By John Pring Disability News Service 22nd March 2018
The government appears to have scrapped its cross-departmental disability strategy – which was aimed at “improving the lives of disabled people” – and abandoned any idea of replacing it.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) yesterday refused to say what had happened to a review of its Fulfilling Potential strategy, which was announced by a minister nearly two years ago.
The strategy was supposed to describe the government’s view of “a society where disabled people can realise their aspirations and fulfil their potential”.
DWP also refused to comment yesterday when asked if the government still had a disability strategy.
The initial stage of Fulfilling Potential was first launched in December 2011, but there have been no updates or progress reports on the strategy on the website of the government’s Office for Disability Issues (ODI) since November 2015.
That progress report included Office for National Statistics figures which showed the proportion of disabled people who said they frequently had choice and control over their lives had plunged from 77 per cent in 2010 to just 66 per cent in 2013.
One Fulfilling Potential publication stated, in 2013, that the strategy was “about making the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People a living reality for disabled people in Britain”.
But the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities delivered its own verdict on that aim last August, when its chair told the UK government that its cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe”, which was “totally neglecting the vulnerable situation people with disabilities find themselves in”.
In July 2016, Nicky Morgan, at the time the minister for women and equalities, announced that the government would be reviewing the Fulfilling Potential strategy during the summer and autumn of that year.
She had been responding to the highly-critical report of a House of Lords inquiry into the impact of the Equality Act on disabled people.
Morgan told the committee that she would use its evidence and wider conversations with disabled people to “help shape how we will take the strategy forward until 2020”.
But there appear to have been no mentions of the review – or ministerial announcements on the strategy’s future – since Morgan made the announcement.
And when asked this week by Disability News Service (DNS) whether the government still had a disability strategy, a DWP spokeswoman appeared to suggest there no longer was one.
She said: “Disability in the UK is mainstreamed. This means that, whilst we promote disability issues across government, every department is ultimately responsible for considering disability in the development and implementation of policies.
“This responsibility is made clear through the legislative duties placed on all public bodies via the public sector equality duty in the Equality Act 2010, and the Northern Ireland Act 1998 in Northern Ireland.”
When asked what had happened to the review of the strategy, she said: “We are committed to improving the lives of disabled people and increasing their participation in society.
“The Lords select committee and other reports have highlighted that disabled people expect different outcomes to the ones in 2013 for Fulfilling Potential, and we continue to explore ways of ensuring that disability rights are a reality for all disabled people.”
When DNS asked her to clarify what she meant by that answer, she refused to comment further.
And when asked if her answers meant the government no longer had a disability strategy, she again refused to comment.
In January 2017, DNS reported that the government had failed to provide updated annual figures that could have exposed the failure of Fulfilling Potential, since ONS statistics showed in 2015 that the proportion of disabled people with choice and control over their lives had fallen from 77 per cent in 2010 to 66 per cent in 2013.
The questions were asked by ONS on behalf of DWP, but no updated figures appear to have been collected.
The government promised that new figures showing how disabled people’s experiences had changed would be published in 2016, but no fresh figures were ever published.
In January 2017, DWP said that it had decided not to publish updated figures “after taking account of feedback from disabled people’s organisations”.
When asked which disabled people’s organisations had provided this feedback, DWP said in a freedom of information response to DNS that it “came from individual stakeholder discussions which were not formally minuted”.
It said in its January 2017 response that it was working instead on replacing these figures with “a series of work and health indicators”.
There were concerns in 2017 that the government had failed to publish updated figures because they would demonstrate that cuts to spending in areas such as social care and disability benefits were having a damaging effect on disabled people’s right to independent living, and their access to education, housing, transport and other services.
When asked whether this was why publication of the figures had been scrapped, the DWP spokeswoman said yesterday: “No. We spend over £50 billion a year to support disabled people and those with health conditions – more than ever before.
“This figure is set to rise annually until the end of this parliament.”