The national, user-led organisation representing disabled people in Wales could be forced to close in less than four months’ time, after the Welsh government refused its latest funding application.
Disability Wales (DW) is set to lose more than two-thirds of its income, just two months after the Welsh minister for health and social services paid a series of glowing tributes to its work.
The organisation – the national association of disabled people’s organisations in Wales – has received core government funding since 1972.
But last year the Labour-run Welsh government decided to replace four funding schemes with a new grant programme aimed at delivery of social care services – the sustainable social services third sector grant scheme – which does not offer core funding.
DW submitted a request for project funding under the new scheme, but even that was turned down.
Even if DW manages to stay open, it is likely to lose nine members of staff because of the cut to its revenue.
Supporters of Disability Wales reacted with horror on social media, describing the threat of closure as “seriously bad news for disability rights in Wales” and “devastating”, while one tweeted: “The thought of Wales without DW – shocking is too mild a word for this news.”
Rhian Davies (pictured), DW’s chief executive, said the previous core government funding had enabled it to influence policy on issues such as independent living, disability hate crime and high street access, and provide information and support to disabled people’s organisations across Wales.
She said DW was in negotiations with the Welsh government over a possible short-term support package, but she said it needed “an urgent response and time is limited as we approach Christmas and the end of the financial year”.
She added: “After more than 40 years as a national voice, DW has less than four months to ensure its survival.”
Only two months ago, Professor Mark Drakeford, the Welsh minister for health and social services, paid tribute to DW’s work at its annual conference.
Drakeford even praised the “sense of closeness” between government and civil society in Wales, and boasted that “nothing about us without us” did not exist in the rest of the UK in the same way that it did in Wales.
He praised the organisation’s work on the new Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act, and said it was “right at the heart” of the “fantastically exciting work” to create citizen directed co-operatives in Wales.
And he said the government would “rely on Disability Wales as well to deliver training to local authorities across Wales” on the UN disability convention, so that decisions made under the new act “will be properly informed by the due regard duties that the act now places on the shoulders of our local authorities”.
Wendy Ashton, chair of Disability Wales, said: “Losing the core grant from Welsh government is a devastating blow, particularly at a time when disabled people, who make up one fifth of the Welsh population, are experiencing cuts both to benefits and services.”
Disabled activist Simon Green, chair of Bridgend Coalition of Disabled People and a member of Disability Wales, said: “Without Disability Wales there will be no national, representative, pan-impairment, barriers-focussed body able to co-ordinate the views of disabled people and their organisations across Wales.
“I think it will have a massive impact not just on Disability Wales but all the groups it represents, including Bridgend Coalition of Disabled People.
“Bridgend Coalition have benefited from being a member of Disability Wales for many years and if it wasn’t for Disability Wales we probably wouldn’t exist.”
A Welsh government spokesman said in a statement: “We are working with Disability Wales to see how we can assist the organisation to manage the change to funding and to secure a sustainable future.
“This is a difficult time for all in the public and voluntary sectors as we cope with reduced budgets.”
Asked how the Welsh government justified suddenly withdrawing funding from DW after 40 years of support from UK and Welsh governments, he said: “They didn’t qualify for core funding under the scheme, that is the long and short of it.
“I don’t have anything else to say. Whatever they had before is neither here nor there.”
Asked why he would not answer any further questions about the grant, he said: “I have given you a statement. I don’t have to give you anything else.”
Picture by Natasha Hirst Photography