The UK Government has released their National Disability Strategy with ambitions on how to upgrade employment support and opportunities, housing and transport access for the 14.1 million disabled people currently living in the UK.
With over 14,000 respondents to the UK Disability Survey, highlighting the challenges the disabled community face in their daily lives alongside discrimination in employment, access to transport and housing: the new strategy has been met with mixed reviews.
Released today (28 July 2021), after initially being announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, it has been described by the PM as a chance to build “a better and fairer life for all disabled people living in the UK.”
However, Conservative peer Lord Shinkwin has commented that the document is “flimsy.”
Focusing on improving inclusion in the workplace to tackle the current disability employment gap; investing £300m to create places and improve existing provisions in SEND schools; to ensuring the disabled community can live in adapted homes: the action plan has several ambitions.
The Disability Strategy also covers a range of other areas including access to justice, culture and the arts. It marks the first cross-government endeavour to improve disabled people’s everyday lives with legislation, policy and funding from across all corners of government.
In total, there are 120 actions with set budgets in place or being introduced to put actions into place. One such investment is to provide £30m for more Changing Places facilities across the UK.
An Access Card is also set to be introduced to enable barrier free booking for disabled people to art and cultural events or buildings. Despite a lengthy list of ambitions, it is evident the surface has barley been scratched.
LONG WAY TO GO
Reaction to the Strategy has been mixed with many people criticising the document and stating that a lot more still needs to be done to support the daily lives of the disabled community.
Chair of the APPG on Disability Dr Lisa Cameron MP stresses: “However, over the last 16 months, I have met with countless charities and disabled people’s organisations, so I know people with disabilities have pinned their hopes on this strategy.
“That’s why I am concerned that, despite taking two years to develop, this is not the strategy disabled people deserve.
“Despite being over 120 pages, the national strategy contains few substantive policy recommendations, instead offering consultations on key areas of policy such as Disability Confident and disability employment reporting,” Dr Cameron continues.
“The document promises the government will report back on these consultations by the end of the year. I will be monitoring this situation closely and will hold the government to account to ensure at this point it produces policies of genuine substance.
“In July last year, the Prime Minister wrote to me promising an ambitious and transformative National Disability Strategy. From what I have seen so far, this falls short and has a long way to go to ensure it lives up to this promise.”
“I want to see the Government focus more on the experiences and needs of disabled people and this strategy is an important first step in making that happen, but at the moment there is still a lot of work to do,” comments Ismail Kaji, parliamentary support officer at the learning disability charity Mencap.
“One of the most important things is for the Government to understand every disabled person has different challenges and needs. And the only way the government will really understand this is by making sure they talk to and include disabled people, especially people with a learning disability whose voices are never heard enough,” Ismail, who has a learning disability, adds.
Concerns around social care have been further raised by charities, noting that 70 per cent of people with a learning disability had their social care cut during lockdown.
Despite the PMs comments on the transformative agenda in place, Ruth Owen OBE, CEO of Leonard Cheshire emphasises: “The Prime Minister told us these reforms would be the most ambitious in a generation, but this strategy doesn’t live up to that billing.
“If this is to become a bold blueprint for a better future, co-designing indicators for success with disabled people is crucial,” continues Ruth.
“For this strategy to lead to meaningful change, we need to work together to set out clear overarching goals and metrics, underpinning future strategy with concrete funding commitments. Because there is little in the way of timescales or targets.”
Charities and campaigners are now actively coming together to challenge some of the actions and provide their input and disability understanding.
Scope is preparing to work with the government to ensure their plans are accurately funded and pushing the plan further than just one-year. Similarly, many of the changes the RNIB have been campaigning for have been included in the plan, but the charity, which supports people who are blind or visually impaired, know more needs to be done.
Adding to current inequalities faced by the disabled community, the National Autistic Society’s chief executive, Caroline Stevens says: “This strategy is a first step, but the coming years will be even more important.
“Autistic people want to see the Government backing its ambitions with actions, delivering on its promise to reform social care and really tackle inequalities. Autistic people must be involved in the next steps of development of the strategy and its implementation.”
“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.”