THE Government “has not learnt lessons” from the concerns raised over the development of the National Disability Strategy (NDS) and its efforts to engage with disabled people are “perceived to be superficial”, the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) has warned.

The cross-party committee of MPs described the Government’s NDS as a “list of un-coordinated and largely pre-existing short-term policies” and called on ministers to “work with disabled people to develop the strategy into a ten-year plan with clear targets”.

The Committee’s first of three reports based on its findings during an inquiry into the NDS concluded that instead of establishing a long-term vision to”‘transform the everyday lives of disabled people” the Government produced a “disability strategy in name only”, with disabled people and their representative organisations having “little to no influence”.

Disabled people “feel excluded from having meaningful input into policies directly affecting them”, WEC cautioned, as it 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 NDS, published on 28 July 2021 was “a list consisting mainly of pre-existing departmental actions with minimal strategic thinking behind how those actions interact”, the Committee said.

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”.

Furthermore, the Government’s engagement process when developing the NDS was “not as good as Ministers claimed”, with disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) reporting “they had no meaningful input”. It is vital the Government improves its evidence base on disability if it is to respond appropriately to disabled people’s lived experiences.

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.

WEC said: “To ensure Departments develop actions to meet the strategy’s long-term objectives, the Disability Unit should have oversight of all disability policies with the power to challenge ministers when necessary”.

Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP said: “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 Disability Unit should have the final say on all disability policy sitting in or originating from other Government Departments to ensure that the whole of Government works towards the same long-term strategic objectives. It should also have the power to challenge relevant Ministers.

“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.”

The High Court ruled the strategy unlawful in January 2022 due to failures in the consultation process. Progress on delivering key parts of the strategy then stalled for 18 months. The Government paused 14 policies it said were directly connected to the strategy while it appealed the High Court’s ruling. The Court of Appeal overturned the High Court’s judgment on 11 July 2023.

Failures in monitoring and communication in relation to the strategy during the period of litigation, WEC concluded “created unnecessary uncertainty and frustration for disabled people and their representative organisations”.

WEC recommended 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 Committee said the Government does not include reference to its obligations under the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in the NDS.

It found that “despite having seven years to do so, the Government has made little to no progress against the UN Committee’s recommendations following its 2016 investigation of the UK which found ‘grave or systemic violations’ of disabled people’s rights”.

WEC 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.”

* Read the report here.

* The report is also available in Easy Read, large print, and there is a video of a British Sign Language summary of the report here.

* Source: Women and Equalities Committee