The government has released a long-awaited National Disability Strategy that includes 100 “commitments”, but few if any major proposals that appear likely to transform the lives of disabled people.
The pledges, proposals and plans included in the strategy are spread across government departments (see separate story).
Many of the “practical actions” have already been announced, amount to nothing more than updated guidance, or are subject to further consultation, discussion or review.
These include many of the education, housing, transport and employment proposals.
The strategy has already been dismissed by disabled people’s organisations as a “damp squib”, “tokenistic” and “not fit for purpose” (see separate story).
Even in the government’s own launch, briefings and press releases, there appear to be no stand-out proposals that ministers are pointing to as significant steps forward in improving disabled people’s lives.
The strategy is so lacking in headline-grabbing new policies that the government’s own press release includes plans to “consult on disability workforce reporting for businesses with more than 250 staff” as one of its highlights.
There is also an absence of an overarching theme, demonstrated by the failure to come up with a name for the strategy, and the comments of the prime minister, Boris Johnson, who stressed instead how every government department and agency will have to “do their bit to bring about… practical and lasting change”.
Despite Johnson drawing attention in his foreword to the document to the “obvious injustices” facing disabled people, there is little or no recognition in the strategy that successive Conservative-led governments have failed to act on these injustices over more than a decade.
There is also no mention in the 121-page strategy of the word “austerity”, despite widespread recognition of the negative impact of a decade of austerity on disabled people’s lives.
It had already emerged – in last week’s disability benefits green paper – that ministers want to cut future spending on disability benefits and are apparently considering merging personal independence payment with universal credit, but this is omitted from the strategy.
Instead, the strategy appears to be based on collecting as many disability-related policies as possible from each government department, many of which have previously been announced.
Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, said it was the first time that there had been “real cross-Government focus, with clearly set out priorities and aims”.
At an online launch event, he claimed the strategy showed how “conversation by conversation, department by department, policy by policy, action by action, we are dismantling the barriers and attitudes that hold disabled people back”.
He and his fellow ministers failed to mention the government’s previous disability strategy, Fulfilling Potential, which was launched in December 2011 but has not been refreshed or mentioned on the government website since November 2015.
There is no mention of Fulfilling Potential in the new strategy.
Even before the publication of the new strategy, the government was already facing a high court challenge from four disabled people – supported by DPOs such as Disabled People Against Cuts and Inclusion London – over a controversial consultation that informed the strategy.
A high court hearing is expected to take place later this year.
Meanwhile, the publication of the National Disability Strategy came on the same day that the Cabinet Office was found to have twice breached the Equality Act (PDF) – and discriminated against a Deaf woman, Katie Rowley – by failing to provide a British Sign Language interpreter at two televised COVID briefings.
Picture: Justin Tomlinson (left) and Boris Johnson
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