Government’s ‘unwieldy’ plan for disability advice is ‘cynical effrontery’


newslatestA government plan to replace its high-level committee of disabled advisors with three new advice bodies has been described by a veteran disabled activist as “unwieldy, complicated and probably inaccessible to grassroots disabled people’s organisations”.

The government this week published details of two of the new bodies that will replace Equality 2025, which was scrapped last year.

The Fulfilling Potential Forum (FPF) and the Fulfilling Potential Policy Advice Service (FPPAS) are set to begin work by April, joining the Disability Action Alliance (DAA), which was set up last year.

Mike Penning, the Conservative minister for disabled people, said he wanted to “strengthen and broaden input to policy and strategy development from the lived experience of disabled people”, and also receive advice from people with “particular expertise on disability issues”.

But Anne Rae, chair of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said the framework the government had come up with was “unwieldy, complicated and probably inaccessible to grassroots disabled people’s organisations (DPOs)”.

She said: “Just as we (DPOs) don’t have the time, due to massive core funding cuts leading to cuts in the working hours of key staff, to attend networking events set up by the Office for Disability Issues, we will not find putting time in for long days away high up on our agendas.”

She said the government’s “cynical effrontery” was “staggering” in publishing a “positive plan to address the issues facing disabled people and their families, whilst steadily and ruthlessly rooting out and destroying all the positive gains made over the last 40 years”.

Rae’s views are likely to carry weight in the disabled people’s movement, as a former member of the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS), which is often credited with giving birth to the social model of disability in the 1970s.

Details of how FPF and FPPAS will operate came in the government’s response to a consultation on its plans for replacing Equality 2025.

The government claimed that the 26 formal responses to the consultation were “supportive” of its plans, while about two-thirds indicated a need for “real lived experiences” to be part of the criteria for choosing the membership of any forum or list of experts.

There will be four meetings a year of FPF – which will be run by the Department for Work and Pensions “in collaboration” with the Department of Health – with the first expected in April.

The forum’s task will be to examine strategy across government, and provide a “community-based route into Government” and a “route out to local disabled people”.

It will also identify issues that should be passed to DAA and FPPAS, as well as to existing government groups, such as the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee.

Many responses to the consultation called for FPF to be composed “predominantly of disabled people”. The government said the 30-40 unpaid members will be drawn from “a very wide range of disability organisations”, with the majority representing user-led groups.

In contrast with Equality 2025, where the advice given to ministers remained strictly confidential, the forum’s meetings will be run under the Chatham House Rule – where information can be shared after a meeting, as long as its source is not revealed – in order to “encourage openness and the sharing of views and information”.

Members of FPPAS will be “disability expert advisors” who provide “high-quality input to Government policy development and implementation”, but their advice will be “independent and impartial”.

The administration of the advice service will be contracted out, both to save money and so that it can be seen as “more independent and credible”.

Although the expert advisors will be paid, the government has allocated just £80,000 a year to running FPF, FPPAS and DAA.

DAA already has more than 200 member organisations, but they are overwhelmingly not user-led. Its aim is to “identify and deliver actions that make a difference to the lives of disabled people”.

Rae was dismissive of the government’s plan for replacing Equality 2025.

She said: “It is incredibly difficult to understand how a coherent meeting, let alone an agreement on a way forward, can possibly emerge from this melting pot.”

And she said she was concerned that the government viewed user-led organisations – which were often run as businesses and service-providers, with a slim majority of disabled people in charge, and lacked a representative mandate – as “horses from the same stable” as DPOs.

She said DPOs – in contrast to user-led organisations – were membership-based, and “campaign in the locality with and for disabled people, monitor service provision, and nurture young disabled people, practically and politically into early adulthood”.

Rae said that GMCDP had now decided that it was “unproductive” to continue to spend time responding to government consultations.

Instead, it will set its own agenda on disability issues, and “require this, or any other government, to respond to our proposals”.

23 January 2014