The government claims that its new National Disability Strategy will help to “build a better and fairer life” for disabled people, despite it offering only a handful of new policies and failing to win the backing of leading disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).
The government says the much-delayed strategy is “realistic and deliverable” and “rooted in the everyday experience of disabled people”.
But DPOs have expressed “outrage” at the decision to launch a “tokenistic” strategy that is “not fit for purpose” and was not developed in co-production with DPOs (see separate story).
Despite the government’s claims, many of the 100 “practical actions” in the strategy have already been announced, amount to nothing more than a promise to update guidance, or are subject to further consultation, discussion or review.
There is also no detail on the government’s plans for social care, as the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is to publish its repeatedly-delayed proposals for reform “later this year”.
Although most of the policies have previously been announced, scattered throughout the strategy are a small number of new proposals, even though disabled campaigners are likely to remain wary of most of them because of the lack of detail.
Among them is the announcement of a replacement scheme for the Access to Elected Office and EnAble funds, which previously supported disabled people seeking to be elected as councillors and MPs before the programmes were closed by the government.
On accessible housing, there is a strong hint that the government will finally strengthen accessibility standards for new homes in England.
In the section on public transport, ministers say they are seeking “innovative” ideas that would allow disabled passengers to contact train staff from their seats, with contracts due to be awarded this month.
The Department for Transport is also promising to introduce new laws that will protect all disabled passengers of taxis and private hire vehicles from drivers who overcharge them and refuse to provide them with assistance, a long-standing concern among disabled campaigners.
And it is to spend £1 million on improving access at ferry terminals for services to the Isle of Wight and The Isles of Scilly, and commission research into designing accessible bus stops and bus stations.
On employment, there will be a new online advice centre, which will provide clear, accessible information and advice on disabled people’s employment rights, while the Ministry of Defence has pledged that disabled people will make up more than 15 per cent of its civilian workforce by 2030.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Cabinet Office are to set up what they call an Extra Costs Taskforce, which aims to “better understand the extra costs faced by disabled people, including how this breaks down for different impairments”.
But there are likely to be concerns that the results of this taskforce will be used to justify cuts to the extra costs disability benefit, personal independence payment (PIP).
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 PIP with universal credit, but these controversial ideas have been omitted from the strategy.
The strategy says the Disability Unit will develop a UK-wide campaign to “increase public awareness and understanding of disability, dispel ingrained and unhelpful stereotypes and promote the diverse contributions disabled people have made – and continue to make – to public life”.
The document also draws attention to last week’s refreshed Autism Strategy, which has been extended from its previous focus on adults to include children and young people for the first time.
In the second part of the new strategy, the government claims that it wants to put disabled people “at the heart of government policy making and service delivery”.
It says that its Disability Unit will review how government engages with disabled people, through discussions with disabled people, DPOs and charities, in line with its duties under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)*.
And it says the Disability Unit will invest up to £1 million this year to develop a new Centre for Assistive and Accessible Technology, which could act as a source of evidence and expertise, pilot new ways of delivering technology, and improve training and support for disabled people.
The strategy also says that the Disability Unit will lead a programme to improve the “availability, quality, relevance and comparability” of government disability data, and by January 2022 will begin “regular disability surveys and monitor public perceptions of disabled people and policies” through the Office for National Statistics.
The Cabinet Office also plans to create a “Disability Commissioning Taskforce” of DPOs to improve access to government contracts for disability organisations.
And it will appoint a Disability Crown Representative to make the case for inclusion to potential government suppliers.
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.
*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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