Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) across England have set up their own national network after the minister for disabled people apparently shut down his advisory forum of DPOs after just three meetings.
The government’s DPO Forum has not met since last October, despite the imminent publication of the government’s long-delayed national disability strategy.
Launched only last July, the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, said at the time that it would “play an important role in bringing the voices and expertise of disabled people into the heart of government policy making”.
He added: “I am looking forward to working with this new DPO Forum as we develop the National Strategy for Disabled People, the DWP Green Paper, and beyond.”
But following the repeated cancellation of meetings, some of the forum’s members have now set up their own replacement, DPO Forum England.
Among their continuing concerns, they believe the government is preparing to launch its new cross-government disability strategy without any meaningful consultation with DPOs, in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Four disabled people have already been granted legal aid for a judicial review of the government’s “disrespectful” and “unlawful” approach to seeking their views on the strategy.
Members of the new forum include the Greater Manchester Disabled People’s Panel, the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), Inclusion London, The Alliance for Inclusive Education, Equal Lives, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Disability Positive in Cheshire.
Mark Harrison, from ROFA, said the government’s forum – which he said was not a DPO forum at all because some of its member organisations were not led and controlled by disabled people – had not met since its third meeting last October.
He said: “We decided to carry on as a DPO forum in our own right, so we took control.
“We wanted to have a much more powerful voice for DPOs in England, not only speaking truth to power but holding power to account.”
He said he hoped the new forum’s work would back up other strategic actions by the disabled people’s movement in England, including direct action by organisations like DPAC, the legal challenge to the disability strategy, and campaigns around independent living and care charging, including the push for a new National Independent Living Support Service.
Harrison said that Tomlinson had told members of the government’s DPO Forum that its future was under review, with further meetings cancelled until further notice.
He said this “smoke and mirrors” approach was “what we have come to expect from the government”.
Harrison said Tomlinson appeared to have shut down the forum after a request from members for it to be run with proper terms of reference, with a disciplined approach, a work programme and a strategic approach to disability.
He said: “There was no discipline to it, no notion of co-production with the agenda.”
He added: “When people don’t agree with their world view, [the government] just shut it down and move on. That’s what they did with the DPO Forum.”
The other leading DPOs that have joined the new forum so far are Breakthrough UK, Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, Disability Rights UK, Choices and Rights Disability Coalition, Disability Stockport, West of England Centre for Inclusive Living and Sisters of Frida.
The government’s Disability Unit had not commented by noon today (Thursday).
Picture: Mark Harrison (left) and Justin Tomlinson
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…