Disabled campaigners have raised concerns about a new disability policy thinktank that describes itself as “independent”, despite strong links to the Conservative party.
The Disability Policy Centre says it is “dedicated to the improvement of public services and policy reform” and wants to “find practical solutions to change the lives of disabled people for good”.
But it describes itself as an “independent thinktank” even though all three of its directors have close ties to the Conservative party.
This week, it refused to disclose the source of its funding, despite several requests for it to do so on social media, and from Disability News Service (DNS).
It also removed the publications page from its website after one disabled campaigner pointed out that the only links on the page were to articles published on the Conservative Home website.
Two of its three directors are either current or former employees of the Conservative party, while the third has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to the party.
One of the directors is Celia Hensman, former manager of Richmond Park and North Kingston Conservatives, and political editor of the Conservative Disability Group.
Another is Chloe Schendel-Wilson, a freelance political consultant and until recently head of outreach for the Conservative party, who also manages campaigns for Epsom and Ewell Conservative Association.
The third director is Mustafa Tariq Mohammed, whose company Genix Healthcare runs a string of dental clinics, and who donated more than £400,000 to the Conservative party between 2013 and 2019, either personally or through companies he controls.
Pauline Castres, a disabled activist and policy expert on disability, climate and global health, questioned how “a think tank run by people so close to the Conservative party (one still employed by it, one recently employed by it, and another one being a major donor to the Conservative party)” could provide independent advice.
She said: “Policy is constantly infiltrated by politics, even when there isn’t a direct connection.
“Disabled people deserve a truly independent policy think tank that will create real and lasting pressure on policy-makers, and won’t shy away from hard conversations because it rocks the party policy lines.”
She said that a truly independent think tank reviewing existing disability legislation and policy frameworks was “urgently needed, especially after the many warnings the UK government received from the UN… and after the ONS reported that 60 per cent of COVID deaths were disabled people”.
Disabled campaigner and consultant James Lee, one of the first to raise concerns about the independence of the thinktank, said: “Disabled people and our organisations have fought to build relationships with policy makers and legislators in order to share hard truths and have difficult conversations about the devastating impact of the actions (or lack of action) taken by the government.
“My fear is that this think tank will do more harm than good for disabled people by offering the government an alternative to those difficult conversations: sanitised, sugar-coated consultation and participation of disabled people that doesn’t rock the party-political boat.”
Hensman had refused by noon today (Thursday) to answer questions from DNS about the new thinktank, where its funding comes from, and how it can be described as independent when it is so closely connected to the Conservative party.
Genix did not respond to attempts by DNS to contact Mohammed.
Picture: Chloe Schendel-Wilson (left) and Celia Hensman
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…