The Government's long-awaited National Disability Strategy has been criticised by disability charities for not having a concrete investment plan to meet some of its big long-term goals, like ensuring fairness and equality.
The strategy has been developed with the input of more than 14,000 disabled people, as well as disability organisations, businesses, policy experts and many others. It sets out 100 immediate commitments supported by £1.6 billion of funding alongside an ambitious agenda for future reform.
This includes upgrading job support and opportunities, housing and transport and making sure children with special educational needs and disabilities are at the heart of the strategy.
It is the first time that there has been a shared vision across government departments on disability and the Strategy contains a set of commitments that they will complete over the next year.
Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson said: "We are absolutely committed to putting disabled people at the heart of government policy making and service delivery. Their voices, insights and experiences are central to this strategy and our future approach. By engaging disabled people, their families, carers and organisations, collectively we will deliver real and lasting change.
"That’s empowered us to focus on the things disabled people tell us are most important to them, and crucially they’ll be able to hold us to account as we deliver real and lasting change."
Does the Disability Strategy go far enough?
The UK-wide strategy was first announced by Boris Johnson in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, when the prime minister described it as the "most ambitious and transformative disability plan in a generation".
According to disability charity Scope, that despite the promises to truly transform the lives of disabled people in this country, the reality of the National Disability Strategy is closer to a one year action plan.
Chief Executive, Mark Hodgkinson, said: "Many of the short term commitments made are to be welcomed, but the Strategy as a whole falls short of the transformational plan that many disabled people expected and deserve. Unless we get clear detail beyond the next 12 months, it is difficult to see how life will be significantly different for the next generation of disabled people.
“The money earmarked to deliver the Strategy is sadly not sufficient for long term transformational change, and in many cases is not ‘new’ money. Investing in disabled people can have a hugely positive impact to our country, to our economy and to disabled people’s living standards. Therefore, further investment must be prioritised as part of the upcoming spending review."
He said that there are areas that are promising, such as the commitment to get companies reporting on disability figures in the workplace, the creation of an accessible technology centre, action to improve public transport, and a taskforce to look at the extra costs that disabled people face.
“However, there are areas where the strategy doesn't go far enough, even in this first year," he added. "Disabled children and their families will gain little from this Strategy beyond tweaks to the education system. And Government has failed to set out how and when it intends to close the disability employment gap."
Special educational needs and disabilities
The Government says it is investing £300 million to create places, improve existing provision in schools and make accessibility adaptations for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
Support in the financial year 2021 to 2022 will include a wide-ranging SEND review to improve outcomes and an extra £730 million revenue funding for children and young people with more complex needs. This means that the total high needs funding allocation will have risen by 24% in two years to over £8 billion this year.
The Department of Education is contributing £9.3 million in the 2021 to 2022 financial year to fund the training of more educational psychologists, increasing the number of trainee educational psychologists each year to over 200.
There are also plans to boost professional development for those supporting children and young people with SEND.
Caroline Stevens, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society said it was right that the country now has a disability strategy that promises change across government departments – and commits to important things like improving public understanding and perception of disability and improving information and advice to employers.
But she added that "it’s not yet clear how the Government will meet them. If the Government is truly going to transform disabled people’s lives, we need a concrete plan and investment - starting with the upcoming Spending Review."
Improving inclusion in the workplace
The strategy aims to introduce workforce reporting for businesses with more than 250 staff on the number of disabled people it employs. A move designed to improve inclusive practice across the UK’s biggest employers and builds on existing gender reporting requirements.
The Government also plans to increase the number of disabled people employed by MI5, MI6, GCHQ, the Reservists and the civilian military by 2030. MI6 has set an interim target of 9% by 2025.
It is also launching a new online advice hub available to both disabled people and employers, which provides information and advice on disability discrimination in the workplace, flexible working and rights and obligations around reasonable adjustments. For the first time, the one stop shop will make it easier for disabled people to navigate the workplace.
Housing and disabled people
To make sure disabled people can live in homes adapted to their needs, it says action will be taken to raise the accessibility requirements for new homes and adapt existing homes using the £573 million Disabled Facilities Grant to make changes like widening doors, installing ramps, fitting stair lifts or installing a downstairs bathroom.
It also mandates that 10% of homes built through the £11.5 billion Affordable Homes Programme 2021-26 will be for supported housing, boosting availability of good homes for those with additional needs. This target is designed to make more homes available to people with additional needs.
Ismail Kaji, parliamentary support officer from Mencap, said that the Strategy was an important first step in the Government focusing more on the experiences and needs of disabled people, but there needs to be less talking and more action to fix the social care crisis.
He added: “We were promised a Disability Strategy that would change the lives of disabled people but, right now, there is still a long way to go. For many disabled people, social care support is really important to live a happy, healthy and independent life. It’s very worrying there is not enough focus on this in the government’s strategy, especially as almost 70% of people with a learning disability had their social care cut when they needed it most during lockdown."