A leading national disabled people’s organisation (DPO) has announced it is quitting a powerful lobby group of disability charities as part of a move to work mostly with other DPOs rather than non-user-led organisations.
Disability Rights UK (DR UK) said the move to quit the Disability Charities Consortium (DCC) was part of a strategy review that was intended to ensure “greater amplification” of the voices of disabled people.
The consortium is frequently consulted by the government, and these discussions are often used as proof that ministers are talking and listening to disabled people and their organisations, but it makes few if any public announcements and has no website.
DR UK’s departure means the consortium will no longer have any member organisations that are run and controlled by disabled people.
The other members are Mencap, the National Autistic Society, Mind, Leonard Cheshire, Scope, Action on Hearing Loss, RNIB, Sense and the Business Disability Forum.
Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s chief executive, said in a statement that his organisation had been looking at how it could “work more deeply, with greater listening, and greater amplification of the voices of Disabled people”.
He told Disability News Service (DNS) later: “As a leading national DPO we already work closely with a network of grassroots DPOs across the UK.
“We want it to be crystal clear to disabled people that we are disabled people working with disabled people to ensure our voices are heard directly by government.
“We want to create a stronger DPO voice based on the lived experience of disabled people, so that government listens more closely and takes action, and we want to be part of this.”
He said there had been no particular decisions taken by DCC that had persuaded DR UK to leave the consortium.
In the statement, he said it had become “clearer than it had ever been” at the start of the pandemic that disabled people’s voices were “in danger of becoming lost”.
But he said the crisis had strengthened the resolve of disabled people “to gather together our voices, speak truth to power, loudly and clearly, and make sure that we are heard”.
Mallick pointed to the new, 15-strong Our Voices group of DR UK member DPOs that has come together since the start of the pandemic, which meets regularly “to share what is working and what is not working in their local areas across the UK”, and which he hopes will expand.
He said DR UK also wanted to “make full contribution and support” to the new DPO Forum England, which has been set up by DPOs to lobby government.
He said that DR UK had “always been user-led” and was “committed to remaining user-led”, while its board, leadership team, membership and the “vast majority” of its staff are disabled people.
He said the bulk of its work would now be with DPOs, which are led and run by disabled people, although it would continue to work with DCC organisations where their collective knowledge and experience “works stronger together”.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, another influential DPO, which works with user-led organisations across the capital, said: “We welcome DR UK’s long-awaited decision to leave the DCC.
“We cannot think of one example where the DCC has used its leverage, facetime with ministers or its own huge, combined resources to support DPOs or amplify our voices.
“But we do know both the DCC and the government have benefited hugely from pretending they consult with DPOs via DR UK’s long-term membership of DCC.
“It’s vital DPOs and our wider movement work together in solidarity to ensure the needs, issues, experiences and aspirations of disabled people and our organisations are heard and we look forward to working with DR UK to make this happen.”
Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, also welcomed the DR UK decision.
She said: “Over the years the government has consistently used engagement with disability charities as cover for cuts and changes that have devastated disabled people’s lives.
“There have also been dubious claims about engaging with DDPOs [Deaf and disabled people’s organisations].
“In leaving the DCC, DR UK is effectively taking away from the government the chance to justify highly regressive measures through engagement via DCC.
“This is of especial significance given the upcoming examination of the UK under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the duty under that on governments to engage specifically with DDPOs as opposed to charities.”
But Clifford was also critical of DR UK.
She said: “In 2017, Mike Oliver criticised DR UK for its lack of political activism and included them in a ‘stinging rebuke’ levelled at disability charities who he described as ‘parasitic’.
“Whether leaving DCC represents a solid new direction from DR UK remains to be seen but they are more than welcome to join the ranks of those of us who understand the importance of radical campaigning to resist the attacks on disabled people.”
A spokesperson for the consortium said its members did not think DR UK’s decision would damage DCC’s credibility, and that they “support them to do what they feel is right for them at this time”.
Asked if the consortium believed the government should now focus more on those organisations and networks that are DPOs or represent DPOs, she said: “The government needs to do much more to engage and work with DPOs and organisations that represent DPOs.
“The DCC has consistently pushed government to engage meaningfully with these groups and will continue to do so.”
Mark Hodgkinson and Diane Lightfoot, co-chairs of the consortium, said DCC had “always been an informal and flexible coalition of disability charities”.
They said that its members “continue to urge the government to engage and work proactively with a wide range of organisations, including DPOs and disabled people, to inform strategy development and to identify barriers and solutions with and for disabled people”.
They added: “As the current co-chairs of the consortium, we support Disability Rights UK’s decision to review how it operates, and seeks to maximise the impact it can have.
“Disability Rights UK undertake a hugely important role leading the sector and campaigning for change. We are extremely grateful for all DR UK has done within the DCC.
“We look forward to continuing to support them, and working with them to make sure the voices and experiences of Britain’s 14 million disabled people are heard.”
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