Learning Disability Today
Blue Sky Offices Shoreham
25 Cecil Pashley Way
T: 01273 434943
A cross-party committee of MPs has urged the government to produce a targeted 10-year plan to improve the lives of disabled people and has called the current strategy ‘superficial’ and ‘un-coordinated’.
The findings were part of the Women and Equalities Committee inquiry into the National Disability Strategy (NDS), which was published in July 2021 and set out the government’s long-term vision for disabled people, including people with a learning disability and autistic people.
The committee said that the NDS was a “list of un-coordinated and largely pre-existing short-term policies” where disabled people and their representative organisations had “little to no influence”.
It said that disabled people “feel excluded from having meaningful input into policies directly affecting them” and recommended the government appoint a national advisory group consisting of the DPO (Disabled people’s organisations) Forum England and the chairs of Regional Stakeholder Networks to “review disability policy proposals, advise ministers on key issues, and develop, implement and monitor the NDS”.
The Committee noted that only a strategy which “integrates different policy areas—such as education, health, social care, employment and transport—will have a truly transformational effect on the lives of disabled people”.
Several stakeholders, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission, disability charities, and DPOs, repeatedly asked the government to increase engagement before launching the strategy, “but the government did not, leaving disabled people feeling further disempowered”, the report found.
Progress on delivering key parts of the strategy were also stalled as the High Court ruled the strategy unlawful in January 2022 due to failures in the consultation process. In July this year, the Court of Appeal overturned this. At the time, Disability Rights UK said the ruling was “surprising” given that the NDS implements policies that are “harming disabled people disproportionately”.
Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP added: “It is clear disabled people want more influence over the strategies, action plans, and policies affecting them. Ministers need to work much more proactively with disabled groups and develop the National Disability Strategy beyond short-term actions that were already in progress.
“To support this approach, it should collaborate with disabled people to develop a ten-year strategy with an action plan for the first five years outlining clear targets and timescales for delivery.
“The government needs to listen to the concerns that disabled people and their representative organisations had with the strategy and work closely with them to deliver meaningful, long-lasting improvements to the lives of disabled people.”
Failures in monitoring and communication in relation to the strategy during the period of litigation, the Committee concluded “created unnecessary uncertainty and frustration for disabled people and their representative organisations”.
It recommends that the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work should update Parliament and disability stakeholders immediately with specific timescales for delivery on all outstanding actions in the NDS.
The report said that the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is important to disabled people. However, while other countries are taking clear steps to align their national strategies with the CRPD, the government does not include reference to its obligations under the treaty in the National Disability Strategy.
In 2016, the United Nations published 11 recommendations for the UK government to improve the lives of disabled people. Now, seven years later, there has been limited or no progress in most of the areas, leaving disabled people at higher risk of poverty, abuse and poor health.
The Committee concluded it was “disrespectful to both the UN Committee and disabled people” that the government “refused to attend” to give evidence to the UN in August 2023.
It added: “The government should set out why it refused to attend the meeting, how and by when it will implement the UN Committee’s recommendations, and what specifically it is doing to ensure that the whole of government follows the principles of the treaty.”
The National Autistic Society has urged the government to act on the committee’s findings and produce a clear strategy and action plan, with meaningful commitments and investment, and involve autistic people every step of the way.
Tim Nicholls, Head of Influencing and Research, said: “Autistic people face huge inequalities across every aspect of their lives, from accessing healthcare, education, transport and public spaces, to facing discrimination and negative attitudes, and high levels of unemployment. We need a disability strategy that tackles all barriers to help create a society that truly works for autistic people and their families.
“It’s time for the government to finally deliver on its promise to improve the lives of all disabled people.”