New analysis of the government’s National Disability Strategy has exposed its lack of bold initiatives and new funding, and has revealed how ministers have padded it out with scores of consultations, reviews and vague pledges.
Many of the commitments included in the strategy, published last month, involve promises to carry out research, discussions on possible further action, or pledges to update or improve existing schemes.
The lack of clear, well-funded, wide-ranging action on disability equality comes despite ministers having nearly six years to produce the new strategy, since the last update on its previous attempt, Fulfilling Potential, which was quietly dropped.
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, promises in the new strategy that it will bring about “practical and lasting change” and help the government “build back better and fairer, for all our disabled people”.
He also claims that the strategy is “the most far-reaching endeavour in this area for a generation or more, not merely a set of worthy aspirations but a concrete plan for the future”.
But leading disabled campaigners this week instead described it as “all front and nothing behind it”, and “full of tweaks and not much substance”.
The government’s publicity around the strategy said it included “100 immediate commitments” and was supported by £1.6 billion of funding.
But in-depth analysis of the strategy document shows the plan has been padded out with scores of pledges to “discuss” or “consider” further action, to commission lengthy research, and to carry out reviews of existing policies.
It shows that most of the investment mentioned in the strategy (at least £1.1 billion and probably even more than that) was announced or allocated last year, with just £4.13 million in new funding described in the document (see separate story).
The government has yet to explain where the other £500 million funding has been allocated, but it is not thought to be new money.
The analysis shows only about 30 new commitments to take action to address the barriers disabled people face, and nearly all of them are limited in scope.
The new commitments include a long-overdue replacement for the Access to Elected Office fund; an accessibility audit of facilities at all 2,565 mainline railway stations in Britain; and a pledge by MI6 to aim for disabled people to make up nine per cent of its staff by 2025.
At least seven of the 30 commitments – such as promises to publish proposals on adult social care reform and to improve the delivery of accessible new homes by the end of this year – are so lacking in detail it is not possible to tell what impact they might have on disability equality.
In the entire strategy, there appears to be just one piece of new legislation promised by the government, a pledge to protect all disabled passengers of taxis and private hire vehicles from drivers who overcharge them or refuse to provide assistance.
Two other legislative measures – allowing British Sign Language-users to serve on juries, and addressing the discrimination faced by disabled voters – are already proceeding through parliament as minor parts of the government’s new police, crime, sentencing and courts bill, and its elections bill.
At least five of the 30 commitments were previously announced – including measures to force bus companies to provide audio-visual information on their services, and to provide tactile surfaces on railway platforms – in the months leading up to the strategy’s publication.
Much of the rest of the strategy has been padded out with commitments made months or even years ago – such as the ongoing review of the special educational needs system and the work being done by the Department for Work and Pensions to develop “a new approach to conditionality” for benefit claimants – or with pledges relating to existing schemes.
The strategy includes at least 13 promises to expand or improve long-established schemes, such as vague pledges to “update guidance” on inclusive mobility, to “go further” to support disabled civil servants, and to “improve supported internships”.
And there are at least 19 promises to “discuss”, “explore” or “consider” further action, including on opportunities for disabled people in the armed forces reserves, on how to make assistive technology part of everyday public services, and on improving high street access.
The commitments also include a string of government policies that offer possible benefits to disabled people as part of much wider mainstream schemes, such as plans to create a new north coast-to-coast national trail, to consult on flexible working, and to improve the public appointments system.
The strategy is also further padded out by as many as 27 promised reviews, pieces of research, and consultations, including a pledge to commission research into the design of bus stations and bus stops, a review of the effectiveness of the Access to Work awareness campaign, and research on barriers to apprenticeships.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “Close inspection of the National Disability Strategy confirms what we already knew – that this so-called strategy is really nothing more than a cynical re-packaging of current polices and current budgets, all of which have failed to get our rights and equality back on track.
“The fact that there appears to be pledges of just £4.13 million in new funding (for a frankly random and non-strategic selection of activities) says it all.
“After 11 years of things getting worse not better for disabled people, we need and deserve a strategy that is genuinely strategic, with the power and resources to tackle the increasing poverty, segregation, discrimination and exclusion we face.
“We also need and deserve a government that is honest and transparent in its policymaking and committed to working with us.
“It’s an outrage that we seem to have neither.”
Fazilet Hadi, head of policy for Disability Rights UK and speaking on behalf of the new DPO Forum England, a network of many of the country’s leading disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), said: “The National Disability Strategy included no bold measures to tackle the appalling inequalities faced by disabled people of all ages.
“It was not aligned to the chancellor’s spending review nor plans for social care reform.
“Meaningful actions to increase benefit levels, support inclusive education, combat the disability employment gap, increase accessible housing, or reform social care were all missing.”
And she added: “The £1.6 billion spend announced as part of the National Disability Strategy was money already allocated to departmental budgets from previous spending reviews.”
Mark Harrison, a member of the steering group of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, said the strategy was “the emperor’s new clothes” and “all front and nothing behind it”.
He said: “It’s certainly not a rights-based approach that is based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
“It puts all the responsibility on disabled people to overcome the barriers, rather than removing the barriers.
“When you boil it down, there’s nothing there, which is no surprise because they didn’t co-produce it or consult disabled people in any meaningful sense, and there’s no money in it for DPOs to self-organise and be part of the solution or hold the government to account.”
He said: “In the face of all that evidence, to completely ignore DPOs is a disgrace.”
Kathy Bole, co-chair of both Chronic Illness Inclusion and Disability Labour, said she had been “disappointed but unsurprised” that the strategy appeared to be “full of tweaks and not much substance”.
She said: “The National Disability Strategy will not make the fundamental change that’s needed.
“Perhaps the future would have looked brighter if the government had engaged with service-users about what they wanted and needed.”
The Disability Unit passed questions about the DNS analysis onto the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
A DWP spokesperson refused to answer any questions about the strategy, and instead referred DNS to the press release issued at the time of its publication, which he said “outlines the Government position on the National Disability Strategy”.
He added: “We have no further comments to make at this stage.”
Picture: (From left to right) Tracey Lazard, Mark Harrison and Fazilet Hadi
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