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Assessing the Government’s Disability Strategy

12 August 2021

By Fazilet Hadi, Disability Rights UK Head of Policy

Introduction

Four years after a scathing report from the United Nations on the UK’s implementation of the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Government published its Disability Strategy at the end of July.

The Strategy acknowledges the unequal life experiences of Disabled people, and the PM’s introduction points to the need for significant change.

However, it soon becomes apparent that a wide gulf exists between the deep and systemic inequalities faced by Disabled people and the actions proposed by the Government’s Disability Strategy. This is not a Strategy rooted in addressing the inequalities experienced by Disabled people, but a compilation of departmental actions, some of which were already in train.

Omissions

What hits you about the Strategy is what it doesn’t include: it doesn’t address the shockingly low level of benefits that millions of Disabled people are forced to live on; it doesn’t strengthen equality legislation or make enforcement easier; it doesn’t state that all new build homes will be accessible; it doesn’t set an end date for train stations being accessible; it doesn’t tackle the inadequacy of social care or reduce charging; it doesn’t improve the education received by Disabled learners; and it proposes no bold measures to tackle the disability employment gap.

Concrete Commitments

So, are there concrete actions? Yes, BSL interpreters will be allowed in jury rooms, voters in polling stations will be able to receive assistance from people they choose, landlords will have to make reasonable adjustments to the common parts of buildings, support will be given to Disabled candidates in local elections; Intensive Personalised Employment Support will increase by 25%, a free arts access card will be introduced, and the coastal path will be made more accessible. Whilst these actions are welcome, they are far from an ambitious agenda for change and leave millions of Disabled people with little hope that the struggles of everyday life will be different. 

Reviews

The Disability Strategy includes numerous proposals for reviews, working groups, audits, consultations, new guidance and research, some of which are important, particularly if action follows. Notable among these are:

Review of engagement with disability organisations

Programme of disability surveys

DPO Working Group on government procurement

Task group on crime against Disabled people

Audit of 2,500 train stations

Review of standards for buses and coaches (PSVAR)

Strengthened accessibility measures for taxis and mini cabs

Review of protection from abuse by carers

Piloting of additional work support for Disabled people with complex needs

Trialling of Access to Work passports

Testing of locally based employment support

Review of Disability Confident

Review of disability work force monitoring

Consultation on flexible working being the default

New guidance on the street environment

Extra costs Task Group

Accessibility review of private sector websites

 

Areas of Concern

There are areas where the Disability Strategy and/or Government policy causes some concern. Foremost among these are:

Benefits: The Disability Strategy is silent on benefits, but the Green Paper on Health and Disability floats ideas on how benefits for Disabled people can be re-structured. No proposals on benefit changes were shared in the numerous consultation meetings held in advance of the Green Paper. The Green Paper includes threats to disability benefits, in particular Personal Independence Payments (PIP). 

Education: The Strategy highlights the increasing numbers of special schools, demonstrating the lack of Government commitment to inclusive education.

The Strategy talks about the desire through the SEND Review to move away from Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs). However frustrating the delivery of Plans might be, they do, at minimum, hold agencies to account.

Employment: The Strategy points to a reducing disability employment gap, despite evidence that contradicts this interpretation.

Given a gap of almost 30% and the impact of the pandemic on Disabled people’s employment, it is surprising that no large-scale initiatives were announced to support Disabled people into work.

Housing: Given the shocking inadequacy of current housing to meet the accessibility needs of Disabled people, it is supremely disappointing that the Strategy didn’t announce that all new build homes will be accessible and a proportion will be wheelchair accessible.

The proposal to implement the Equality Act provision to make the common parts of buildings accessible comes with a rider that it will be the tenant that pays, unless they are eligible for a Disabled Facilities Grant.

There is nothing to support disabled leaseholders hit financially by remedial works being carried out in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire. There is also no funding for building improvements or aids and equipment identified in Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans for Disabled people unable to self-evacuate.

Social Care: Whilst the Strategy tells us that Disabled people will be consulted every step of the way in respect of social care reform, this is not the experience of Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs).

The Disability Strategy gives no confidence, and provides no confirmation, that support for working age Disabled people will be addressed and improved by social care reform.

 

Conclusion

So what next? Of course disability organisations will work to maximise the impact of the proposed Government measures, but we must guard against working on the small things, whilst bigger prizes fail to materialise or are swept away.

The UN will be assessing the UK’s progress against the CRPD in 2023, and the Government has committed to an annual progress report on the implementation of the Disability Strategy and a dashboard of indicators to monitor improvements in the lives of Disabled people. These all provide opportunities to return to the systemic inequalities affecting Disabled people and the policies and investment needed to achieve transformational change. 

Disability organisations need to come together to decide what we need to do differently, better or bigger, to protect Disabled people from threats and to achieve our goals of independence and inclusion.