Grassroots disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have criticised the government’s decision to exclude them from an event held to launch its new work, health and disability green paper.
The event for “stakeholders” was hosted by the disability charity Scope at its London headquarters, and attended by Penny Mordaunt (pictured), the minister for disabled people.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said in its invitation – it turned down a request from Disability News Service (DNS) to attend – that the event would “start the consultation period” on its green paper, Improving Lives.
It said that it was “launching a new conversation with disabled people and people with health conditions, their representatives, healthcare professionals and employers”.
But DWP has refused to say how many disabled people’s user-led organisations were invited to the event, and instead suggested that DNS submit a freedom of information request to find out.
But DNS has confirmed that some of the most prominent user-led organisations with the strongest links to disabled people were not invited to the launch, including Shaping Our Lives, Inclusion London, Equal Lives, People First (Self Advocacy) and Disabled People Against Cuts.
Ellen Clifford, campaigns manager for Inclusion London, said: “Inclusion London were disappointed by the apparent absence of grassroots Deaf and disabled people’s organisations from the invitations to attend the launch event of the green paper at Scope on Tuesday.
“Failings in the implementation of welfare reform have led to avoidable deaths and caused considerable harm to Deaf and disabled people.
“By side-lining the voices of people who are experts in what is actually happening on the ground, the government will continue to make policy decisions that are ill-informed and fail to meet their stated aims while growing the inequality gap and creating misery and distress.”
DPAC said the lack of an invite to the Scope-hosted event shows “yet another of the big corporate charities selling out the people they claim to represent and sucking up to a government that in the words of Ken Loach has perpetrated ‘conscious cruelty’ on disabled people”.
Andrew Lee, People First’s director of policy and campaigns, pointed out that only about seven per cent of people with learning difficulties had jobs.
He said: “At People First, all paid jobs are held by people with learning difficulties (with support).
“With this in mind, I am very disappointed that a national user-led organisation such as People First (Self Advocacy) was not invited to this launch event, as we are one of the organisations with the best understanding about the barriers we face in employment.
“Committees from both the House of Lords and the House of Commons have come to People First for expert evidence in a range of inquiries, such as [those investigating] the Equality Act 2010 and more recently disability and the built environment.
“However, when it comes to employment it would seem that we have been left out in more ways than one.”
Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives, said the failure to invite his organisation and other DPOs showed the government did not see them as stakeholders.
He said the green paper was “a massive smokescreen to divert people’s attention away from deaths and suicides that the work capability assessments and sanctions have created”.
He added: “[The Ken Loach film] I, Daniel Blake has shone a spotlight on it beyond the disability movement and those that really understand what is going on.
“It’s a desperate PR exercise and Scope and Mind [which has also been criticised this week for its closeness to DWP] are colluding and collaborating in this con.”
Becki Meakin, general manager of Shaping Our Lives, added: “As host to a national network of user-led organisations, Shaping Our Lives was disappointed not to have been invited to the launch.
“We welcome opportunities to support grassroots, user-led organisations who offer many different types of support to disabled people seeking employment.
“It is essential that capacity is provided to enable these groups of people with lived experience to influence this policy and we hope that at a time when user-groups are threatened by funding cuts that they will not be overlooked.”
A DWP spokeswoman declined to say how many DPOs attended the launch, but said: “The invite list reflected the need for stronger integration between health and work, which is a key theme in the green paper.
“This included service-users, disability charities, voluntary sector representatives, employers, and health stakeholders.
“One attendee represents over 80 disability charities, many of whom are service-user led.
“Over the coming weeks we will be engaging with disabled people, people with health conditions, and the organisations that represent them through a range of communication channels so that we can effectively capture their views.”