The government’s own report on its progress in building an inclusive society for disabled people – and the string of failures included in the document – has been ignored by the disability minister, and his department’s press office.
The policy paper was published on the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) website – but not on its home page – and was completely ignored on social media by Justin Tomlinson (pictured), the minister for disabled people, and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
ODI’s own Twitter account overlooked the progress report’s publication on 12 September, as did DWP’s main Twitter account, while the department failed to issue a press release to mark what DWP described as an annual progress report “on the UK’s vision to build a society which is fully inclusive of disabled people”.
Tomlinson’s refusal to publicise the report could be linked to its potentially embarrassing contents.
The government brags in the policy paper that it is setting up a new regional stakeholder network to improve engagement with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations.
But eight months after it first issued a call for applicants, it has yet to announce the names of those appointed, a delay which may be connected to the government’s decision not to pay the members, or even the chairs, of the nine new regional groups.
The report also fails to mention that the government has issued no updates or progress reports on its discredited Fulfilling Potential disability strategy since November 2015, nearly four years ago.
There has been a broad welcome for the decision – announced in June in one of Theresa May’s last announcements as prime minister – that ODI will move in November from DWP to the Cabinet Office as part of a new “equalities hub at the heart of government”.
Tomlinson says in the report that this will bring disability “to the very heart of Government and recognises that disabled people face barriers across a wide range of aspects of their lives”.
He also repeats his pledge that the government will “strengthen the evidence base on disability and improve engagement with disabled people and their organisations”.
But in February, in a meeting with his predecessor, Sarah Newton, disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) repeated their concerns at the government’s continuing failure to understand the principles around engagement with disabled people and DPOs, as laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
The previous month, campaigners were left “shocked and appalled” by the government’s decision to hold a workshop on the barriers facing disabled people without inviting a single DPO to take part, again in breach of its UNCRPD obligations.
The policy paper was published alongside a second report – which again was not publicised by DWP – that details the government’s progress in responding to a high-profile 2016 UN report which found it had committed “grave” and “systematic” violations of the convention by discriminating against disabled people.
Most of this discrimination was as a result of policies introduced by Conservative DWP ministers between 2010 and 2015.
This second report lists government policies introduced since 2016, some of which are also included in the policy paper, but also cover developments on legal aid, disability benefits assessments, disability employment, and disability hate crime.
The policy paper on progress in building an inclusive society also attempts to brag about a string of other government failures on disability.
One of those is the new “Inter-Ministerial Group on Disability and Society”, which was set up 18 months ago.
But Disability News Service (DNS) reported in July that the group met just three times in more than a year.
Another success claimed by Tomlinson is the appointment of “18 Sector Champions”, chosen to “raise awareness of the needs of disabled consumers and encourage their sectors to improve the accessibility and quality of their services and facilities for disabled people”.
But DNS revealed earlier this month that DWP had admitted having no idea how many of the sector champions – there are actually 19, not 18 – are disabled people themselves.
One of DWP’s few successes has been to increase the number of disabled people in paid employment – the policy paper points to an increase of 404,000 between 2017 and 2019 – although research by DPOs showed last year that more than half the increase in disability employment in the previous four years had been due to disabled people becoming self-employed or taking part-time jobs.
The policy paper also boasts that the government has doubled the number of employment advisers placed within mental health talking therapy services.
But these placements have been hugely controversial and members of the mental health survivor movement last month launched a campaign to force the government to scrap its insistence that finding a job or returning to work was an important health “outcome” for those with mental distress.
The policy paper praises the government’s Disability Confident scheme, which has so far seen about 12,000 employers sign up since it was launched by the then prime minister David Cameron more than six years ago.
Many critics have argued that it is easy for employers to sign up to the scheme and then continue to discriminate against disabled people, and not even employ a single disabled person while still proclaiming themselves to be “Disability Confident”.
DNS reported last year how the Employment Tribunal had dealt with almost 60 claims of disability discrimination taken against DWP – which is itself a Disability Confident “leader” – by its own staff over a 20-month period.
And DNS reported last year that the nearly 7,000 employers that had signed up by then to Disability Confident had promised to provide just 4,500 new jobs for disabled people between them.
There is also a mention in the policy paper for the government’s role in supporting Purple Tuesday, the UK’s first accessible shopping day.
DWP’s involvement in the scheme led to calls for a boycott from disabled activists, amid fears that CCTV footage from the event could be used to dispute disability benefit claims.
The policy paper also mentions the EnAble Fund for Elected Office, which helped 19 disabled people win seats at May’s local elections by paying for their disability-related expenses.
But the government has refused to extend the scheme to general election candidates, with one warning last month that this failure had “completely cut disabled people out of the political arena”.
Asked about the failure to publicise the report, and whether this was because Tomlinson was embarrassed about its contents, a DWP spokesperson said: “This government has a strong track record on breaking down the barriers that disabled people can face in every area of their lives.
“This policy paper is an annual summary of improvements made throughout the year – it contains no further information that is not already available in the public domain – and is publicly available on the Gov.uk website.”
Another DWP spokesperson said: “We will be announcing further details of the Regional Stakeholder Network in due course.”
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