The government’s Disability Unit has caused widespread anger after asking non-disabled people – in a survey that will influence its new disability strategy – if they would be “happy to have a physical relationship with a disabled person”.
Disabled campaigners described the question as “downright degrading”, “insulting”, “appalling” and even “low level eugenic thinking”.
The survey was launched on 15 January and the responses received up until the end of last week are supposed to be influencing the government’s national disability strategy, which is expected to be published this spring.
More than 14,000 people have so far completed the survey, which has already led to a series of disabled-led letters to ministers from disability organisations and allies, criticising it for being rushed, inaccessible, over-long and poorly-planned.
But the anger and frustration with the government’s approach hit new heights this week after the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire asked on Twitter: “Why is this question being asked in the government’s survey which will help formulate their National Strategy for Disabled People?”
One of the letters already sent to ministers to raise concerns about the survey came from Bristol Disability Equality Forum (BDEF) and National Federation of the Blind of the UK (NFB UK)*.
BDEF’s Laura Welti and Sarah Leadbetter, NFB UK’s national campaigns officer, spoke to the BBC about the relationships question and the wider concerns about the survey this week.
Leadbetter (pictured, centre) told Disability News Service (DNS) later that the question was “disgusting” and showed the government’s “disdain”.
She said: “It shows that they do not value disabled people in society.
“It seems a very odd question to put into something that’s going to set out a framework for years to come for disabled people.”
She said: “Why is that question being asked? It should not be there in the first place.
“What has this got to do with having support and having accessible transport and getting out and about after COVID and making lives better for disabled people?”
Leadbetter said the survey was not well structured and had “not been put together properly” and was “not checked properly”.
She said the flawed survey shows that “the government have made up their minds before they get all the results in and they don’t really want to change anything for disabled people”.
A member of one of the government’s own regional stakeholder networks, Sam Margrave (pictured, right), was another who said he was “disgusted” by the question.
He said on Twitter: “I feel sick. It’s made me cry. Sickening.”
He told DNS later that he believed the problems were caused by the failure to embed disabled people and their voices at the heart of government.
He said: “I am concerned that the questions weren’t developed by disabled people. That there don’t seem to be disabled people leading this work.
“It’s not enough to just speak to disabled people, not that that’s happening – we need disabled people to be employed in the civil service and have a seat at the top table.”
Among others responding on social media was disabled journalist, actor and presenter Adam Pearson (pictured, left), who told ministers he was “assuming this is an error that ‘slipped though the cracks’ and you don’t intend to use this low level eugenic thinking to inform your disability strategy”.
Disabled author and campaigner Dr Amit Patel said the question was “downright degrading for disabled people” and was “actively accentuating the them Vs us narrative of disabled Vs non-disabled”.
Another disabled campaigner, Jon Attenborough, said: “I have no confidence in the UK government delivering a National Strategy for Disabled People not least because of absolutely appalling, inappropriate questions like this in their national survey.”
And the grassroots disabled people’s organisation Bristol Reclaiming Independent Living described the survey as “inaccessible, intrusive, and unethical”.
A government spokesperson said: “We have already received over 14,500 insightful and informative responses to the UK Disability Survey, with each answer helping to shape the National Strategy for Disabled People.
“This survey is one part of our extensive engagement programme. We have used a number of methods to ensure views of disabled people are reflected in the National Strategy.
“This includes ongoing discussions with over 200 organisations through forums, workshops and cross-cutting groups, as we gather as wide a range of views as possible.”
Asked if the question on relationships had now been removed, he said: “The question on relationships has not been removed and as with all questions within the survey, was developed to ensure that we gather as wide a range of direct insight and lived experience from disabled people, carers and the general public as possible.”
*So far, 120 organisations have supported the letter, and others can add their support here
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…