Disabled people’s organisations have sketched out a 10-year plan – at a cost of up to £18 million – to tackle the “deep and persistent” inequality, marginalisation and discrimination that is blighting the lives of millions of disabled people.
A new report, built on research by eight regional disabled people’s organisations* (DPOs), says that this “very significant” level of funding – of between £10 million and £18 million over the next decade – is needed to build an “independent, sustainable, powerful” network of regional DPOs in England.
An initial application for £5 million in funding has already been submitted to the National Lottery Community Fund’s Growing Great Ideas programme.
The report – Understanding the Needs of Disabled People’s Organisations in England – warns that DPOs across England are in an “increasingly precarious situation”, with many existing “hand to mouth” with “little ability to carry out long term planning or invest in staff and service development”.
Many DPOs have closed or lost funding, says the report, mostly due to austerity cuts “passed down from central government to Local Authorities”, while “demand and need” for their services is increasing among disabled people “hit by a combination of structural inequality, rising poverty and Covid-19”.
The report includes the results of a survey of more than 100 DPOs, believed to be more than a quarter of those currently operating in England.
They reported deteriorating, and increasingly hostile, relationships with public bodies, particularly local authorities.
They also reported a contract culture that “favours large commercial organisations and the disability charities, led by non-disabled people, who often compete against local DPOs in the tendering process”.
The report says that a “clear picture” has emerged of “systemic marginalisation of DPOs, by the UK Government at a national level and increasingly at a local level by Local Authorities”.
But the report also describes “widespread and increasing isolation from other DPOs”.
And it calls for work to bring more young disabled people into the disability movement, and for action to address the gap left by the closure of many self-advocacy organisations run and controlled by people with learning difficulties.
It says more must be done to support DPOs to better reflect the diversity of their communities, while intersectional DPOs, such as those representing black disabled people, are “very few in number and are chronically under-supported and under-funded”.
The authors of the report – Tracey Lazard, of Inclusion London, and Mark Harrison, of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance – say the aim is to create a society where it is “unthinkable that a policy or decision about Disabled people would be made without the involvement of Disabled people and our organisations”.
And they want DPOs to be viewed as “must have” critical friends and co-producers in any work involving equality, community, well-being and social justice.
The report calls for the social model of disability, intersectionality, co-production and a human rights approach to disability to be “embedded in the work of all public bodies”.
The report, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, makes more than 40 recommendations, including calls to build and strengthen a structure of a single, well-resourced, regional DPO in each of eight regions of England.
The report says: “A well resourced and co-ordinated group of DPOs providing regional infrastructure support is the most effective way of supporting local DPOs in each region to thrive.”
The eight regional DPOs would also be supported to address the “urgent need to co-ordinate and bring together regional DPOs to develop a collective and authentic voice for disability equality at a national level”.
Lazard and Harrison say the vision is to “reclaim our power as DPOs and as a Disabled people’s rights movement and to get our equality and inclusion back on track by building an independent, sustainable, powerful infrastructure network of regional DPOs”.
Lazard told Disability News Service that she had been taken aback during the research by the “fragmentation” of the DPO sector and “how isolated DPOs are from each other”.
She said: “It has huge implications for us as a movement and our ability to bring about change, because we are not linking up.”
She said the report also showed the “further marginalisation and the increasing hostile environment between DPOs and statutory bodies, primarily local authorities, after 11 or 12 years of austerity”.
Lazard said that “beefing up regional infrastructure support” was vital to allow those larger regional DPOs to carry out the arms-length campaigning that smaller, local DPOs are often not able to do because of their reliance on local authority contracts.
She said: “It creates a collective voice and a buffer of funding that gives DPOs in a region an opportunity to have a bit more power to push back [for example, against local authorities that are hiking care charges].
“We do think it’s the best way to support local DPOs and to ensure national work reflects what is going on on the ground.”
She said the UK government needed to hear that the DPO sector “needs investment and recognition and we need to be valued, and communities of interest like disabled people are absolutely integral to the ‘levelling up’ and ‘building back better’ agenda.
“If they are serious about achieving those things with disabled people then they have to start working with us and start investing in our sector that has brought about massive positive social change.
“In the end, disabled people have to be leading this change. If you’re not [enabling that], you’re actually actively perpetuating oppression and disempowerment.”
She said their report was “a challenge to funders to provide the long-term strategic investment that we need”.
Lazard added: “We think the vision is exciting, we think it is the right vision.
“We think we have focused on the key infrastructure, and there is a real challenge to progressive funders out there to step up to the plate and respond.”
*Equality Together in Bradford; Disability Sheffield; Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People; Birmingham Disability Resource Centre; Equal Lives in East Anglia; Spectrum Centre for Independent Living in the south-east; Inclusion London; and West of England Centre for Inclusive Living (WECIL)
Picture: Mark Harrison (left) and Tracey Lazard
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