The launch of a government review has raised fears that ministers are planning to replace their advisory network of disabled people with a controversial new “alliance” of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) charities, service-providers and private sector organisations.
The new Conservative minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, quietly announced a review into the role of Equality 2025 this week.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) insisted that the review – which is set to be completed next spring – was “normal practice” and took place every three years, with the previous one completed in 2009.
But McVey also told MPs that the review would ask whether the “purposes for which Equality 2025 were established are still necessary”, and whether its “services” were still “appropriate, adequate and effective”.
If the review concludes that it should not be scrapped, it will suggest how its performance should be “enhanced and improved”, she said.
The timing of McVey’s statement has raised concerns, coming only a month after her department announced a new alliance of DPOs, charities, and private and public sector organisations, which will be asked to produce new disability policies for the coalition.
The new Disability Action Alliance (DAA) will be led by Disability Rights UK (DR UK), a decision which caused anger across the disability movement, amid allegations that the appointment had taken place “behind closed doors”, that DR UK was too close to the government, and that DAA would represent the views and interests of big business and service-providers.
Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Ciuncil, said he was not sure how “effective” Equality 2025 had been, but he believed the government was “preparing the ground” for it to be replaced by DR UK and the new alliance.
He said: “I think they are preparing DR UK to play a much greater role in working with the government and the Office for Disability Issues to promote the disability rights agenda.
“I think DAA will just become an extension, the working arm, of DR UK.
“I would not be surprised at all if they decided to remove Equality 2025 and put DAA in its place.”
Equality 2025 was set up six years ago to advise the then Labour government on achieving equality for disabled people by 2025.
It has in the past faced accusations from within the disability movement that it lacked a high enough profile and had failed to communicate its work, although its members insist that the vital advice they give ministers has to remain confidential.
Following changes made in 2010, which reduced its membership from a maximum of 25 disabled people to just eight, Equality 2025 became a “high-level” advisory group, but is still supposed to provide advice to ministers and senior officials at the early stages of policy development.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “It’s normal practice for government departments to review non departmental public bodies like Equality 2025 every three years. Equality 2025 was last reviewed in 2009 so this is just part of the regular process.”
She said there had been “no suggestion” that the government was considering replacing Equality 2025 with DAA.
25 October 2012