The government’s Office for Disability Issues is apparently failing to take any action to address “worrying” concerns about disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) that are being forced to close because of funding problems.
Earlier this month, two prominent user-led organisations spoke out about the “urgent” need for research into the falling number of DPOs across the country.
Shaping Our Lives said it was seeking funding, and partners, for a major piece of research to uncover the scale of the problem, with its own figures suggesting that more than 60 user-led groups that were members of its network had been forced to close since 2014.
And Inclusion London, which supports Deaf and disabled people’s organisations across the capital, also raised concerns and said there were now a number of London boroughs without their own DPO.
But when asked if the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) was aware of and concerned about the problem, and if it was taking any action, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it was concerned about closures but failed to suggest any measures it was taking to address the concerns.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “The ODI is aware that DPULOs [disabled people’s user-led organisations]close on a fairly frequent basis, and are obviously concerned by this.
“The government takes the opportunity to work with them and support their work wherever possible.”
But when asked again whether it was taking any action to address the concerns about closures, another DWP spokeswoman said the department had “nothing to add”.
Last month, Disability News Service reported that the number of staff working in ODI had plummeted by more than two-thirds under the coalition and Conservative governments.
In March 2010, just before the Tory-led coalition came to power, there were the equivalent of 48 full-time staff working in ODI, but there are now just 15, while the ODI website has now not been updated in more than seven months.
Professor Peter Beresford (pictured), co-chair of the national service-user network Shaping Our Lives, said it was “reassuring” that ODI was “aware of and ‘concerned’ about the loss of these much-valued organisations”.
But he said: “It is very worrying that even though aware of what increasingly looks like a crisis, the [ODI] has no plans or even comment to make in response to the situation.
“Given that the ODI was originally established as a central government agency to support the independent living of disabled people and the development of a strong network of disabled people-led organisations, this makes especially troubling reading.
“There seems to be no plan A and no plan B. The only plan this government seems to have any confidence in is attacking the welfare rights of disabled people with its much-discredited welfare reform policies.
“The loss of DPOs is part of an even bigger crisis facing disabled and older people who are increasingly being denied a voice.”