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Coronavirus: Lack of engagement with DPOs ‘has led to bad policies’

The government is facing claims that its continuing and repeated refusal to consult with disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) has contributed to its failure to protect disabled people’s rights in responding to the coronavirus crisis.

Successive governments since 2012 have been criticised for their failure to engage constructively with DPOs. Members of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) wrote to the minister for disabled people this week to question his failure to engage with them and other DPOs in drawing up the government’s planned new disability strategy. But Disability News Service (DNS) has been told that the failure to engage with DPOs has also adversely affected the way the government has handled the coronavirus crisis, leading to a series of attacks on disabled people’s rights, particularly in social care, education and mental health.

Mark Harrison, a member of the ROFA steering group, said the government’s failure to consult with DPOs over its response to the coronavirus pandemic had led to “bad” policies. He said: “If you don’t involve the objects of policy in developing policy then you get bad policy.”

ROFA’s members include Inclusion London, Disabled People Against Cuts, The Alliance for Inclusive Education, People First (Self Advocacy), Sisters of Frida and Equal Lives. Harrison said there had been “no meaningful consultation” with DPOs in England since 2012, which meant the government was missing out on “a wealth of expertise across all impairments and all the diversity of the disability community”.

One of the areas that has apparently suffered from the lack of co-production, he said, has been the government’s failure to publish guidance for disabled people who use direct payments to employ their own personal assistants. He pointed to the failure of care minister Helen Whateley to respond to a letter from the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell on the issue, and he added: “They are not even talking to disabled peers, let alone representatives of DPOs.”

ROFA wrote last week to the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, to ask why he had not replied to a previous ROFA letter from mid-February that questioned why he had not engaged with the alliance and other DPOs on the government’s new disability strategy. This, says ROFA, is a breach of the UK government’s commitment to engage with DPOs under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Harrison said the failure to respond to the first letter showed that the government’s “contempt for DPOs” and for UNCRPD had not changed. He said: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way, but with this government, as with previous governments since 2010, there isn’t any will.”

Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) is another DPO that has raised concerns about the government’s lack of engagement with disabled people on its strategy for fighting the pandemic. GMCDP said on Wednesday that disabled people “need our equality upheld and to be consulted and have co-working on all government strategies about us”.

Fazilet Hadi, policy manager for Disability Rights UK, also raised concern about the lack of consultation with DPOs.

She said: “There has been no consultation before laws or guidance is produced and to some extent this is understandable given the pace of change. However, mistakes are being made. We fully understand that government and health and social care bodies need to act quickly during the crisis but as required by the UNCRPD it is essential that they consult with organisations led by disabled people when shaping new laws, guidance and emergency schemes. New forms of rapid consultation should be developed.”

Mike Steel, from Bristol Reclaiming Independent Living, said many disabled people were particularly concerned about the lack of advice from central government on COVID-19-related issues.

He said: “We share the concerns of others that the government has left out Deaf, disabled, chronically-ill people and people with mental health difficulties from planning and producing information, and call on the government to honour their duties under the UNCRPD to directly involve and consult with us.”

Asked by DNS about engagement with DPOs on coronavirus planning and the national disability strategy, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “The government is strongly committed to ensuring that disabled people have a big say in determining our forthcoming national strategy, which is why we are working with disabled people and disability organisations as part of its development. We also intend to begin face-to-face engagement on national, regional and local levels as soon as wider circumstances allow.”


Article originally appeared on Disability News Service 

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