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UK government can’t lose momentum on disability inclusion

This International Day for Persons with Disabilities marks two years since the implementation of the UK government’s Disability Inclusive Development Strategy.

A step-change from the preceding disability framework, the strategy has already yielded many positive outcomes. But we can’t lose momentum, as the Covid-19 pandemic makes clear.

Huge progress over the last two years

The FCDO’s progress report published last month provides a vibrant and encouraging read. Achievements made by the UK government and its delivery partners, including several members of the Bond Disability and Development Group (DDG), include:

  • The Girls Education Challenge is reaching more than 100,000 girls with disabilities, and aims to ensure greater leadership of people with disabilities. For example, Leonard Cheshire’s Inclusive Education programme in Kenya is working with organisations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) and the National Council for People with Disabilities to raise awareness of the importance of educating girls with disabilities.
  • Through the multi-country Sightsavers-led Disability Inclusive Development programme, BRAC and its partners have enabled people with disabilities in Bangladesh to access vocational training and job placements, increasing participants’ earnings by 44%.
  • Humanity & Inclusion has tested 3D printing of orthotics and prosthetics in refugee camp settings, through the AT2030 Assistive Technology programme. The NGO has also designed and delivered e-learning on the use of the Washington Group questions in humanitarian settings.
  • CBM UK and Nigeria’s Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities carried out an inclusion audit of DFID’s humanitarian work (NENTAD) in Nigeria, leading to new training processes for implementation partners and OPDs.

The strategy promised a stronger focus on mental health. This year, the government published a ground-breaking position paper and theory of change, with significant input from the development and humanitarian sectors, and funded a mental health topic guide for development professionals.

Additionally, the government recognised the need to address the specific safeguarding requirements for people with disabilities. The government worked closely with the Bond DDG to build evidence and best practice in safeguarding adults and children with disabilities.

Uncertainty, crisis and cuts

Much of this work was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. People with disabilities found themselves at greater risk of harm and disadvantage, from both the virus and the measures implemented to control its spread. Local and national partners had to either stop or adapt their services and support.

FCDO recognised this critical point for disability inclusion. NGOs were allowed to pivot activities and were given new funding for specific inclusive Covid-19 responses.

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The pandemic has had a devastating impact in the UK, including shrinking the UK economy and the aid budget, leading to significant cuts in funding for development programmes. Even more disappointing, the chancellor Rishi Sunak intends to reduce the UK’s aid commitment to 0.5% from 2021, until “the fiscal situation permits otherwise”.

There is significant opposition to the government’s plan to reduce the aid budget to 0.5% of gross national income and rightly so. It is too early to tell but, if this reduction in the aid budget is not overturned, these cuts are likely to have huge ramifications on programmes focused on disability inclusion and mental health, as well as efforts being made to mainstream inclusion. That said, we remain hopeful that whatever the aid budget is, disability inclusion will continue to be a priority of the new department.

Further, the UK government can do more to further the rights of people with disabilities beyond the aid budget. The integration of the UK’s foreign policy suite provides opportunities to mainstream disability inclusion further, into diplomatic, trade, and even security and defence decisions.

Disability inclusion must remain a priority

The UK government already recognises that “real change for people with disabilities will only come from changing the way the whole international community does business”. The Global Disability Summit in July 2018 acted as a galvanising moment for governments, NGOs and private sector actors. Over 170 sets of commitments were made across national governments and other organisations. Norway has picked up the baton and intends to host the next Disability Summit in February 2022.

Importantly, the FCDO’s progress report reflects upon lessons learned, and the honesty expressed about some things being harder than expected is welcome. The report recognises the importance of engaging with people with disabilities in-country and that country teams, as well as UK-based teams, need to build relationships with OPDs.

The report also recognises that high level leadership has been critical in driving forward progress, along with the work of disability champions. The central FCDO Disability Inclusion team has played a crucial role in providing direction and expertise. We at the DDG have greatly appreciated our partnership with this team and our role as “critical friend” in their efforts to ensure disability inclusion in their and their partners’ work.

Disability inclusion must remain a priority for the UK government. We can’t lose momentum, as the Covid-19 pandemic makes clear. The FCDO Disability Inclusion team must maintain its capacity and promote inclusion expertise across the department, taking care to consider the diverse experience of people with disabilities. This team needs to work in a cross-departmental effort to ensure the implementation of the Disability Inclusion Strategy.

Funding for programmatic work will be challenging in the coming years, so disability mainstreaming will become even more important to harness efforts, alongside UK advocacy on creating systemic change for people with disabilities. The UK has achieved far too much to let go of this priority.


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