Last month’s two-day meeting of Equality 2025, originally scheduled for 19 and 20 March, was cancelled, because the government could only find two items to put on the agenda – only a couple of months after a report into the network’s future was handed to ministers.
Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council, said she was “amazed” and “very concerned” that the government would cancel a meeting of its disabled advisers just days before the implementation of many of its sweeping welfare reforms.
She said: “How can they not talk about it? There isn’t an aspect of life [for disabled people] that isn’t being affected by this. They surely should be talking about these things.”
There are concerns that the coalition plans to replace the network – whose members are all disabled people – with the new Disability Action Alliance (DAA).
Equality 2025 was set up in 2006 to advise the Labour government on achieving equality for disabled people by 2025.
It has in the past faced accusations from within the disability movement that it lacks a high enough profile, but its members insist that the vital advice they give ministers has to remain confidential.
Its membership was cut from a maximum of 25 disabled people to just eight in 2010, when it became a “high-level” advisory group, but it is still supposed to provide advice to ministers and senior officials at the early stages of policy development.
The membership of Equality 2025 contrasts with DAA, which includes representatives of disability charities, service-providers and private sector organisations, as well as some disabled people’s organisations.
The government has so far refused to publish a list of DAA members, although it boasted last week that membership had reached 100.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) insists that the review of Equality 2025 is “normal practice”, with such reviews taking place every three years, and the previous one completed in 2009.
But Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, warned MPs last year that the review would be asking whether the “purposes for which Equality 2025 were established are still necessary”.
The review – announced only a month after DWP revealed that it was setting up DAA – was carried out by Rich Watts, who until last month was working part-time with the government’s Office for Disability Issues to lead its Strengthening Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations programme.
Watts has confirmed that he handed the final version of his report to DWP in January.
Newman said abolishing Equality 2025 would be a “critical change”, and pointed out that the coalition had already scrapped two advisory groups of disabled people on the basis that their roles were being fulfilled by Equality 2025.
She questioned where the government would go for policy advice from disabled people without Equality 2025, and whether the lack of such advice could lead to it breaching its legal equality duties to carry out proper consultation.
When asked whether the cancellation of last month’s meeting suggested that the government was planning to scrap Equality 2025, Rachel Perkins, its chair, said she was “not able to comment”.
But a DWP spokeswoman said: “The March meeting was due to take place on 20th March, but did not go ahead as there were only two items for the agenda.
“It was not cost effective to bring members from all around the country to discuss just two items and they were both dealt with by email.”
She added: “The review is still being finalised and the results will be published once this has concluded. We can’t comment further on the review as it has not been completed.”
11 April 2013