Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have expressed “outrage” at the UK government’s decision to launch a “tokenistic” and “rehashed” National Disability Strategy that is “not fit for purpose”, and was not developed in co-production with DPOs.
A network of more than 20 of the country’s leading DPOs has attacked the new strategy, which was launched yesterday (Wednesday), with one describing it as a “damp squib” and the network saying it was “full of rehashed old policies” and failed to tackle the growing poverty, exclusion and discrimination disabled people face.
The strategy is the first from successive Conservative-led governments since its predecessor, Fulfilling Potential, petered out six years ago, but already looks as though it will have little or no credibility with DPOs and the wider disabled people’s movement.
Even before its publication, the government was 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.
Inclusion London said yesterday that the new strategy was “a damp squib of a non-strategy” that had not been developed with DPOs.
That claim appeared to be confirmed by the government’s thank you note at the end of the document to those individuals and organisations who had “so generously shared their time and insights”.
Although this note name-checks several individual disabled people and disability charities, such as Scope, Leonard Cheshire and Mencap, and the government’s own regional stakeholder networks, it appears to include just one DPO, Disabled Motoring UK.
DPOs also point out that the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, shut down his advisory forum of DPOs last year after just three meetings.
Following repeated cancellations of meetings by Tomlinson, even while he and his government were preparing their new strategy, DPOs set up their own replacement network, DPO Forum England, which already has 22 members, including many of the country’s leading organisations of disabled people.
The forum yesterday described the government’s strategy as “tokenistic”, with a “raft of re-hashed policies, random actions and vague promises for future consultations”.
It said that disabled people have been waiting for “10 long years for a strategy that will tackle the growing poverty, exclusion and discrimination we face and set out a transformative plan for social justice, equality and inclusion.
“This so-called strategy does neither of these things.”
The forum added: “Unlike the big disability charities that claim to speak for disabled people but do not represent us, disabled people’s organisations are united in our opposition to this so-called strategy and once again call on the government to start working with disabled people, not against us.”
And it called on the government to produce a new strategy that embedded the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) into domestic law.
There is some suggestion in the second part of the strategy that the government has listened to the criticism of its failure to co-produce the document with DPOs, or at least that it is paying attention to the upcoming high court case.
In this second section, the strategy claims that the government wants to put disabled people “at the heart of government policy making and service delivery”.
And it says that its Disability Unit will now review how government engages with disabled people, through discussions with disabled people, DPOs and charities, in line with its UNCRPD duties*.
Inclusion London, one of the forum’s members, described the strategy as a “damp squib”, and added: “We know disabled people have been disproportionately hit by austerity, by cuts to public services, cuts to benefits, by a broken social care system and by the government’s on-going failure to protect and support disabled people through this pandemic.
“Working with disabled people and our organisations to develop a disability strategy able to tackle these deep inequalities was an opportunity this government has chosen to ignore.
“Instead, the government has pressed ahead with a tick box exercise producing a strategy that is not fit for purpose and that has limited credibility with disabled people.
“The engagement and consultation with disabled people on this strategy has been so woeful and virtually non existent that a legal challenge by disabled people is taking place because the consultations have been so poor as to be unlawful.
“Disabled people haven’t even seen this strategy yet – no draft was produced for consultation.
“This is the opposite of putting disabled people’s voices at the heart of government as the minister for disabled people Justin Tomlinson claims.”
The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) said the strategy “goes nowhere near what is needed to create disability equality”.
Neither ROFA – an alliance of DPOs and disabled people in England, and another forum member – nor its own member organisations saw the strategy before it was launched.
ROFA said Tomlinson’s actions in closing the DPO Forum after just three meetings “shows contempt” for disabled people and their representative organisations, as well as for the “nothing about us without us” principles that lie at the heart of UNCRPD.
Mark Harrison, a ROFA steering group member, said: “If the minister was serious about addressing inequality for disabled people, he wouldn’t have shut down the DPO Forum last year whilst developing this strategy.
“We have had no contact with him or his civil servants since September 2020.
“This is typical of this government – all spin but no serious policies to remove the structural barriers disabled people face.”
Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, also a forum member, said the strategy was “disappointingly thin on immediate actions, medium-term plans and the details of longer-term investment”.
He said: “The strategy has insufficient concrete measures to address the current inequalities that disabled people experience in living standards and life chances.
“There are scant plans and timescales on how to bring about vastly-needed improvements to benefits, housing, social care, jobs, education, transport, and equitable access to wider society.
“While we welcome the government’s recognition that disabled people are much less likely than non-disabled people to have a job, qualifications, to own a home, or to live in an accessible home, we haven’t been given the bold plans that will fix these huge issues.
“A vision is not enough. Admitting change won’t happen ‘overnight’ isn’t enough.
“We need radical plans, timescales, and deep financial investment to make change a reality.”
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 last year.
*UNCRPD makes it clear that, when developing laws and policies relating to disabled people, governments “must closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations”. It defines “representative organizations” as those that are “led, directed and governed by persons with disabilities”, a definition which the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities included in general comment number seven
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