Anger over government's new disability quango
Tuesday, 25 September 2012The UK’s leading disabled people’s organisation (DPO) has attacked a government decision to set up an “alliance” of DPOs, charities, and private and public sector organisations that will be asked to produce new disability policies for the coalition.
Plans for the new Disability Action Alliance (DAA) were announced this week as part of the government’s Next Steps document, the latest stage in the production of its long-awaited disability strategy.
The alliance will be led – with government funding – by the DPO Disability Rights UK (DR UK), which has already come under fierce attack from many disabled activists for backing government plans to close sheltered factories run by Remploy.
DR UK’s chief executive, Liz Sayce, who will lead the alliance, wrote a report last year for the government on employment support for disabled people.
And in February this year, DR UK published new guidance on disability hate crime, with funding from the government’s Office for Disability Issues (ODI).
The UK Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) said tonight (Thursday) that it was “shocked and disappointed” by the government’s decision to appoint DR UK to convene and lead the new “alliance”.
Julie Newman, UKDPC’s acting chair, said the appointment had taken place “behind closed doors”, and that DR UK was clearly “too close” to the government.
She said DAA would simply be another “quango”, and was certain to represent the views and interests of big business and service-providers.
She said: “We will be looking at the commercialisation of independent living in a way that is in conflict with human rights. DAA will effectively be a commercial enterprise driven by government.”
Newman questioned the “validity” of the government’s decision, which “excludes disabled people from setting the agenda or defining the terms of reference”.
She said this could breach article 33.3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which states that DPOs should be “involved and participate fully” in monitoring the implementation of the convention.
Next Steps says the government’s vision is to make “a reality” of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities through its programme of public service reform, and by setting up DAA.
Newman said UKDPC would be approaching MPs to ask questions in the Commons about the process to appoint DR UK.
The government said the new “alliance” would consider “thousands of suggestions” put forward by disabled people as part of the consultation on last December’s Fulfilling Potential discussion document.
DR UK was among organisations that criticised Fulfilling Potential for the government’s failure to lay out a strong, clear vision for disability equality.
Neil Coyle, DR UK’s director of policy and campaigns – speaking before UKDPC’s criticism of DR UK’s appointment – said the government had so far failed to come up with a “co-produced set of policies or principles”.
He said: “That’s what the alliance is for. The government has acknowledged that concern. It wants us to put forward ideas that can then be implemented in a much more measureable way.”
He denied that DAA was effectively a privatisation of the ODI. “No, it isn’t. But I think it is recognition that government cannot do everything and the ODI is a small unit with a cross-government role.
“Like most government departments it has been slimmed down and if we can help then absolutely we want to.”
He said the alliance would “bring in a much broader cross-section of organisations”, including disability charities, service-providers and private sector companies, as well as DPOs.
“We hope to see private companies round that table, the right people round that table to be working on some really practical ideas. Nothing about us without us does mean involving others.”
Apart from Newman, one of the few prominent disabled activists who has read and commented on the new documents is Bob Williams-Findlay, a former chair of the British Council of Disabled People.
He said he was deeply distrustful of DR UK taking on a role that he saw as “policing the disabled community”.
And he described the government’s new document as “propaganda”, which fails to “connect with the reality of living disabled lives in the age of austerity”.
He pointed out that the government received less than 550 written responses to its consultation, which he said could indicate “distrust, disinterest, or an indication of contempt for the government’s agenda”.
And he said both the government and Labour opposition were “disability deniers” because of their hostility to the social model of disability, which focuses on the disabling barriers disabled people face in society.
This week’s announcement was low-key, with no public launch of the documents, and apparently no advance notice given to many DPOs and disability charities about the new DAA.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, the pan-London Deaf and disabled people’s organisation, said she had known nothing about DAA until the documents were published on Monday.
She said Inclusion London would need more details and to consult with its members before making any decision on DAA.
The disability charity Scope said it had “not been invited” to join DAA but was keen to be involved and to “make it work”.
Esther McVey, the new Conservative minister for disabled people, said the alliance would “put disabled people and their organisations at the heart of creating inclusive local communities and changing attitudes to disability”.