The minister for disabled people has been criticised by one of his own MPs for failing to consult properly with disabled people’s organisations over his forthcoming disability action plan.
The criticism of Tom Pursglove comes only days after government lawyers were in the Court of Appeal trying to persuade judges that ministers did not carry out an unlawful consultation on their National Disability Strategy in early 2021.
Pursglove plans to publish his new disability action plan this summer, and he told the Commons women and equalities committee that it was “in addition to” the “long-term” National Disability Strategy.
He said the action plan would focus on “short-term changes that we can make, short-term improvements”.
Pursglove (pictured) said he was “very disappointed and frustrated” that both the principle and the delivery of the strategy had had to be paused while the case was dealt with by the courts.
But Jackie Doyle-Price, a Conservative MP and former mental health minister, told Pursglove that she had been told by disabled people’s organisations that ministers had failed to include their input in his action plan.
She said that Fazilet Hadi, head of policy for Disability Rights UK, had told her: “The trouble is that this is not coming from disabled people… It’s not our list of actions.”
Doyle-Price said: “The message we are getting is that disability organisations do not feel that they own this agenda, they don’t feel that they’ve had the strategic input.”
Pursglove said this was “slightly premature” because the action plan had not yet been released for consultation.
But Doyle-Price said: “These organisations do need to feel that there’s ownership and that there is genuine collaboration or else we are not going to get anywhere.
“This is a set of people who are used to being patted on the head and if you’re really going to deliver a marked improvement and a cultural change as to how we empower people with disabilities that’s not going to be a very helpful starting place.”
Pursglove said he had been “very committed to engaging regularly” but Doyle-Price said it was “a cultural thing and it’s reflecting a history of dialogue”.
She said there had been similar feedback about the social care white paper, which was published in December 2021.
She said: “The needs of working-age adults have been lost because of the focus in terms of the politics on elderly social care.
“It feels like we really haven’t moved on in about five years in talking about this.”
Doyle-Price was also critical of ministers’ failure to make progress on reducing the number of people with learning difficulties and autistic people detained in inpatient mental health settings.
The current minister for mental health, Maria Caulfield, told the committee the government’s 2019 target was to cut the numbers by 50 per cent by March 2024, but she said they had managed just 30 per cent.
Caulfield said the Department of Health and Social Care was going through the records of each integrated care board (ICB) in England to check its progress and “finding out what it is that’s stopping them from being discharged”, and she was finding that it was “often about housing”.
Doyle-Price replied: “It’s all been about housing, and we’ve known it’s been about housing for years.”
She asked what conversations Caulfield was having with NHS England to manage this issue.
The minister said she was meeting with individual ICBs to “go through their patient lists and find out what the plan is for each individual patient”.
She said: “I’m not happy with it being at 30 per cent, I want it to get to 50 per cent.
“I want to be sure there is a plan in place for every single one. Because progress has been too slow, and we are working through the data, ICB by ICB, to find out what the challenges are.”
But Doyle-Price said this was “all talk and no delivery”, and she added: “This is why disability organisations have no confidence in this.
“We are not going to tackle what are systemic issues just by setting up more talking shops.”
Caulfield replied: “It’s not a talking-shop. If I’m meeting with the ICBs to go through their lists of patients who are not yet discharged, and finding out what those challenges are, that’s not a talking-shop, that’s practically looking at what the solutions are that we can deliver for each of those individual people.”
Doyle-Price also asked Caulfield why the government had yet to develop an initiative on public understanding of autism, which it had promised to introduce by the autumn of 2021.
But the minister replied: “I don’t have that particular information; I am happy to write to the committee about that.”
Caulfield wrote last month in a parliamentary response to the committee’s chair, Caroline Nokes, that the initiative “has not yet been implemented”.
When Caulfield was unable to explain to the committee why the initiative had not been delivered, Doyle-Price told her: “You don’t know then. That’s the answer.”
Caulfield said: “We haven’t got a date.”
But her party colleague replied: “The question is: why have we not got it yet? The answer to that question is not that we haven’t got a date, it is why.
“You don’t know why, so let’s move on.”
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