Four disabled people have launched a legal action against the government over its “disrespectful” and “unlawful” approach to seeking their views on the proposed national disability strategy.
The four claimants say that a controversial survey, carried out by the Disability Unit, did not give them and other disabled people the chance to say what they really felt about what should be in the strategy.
Instead, all but four of the questions in the survey were multiple choice.
Three of the other questions were limited to just 100 words, and the other one to 250 words.
The launch of the legal action came as the Disability Unit denied that the publication of the strategy had been postponed.
Ministers had previously stated that the strategy would be published this spring, but recent ministerial statements have promised only to publish it “this year”.
There has been continuing controversy over the strategy and the survey over the last three months, including why the survey included a question that asked non-disabled people if they would be “happy to have a physical relationship with a disabled person”, and concerns about it being rushed, inaccessible, over-long and poorly-planned.
On 1 February, 10 disabled people’s organisations wrote to Justin Tomlinson (pictured, above, left), the minister for disabled people, to ask him to postpone publication of the strategy until the summer.
A spokesperson for the Disability Unit said this week that the government “remains absolutely committed to delivering an ambitious National Strategy for Disabled People in the coming months”.
When asked whether this meant that it had been delayed, the spokesperson said he was not aware of any postponement and that he was working to a timescale of “within [the] next few months”.
But he has so far been unable to explain why ministers have stopped referring to the strategy being published in the spring.
The legal action is being taken on behalf of four disabled people by law firm Bindmans.
They argue that the survey is unlawful because it offers only limited information about the strategy and does not allow disabled people to provide a “proper and effective response”.
They want the consultation to be declared unlawful, and for there to be a new, lawful consultation before the government publishes its strategy.
The government has apparently told Bindmans that the survey is not a consultation – even though the Disability Unit’s own website lists the survey as an “Open Consultation” and the survey is hosted on the unit’s “Consultation Hub” – and that it is not obliged to consult disabled people about the strategy.
Disabled campaigner Doug Paulley (pictured, above, right), one of the four claimants, said: “The secretary of state’s approach to consulting disabled people, on a national strategy which aims to ‘transform’ the lives of disabled people, is immensely disrespectful.
“Disabled people are best placed to say what changes would improve their own lives.
“This survey has not given disabled people any meaningful opportunity to do so, and therefore any strategy developed from the survey will be imposed on disabled people without their voices being heard.”
A government spokesperson said he could not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.
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