The minister for disabled people has been accused of delaying action to support disabled people while “Rome is burning” because of her government’s reforms.
Maria Miller was answering questions about progress on her delayed disability strategy at a packed meeting of the all-party parliamentary disability group and several other disability-related all-party groups.
Two weeks ago, Disability News Service revealed that Miller had delayed the publication of the strategy for at least three months, with it now expected in September.
But Sue Bott, director of development for Disability Rights UK, told Miller at this week’s meeting that completion of her strategy “cannot come soon enough”.
She said: “Of course we know a lot of things take a long time to achieve and for disabled people Rome wasn’t built in a day, but our concern is that Rome is burning.”
Bott, who was speaking on behalf of a panel of disabled activists, added: “We are very concerned about the impact of reforms that are being announced day by day.
“Changes are happening very rapidly and the changes are not being looked at through the lens of disability.”
She said that she and the other campaigners on the panel believed the strategy should focus on issues such as the accessibility of the built environment and information, while they were very concerned about independent living and public transport.
Bott also raised concerns about the potential impact of the government’s “red tape challenge” on equality laws.
The disabled crossbench peer Lord [Colin] Low told Miller that he was “concerned that the government appears to be rowing back on the equality duty”, which plays a key role in ensuring public bodies do not discriminate against disabled people.
And he pointed to concerns that the government was downgrading the importance of the Equality Act’s codes of practice and seeing them as a “burden” when they have been shown to provide “great assistance” to organisations in meeting the needs of disabled people.
The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas raised concerns about the impact of local authority cuts on the delivery of the disability strategy.
Other disabled activists on the panel with Bott called on Miller to ensure the disability strategy addressed issues such as the need for a change in attitudes towards disabled people, for equality in healthcare provision, for improved communication support, and for better support for people with autistic spectrum disorders.
Miller said the government was “dealing with an exceptionally difficult financial situation”, and that the financial pressures in social care were “very real”, with councils having to make savings of three per cent a year.
She pointed to the £2 billion a year the government was giving local authorities to fund social care, but when asked by Baroness Thomas, Miller said she did not know if that money had been ring-fenced [it has not].
She claimed there was “absolutely no intention to row back on the equality duty at all”, and said the government was “trying to make sure it is implemented in a way that is going to work for all concerned”.
She added: “We are going to be keeping a careful eye on making sure local authorities and others know what is required of them under that particular duty.”
Miller said there had been a theme during the meeting of a need for “practical support”.
She said: “I have had a few conversations with people recently about the challenges… those sorts of practical ways that the government needs to raise its game to do things better that I want the strategy to focus on, so it is not just words.”
12 June 2012