The government should rethink the decision to scrap its accessible transport advice body and even set up similar committees in other departments, according to a disabled peer.
Lord [Colin] Low said the Department for Transport (DfT) had “lost its focus” on disability issues, and abolishing the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) would be a further backward step.
He told fellow peers that DPTAC was one of the first such bodies representing disabled people in which at least half of its members had to be disabled themselves, and that it had won over senior figures in the transport sector.
During discussion of the public bodies bill – which will give ministers powers to scrap organisations like DPTAC – Lord Low also called on the government to rethink its plans to abolish the Disability Living Allowance Advisory Board.
He said the board would have saved government “red faces” over the much-criticised plans to remove the mobility component of disability living allowance (DLA) from most people in residential care.
He added: “Axing the body risks undermining the government’s ability to understand the benefit and provides ammunition to those who suggest that the government’s plans are unfair.”
The Labour peer Lord McKenzie said the government seemed to want to abolish DPTAC because it “has a degree of independence and takes forward areas of work that reflect its own priorities and not necessarily those of the government”.
And he questioned how the government could now ensure that disabled people’s voices were not “drowned out by those of transport providers”.
Other peers also called on the government to reprieve the two disability bodies.
But Lord Freud, the Conservative welfare reform minister, said he could “see no circumstances in which this would be desirable” because they “no longer reflect the world in which they operate”.
He said the DLA board had not been asked by the government to provide advice since November 2008 and had “outlived its useful life”.
He said that Equality 2025, the government’s advisory network of disabled people, was “well placed to provide personal insight into the effects of policy initiatives”, while the Office for Disability Issues now organises “a much wider range of channels from disabled people’s organisations and groups”.
But he admitted that abolishing the DLA Advisory Board would not save any money.
Lord Freud said access to transport had been “transformed” over the last 25 years, while disability equality was now a “core element” of the DfT’s work.
He said there would be a consultation on how to replace DPTAC “in the coming months”.
12 January 2011