has been patchy.”

18 July 2013