The new chair of the government’s advisory body of disabled people has pledged to ensure disability remains “at the top of the agenda” as public sector spending cuts begin to bite.
Dr Rachel Perkins said she was “delighted” to be appointed to chair Equality 2025, and said the advice body would need to “continually look at the implications for disabled people in all of the reforms”.
The clinical psychologist carried out a well-received review in 2009 for the Labour government on helping people with mental health conditions into work.
Last summer, she was Mind’s “champion of the year” in its mental health awards, and also received an OBE for services to mental health.
Perkins said the role of Equality 2025 was to examine the implications of policies for disabled people and “maybe suggest alternatives that are less damaging” and “ways that things could be changed”.
She added: “We do have to make sure that issues facing disabled people… remain at the forefront of people’s agenda.”
But she stressed that she did not believe that ministers in the coalition government were any more guilty of failing to recognise the implications of their policies on disabled people than those in previous governments.
When asked whether she had joined the TUC’s mass march and rally against the cuts, she said she had spent the weekend writing, away from London, although her partner had taken part.
But she added: “I would have been there if I had been in London. I do think there are concerns.”
Shortly afterwards, she added: “I don’t know whether I would have been there.”
She made it clear that Equality 2025 was now – following changes made last year which reduced membership from a maximum of 25 disabled people to just eight – a “strategic advisory group”, providing advice to ministers and senior officials “at the very early stages of policy development”.
She said it was no longer an “outward-facing” group that provided a “conduit” for disabled people to feed their opinions to the government.
And she repeated the views of her predecessor, Rowen Jade, who told Disability News Service last year – following criticism of the body’s low profile – that its advice to government had to remain private and confidential.
But Perkins added: “There is no way that Equality 2025 replaces the role of disabled people’s organisations. It has a different role and that is providing that early confidential advice that means it cannot be public.
“If you want impact on policy at that early stage it is confidential and… has to remain that way.”
Perkins pointed to the significance of someone living with a mental health condition securing such a prominent role and said she was “absolutely convinced” that the disability movement needed to encompass the “full range of disabled people”, which was “something I have been writing and speaking about for a long time”.
She also said that too much of the dialogue about mental health centred on “treatment and needs” rather than “rights and access”.
She said: “I really do feel the social model rights to citizenship is absolutely the way we have to look at people facing the full range of impairments.
“We have to help government to see that they have to look at the full range of our experiences.”
She also paid tribute to Rowen Jade, who was much mourned across the disability movement when she died last September.
She said Jade was “an amazing woman” and would be an “incredibly difficult act to follow”, but that she hoped to build on her work.
Perkins said her first task as chair was to work with her fellow members on a work plan for the next year, but she said she could not yet say what those priorities might be.
30 March 2011