Disabled people’s organisations have dismissed the government’s new Disability Action Plan as a series of “empty promises” that fail to address the “dire situation” disabled people are facing.
The plan, and its 32 “practical actions”, was launched by disability minister Mims Davies on Tuesday, following a 12-week public consultation that took place last year.
All 32 actions appear to be low or zero budget measures, and there are no striking new policies, and apparently no new legislation or spending commitments before the general election.
The plan is intended to run alongside the longer-term National Disability Strategy, which was heavily-criticised by a cross-party committee of MPs last year.
That report by the Commons women and equalities committee said in December that the disability strategy was merely “a list consisting mainly of pre-existing departmental actions with minimal strategic thinking behind how those actions interact”.
Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) this week delivered a similarly critical response to the action plan.
They described it as “weak” and said it failed to address key cost-of-living concerns, while ignoring the need for urgent action in areas such as social care, accessible housing and government reforms that are set to tighten the work capability assessment (WCA).
Only last week, the DPO Forum England called for the action plan to include wide-ranging action on the WCA, scrapping care charges, reform of the Mental Health Act, disability hate crime, accessible housing, emergency evacuation plans from high-rise buildings, and other key areas.
Rick Burgess, a spokesperson for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, a member of the forum, said: “This is a plan about what non-disabled political actors are willing to offer to disabled people, it is not based in our rights or the social model.
“It is not what we need, rather it is what a disablist government think they will grudgingly offer.
“We need co-produced transformation as detailed in the DPO manifesto, incorporation of the UNCRPD* into domestic law and an end to the social care crisis and the abusive DWP.
“None of this will be possible under continuing austerity.”
Among the 32 actions, the government has finally pledged to re-introduce financial support for disabled people who want to seek elected office – following two previous short-lived funds that successive Conservative-led governments set up and then scrapped – but not until after the general election.
The government’s Disability Unit will bring together academics, disabled people and “decision-makers” for a conference on disability and adapting to climate change.
It will also develop an “online information hub for families with disabled members” and “work to improve the evidence base” on disability and domestic abuse, as well as building an “online hub of information” for local authorities on how to create accessible playgrounds.
The government will “explore” a potential bid to host the 2031 Special Olympics summer games, set up a working-group to “make recommendations to the government on how to improve support for people with guide and assistance dogs”, and set up a disabled people’s experience panel to work with the Disability Unit on issues raised by the action plan consultation.
There are also pledges that 10 Downing Street will “work to provide” British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters who will be present for all its “major press conferences and briefings” from this spring, while the Disability Unit will “explore steps to set up a new survey on disabled people to address gaps in evidence”.
Reactions to the action plan from DPOs have been uniformly negative, with all those contacted by Disability News Service highlighting the government’s failure to address the major issues affecting disabled people, such as the cost-of-living crisis, social care charging, disability hate crime, a hostile Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and inaccessible housing and transport.
Svetlana Kotova, director of campaigns and justice at Inclusion London, described the plan as “a list of research, evidence and engagement, either on issues which are not a priority or where solutions have been known for a while.
“At a time when disabled people are struggling to make ends meet, hate crime on the rise, the new punitive welfare reforms are looming, care packages are cut, employers’ attitudes are not improving, when there is a shortage of accessible housing and parents of disabled children have to spend months in arguments and complaints to get minimal support, it is hard to see how any actions in the plan would make a tangible difference where it is most needed.
“We want the government to recognise that making significant improvements in our lives needs ambition and funding. We don’t see any of that in the plan.”
She said actions in the plan to make the government’s communications more accessible, including a BSL interpreter at Downing Street briefings, were “what the government should have done a long time ago to comply with the Equality Act”.
One member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) described the document as a “disability inaction plan”.
Linda Burnip, a DPAC co-founder, said it was hard to comment on the action plan because of how little it offered.
She said it offered a “plan for councils to build accessible playgrounds but apparently no extra money for that, nothing about housing, transport, social care, accessibility generally, healthcare, or aids and adaptations people need to live independently”.
Professor Peter Beresford, chair of Shaping Our Lives, said: “This is a government which yet again has announced harsh new disability benefit restrictions as part of its populist pre-general election campaigning.
“It is a government which following promise after promise still has done nothing to get crisis-ridden social care policy back on track.
“It is an administration which has consistently ignored the views of disabled and older people about the care and support they need, leaving ever-increasing numbers without support, isolated and trapped.
“Yet now it expects us to forget its terrible track record and sign up to the empty promises of its latest Disability Action Plan, to build up our hopes and get involved as if it is to be trusted.
“Shaping Our Lives will take the government’s disability prospectus seriously when and only when it begins seriously to address the DPO forum’s programme of demands to secure older and disabled people’s rights.
“Sadly, we seem as far away from that as ever.”
They said: “Despite acknowledging the dire situation for disabled people, the government has failed to include any impactful actions that could have been delivered before the general election.”
They pointed to policies that could have been announced, such as re-instating the Access to Elected Office Fund, implementing the Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s recommendations on personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs), implementing minimum accessibility standards for new-build homes (see separate story), scrapping the proposed changes to the WCA or committing to increase financial support for disabled people.
They said: “The Disability Action Plan is about what non-disabled policy-makers are willing to offer us, it is not a plan which protects or enhances our rights or demonstrates an understanding of the social model of disability.
“It is not what we need, rather it is what a disablist government has grudgingly offered.
“We need co-produced transformation as detailed in the Disabled People’s Manifesto, incorporation of the UNCRPD into domestic law, an end to the social care crisis and the inhumane DWP policies and processes.
“We call on the government to deliver real transformation, and we call on everyone to take action in any way they can to call for the same.”
Amy Wells, senior communications and membership manager for National Survivor User Network, said the action plan was “very weak, with actions that don’t go nearly far enough and [have] very little potential to affect much-needed transformative change”.
She said there was no meaningful action on the cost-of-living crisis and “no reference at all to the harm caused to disabled people, including those living with mental ill-health, trauma, and distress, by our inadequate and hostile social security system”.
She said: “Sitting alongside the flaws of the National Disability Strategy, this plan inspires no confidence that the government is willing to commit to accountability in implementing equality legislation, such as the UNCRPD, or tackling the many current policy developments that will disadvantage disabled people, including the Back to Work Plan and the proposed changes to the work capability assessment.”
NSUN called on the government to commit to the “transformative, rights-based changes set out in the Disabled People’s Manifesto”.
Vicky Foxcroft, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, described the action plan as “little more than tinkering around the edges”.
She told MPs on Monday: “The government have had consultation after consultation, and they have published different strategies, but it sadly remains the case that we have had nothing that actually delivers a better life for disabled people.”
Mims Davies, the minister for disabled people, told her the plan was “not just another consultation, but real, tangible action to change people’s daily lives, with 13 practical actions across 14 different areas” and was “about building a society that works for everyone”.
She said she agreed that “day-to-day life is too difficult for disabled people and their families”.
She added: “I would love to boil the ocean and to have fixed everything in the month or so I have been in the role, but I assure honourable members that irrespective of the perceived level of [my] role, I have the convening power and support across government.”
In the Lords, the disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Sal] Brinton pointed to the government’s decision not to draw up any plans to protect disabled people who rely on life-saving medical equipment in their own homes in the event of a power cut, its failure to implement the Grenfell inquiry’s PEEPs recommendations, and the action plan’s failure to address the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on disabled people.
*UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Picture: (Clockwise, from top left) Linda Burnip, Svetlana Kotova, Rick Burgess and Peter Beresford
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