The country’s most influential disabled people’s organisation (DPO) has insisted that its survival is not at risk, despite being forced to make several staff redundant, including one of its most high-profile campaigning voices.
Disability Rights UK was only formed last January from a merger between RADAR, the National Centre for Independent Living and Disability Alliance.
But it admitted this week that one of its six directors, Neil Coyle, has been made redundant – although he will stay in post until April – while another, Mark Shrimpton, will move to a part-time role. Two other members of staff will also lose their jobs, leaving a core of about 30 staff.
Disability Rights UK (DR UK) said that it was “operating in a very tough economic environment”, in which many DPOs faced “major funding challenges”.
The organisation has had a mixed first year.
It has made a number of significant campaigning contributions, including helping to lead the Hardest Hit alliance and influencing the government in key policy areas, and has provided services such as helplines and online information for disabled people.
But it has also faced criticism for convening the government’s new Disability Action Alliance, and helping the outsourcing giant Capita win a lucrative disability assessment contract.
Liz Sayce, Disability Rights UK’s chief executive, has continued to face attacks from some disabled activists over a report she wrote for the government in 2011 that recommended ending government support for the remaining Remploy sheltered factories, and closing those factories which were “not viable”.
Coyle, who has built an impressive campaigning reputation on disability rights through his work for the Disability Rights Commission, Disability Alliance and DR UK, said there was “huge financial pressure on DR UK”, which had not delivered on its “high expectations for fundraising” in its first year.
He told Disability News Service that he had some concerns about the impact of the cutbacks, and that it was “a massive shame” that some potential projects DR UK had been developing would now have to be dropped, including one he was working on to measure the cumulative impact of the government’s cuts and reforms on disabled people.
He said: “The challenge is to make sure we are as able to campaign, as influential and maintain a high profile and deliver for our members.”
When asked whether there was a threat to the future of Disability Rights UK, he said: “It is a tough environment for everyone. We need to run a very tight ship.”
Sayce insisted that DR UK’s survival was not at risk, and it would continue to have a “high policy and campaigning profile”.
She said: “Everybody in the charitable sector would say it is tough. I would much rather not have to lose posts, but we have tightened up our structure in order to be sustainable.
“One of the things we are doing is building income streams of our own that are not dependent on short-term project grants.”
One of these is providing disability rights expertise to the equality advice helpline formerly run by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, but she said such outside work would have to be “absolutely to the benefit of disabled people”.
She pointed to DR UK’s successes in its first year, with more than half a million people using the “unrivalled” information on its website, across benefits, independent living, education and apprenticeships, while more than 7,000 people had used its helplines.
And she said it had recruited a new board of “diverse people with lived experience of mental and physical health conditions and impairments”, set up new projects to provide better opportunities for apprenticeships and support to use personal budgets, published new guides, and influenced policy change in areas such as social care, changes to the personal independence payment (PIP) and improvements to the Access to Work scheme.
She praised Coyle’s “tremendous achievements” in “raising the profile of disability rights and influencing policy, particularly on welfare reform”, and his “significant track record in working to break the link between disability and poverty”.
Coyle added: “In just one year I am pleased to have sustained pressure to improve PIP plans, ensured the negative press portrayal of disabled people is highlighted and tackled, and involved over 5,000 people in our policy and campaigns achievements.”
17 January 2013