Government ‘must treat disability as priority’ in international aid


A government department has been heavily criticised for ignoring the needs of disabled people in developing countries.

Disabled campaigners and MPs accused the Department for International Development (DfID) of failing to treat disability as a priority when deciding funding for projects.

They were speaking at an event held to raise awareness of disability and education issues in low-income countries, organised by the all-party parliamentary groups on global education for all and on disability.

The disabled Labour MP David Blunkett, who chaired the meeting, said he was concerned that a £500 million-a-year cut in the UK’s spending on aid by 2014-15 – announced earlier that day by the chancellor, George Osborne – should not impact “on those disabled children already excluded from life and education”.

Malcolm Bruce, the Liberal Democrat MP and chair of the international development select committee, said the funding cut was “clearly disturbing”.

He said it was “impossible to deny” that disability was “clearly not being addressed as a priority by the department, if at all”, and he pledged to challenge DfID on the issue.

He added: “My committee and the department I monitor have really not stepped up to the plate as they should have done. I believe we can do, should do, more.”

He also said the UK should be challenging the United Nations, and its member countries, to ensure that the rights of disabled people are “explicitly and specifically” included in the targets that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after 2015.

The eight MDGs were adopted in 2000 at a UN conference in a bid to combat extreme poverty across the world.

Blunkett added: “I want to echo how disappointing it was that the MDGs didn’t include specifically issues relating to disability.”

Ivan Lewis, the shadow international development secretary, who was a DfID minister in the Labour government, said: “Quite clearly when I raised the issue of disability [I was told] ‘really nice to have, but not one of our priorities’. That was said time and time again, and I don’t think that has changed.”

Saghir Alam, chair of the UK disability and development charity ADD International (ADDI), said: “It is important to make sure we hold DfID to account. DfID needs to mainstream disability and promote the social model of disability, which at the moment doesn’t happen.”

The Paralympian Anne Wafula Strike, who was born and educated in Kenya, told the meeting how her determination to secure an education, with her father’s support, had enabled her to rise above the discrimination she had faced.

She said: “Being an African woman with a disability, you amount to nothing. Giving me education was giving me a magical key that opens so many doors. When I was growing up, I didn’t want sympathy, I wanted opportunity.”

Wafula Strike represented Kenya at the Paralympics in Athens in 2004, but now competes for Britain and hopes to be part of the ParalympicsGB team at London 2012.

A DfID spokeswoman said it supported disabled people “through a variety of means”, including its country programmes and multilateral support such as UNICEF.

She also pointed to support provided through the Global Poverty Action Fund, Comic Relief, and DfID’s work with ADDI to support disabled people in Africa and Asia to challenge discrimination, and with the charity Sightsavers to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people.

She said DFID also provided funding to the Disability Rights Fund, which supports disabled people’s organisations in the global south and eastern Europe to advocate for disabled people’s human rights.

1 December 2011