Caroline Squire "We will struggle to meet the SDGs without a step change in the inclusion of people with disabilities. "

Our Director writes about DFID's newly published Disability Strategy, how DFID under a Conservative Government is leading the way in addressing the challenge of disability inclusion as part of their commitment to the SDG's, and calls for momentum not to be lost.

CFID are encouraging its members in the Upper House to take part in the Topical Debate secured today by Lady Anelay "to ask HMG what assessment they have made of the role of their Strategy for Disability Inclusive Development, published on 3 December, towards meeting the UK’s commitments given at the Global Disability Summit in July."

Photo Credit: DFID Report Cover - A man on a deaf awareness march in Kapsabet, Kenya. Jeffrey DeKock/ICS

We will struggle to meet the Sustainable Development Goals without a step change in our approach to the inclusion of people with disabilities.

By Caroline Squire, Director, CFID

Yesterday was International Day of People Living with a Disability, around one billion people globally have a disability, 80% of whom live in developing countries. Around 33 million children with disabilities are not in school and people with disabilities continue to face significant levels of stigma and discrimination, which leads to their exclusion, even by their own family members.

Too often disabled people cannot easily engage with governments and decision makers, as a consequence their voices are not heard. It’s thanks to campaign’s such as Sightsavers’ ‘Put us in the Picture’ urging the UK Government to show leadership on disability, that Conservatives lead and hosted the first ever Global Disability Summit in July. Here, the Secretary of State, Penny Mordaunt, committed to leading the charge in making disability inclusive development a global priority.

The launch of DFID's first ever Disability Strategy, is a welcome further step. There has been too little global progress to date on disability and the strategy commits DFID to be more ambitious in future, to focus its efforts and hold itself and others accountable.

Central to this plan is a commitment to engage with people with disabilities; empower and support them to exercise their fundamental freedoms and rights, ones we often take for granted. The rights and voice of people living with disability, and their carers, will only be realised by their active inclusion at the centre of decision-making processes. I visited a moving project for children with learning disabilities in Tanzania this summer and have seen first-hand how important it is. From the fact the simple gift of a wheelchair is rendered useless when the road to your house is rutted and muddy. To the fact it makes economic sense. In this case enabling daytime relief to parents so they can work whilst also educating the children in much needed life skills. It should be obvious that we’re missing a huge opportunity (politically, socially and economically) when we systematically exclude more than one billion people from decision making.

In practical terms DFID’s strategy sets out four key areas across inclusive education; social protection; economic empowerment and humanitarian action. Its move towards a step up in action to address stigma and discrimination, supporting women and girls with disabilities, mental health and promoting equal access to technology, are very welcome. This includes the addition of new minimum standards on disability inclusion which all of DFID’s country offices and departments will be expected to meet by the end of 2019.

But there are challenges ahead, not least the challenge of turning today’s fine words into action and demonstrating how civil society and others can hold DFID accountable for the strategy’s implementation.

To be effective DFID needs to set out how it will put this ambitious strategy into practice, how it will measure change in the lives of people with disabilities, and by when. Country accountability is reportedly particularly weak within this context. There is often an assumption that development policies and programmes targeting extreme poverty always include people with disabilities. What is becoming clear is that this is not always the case, they can be routinely excluded from development and its benefits. Too often disabled people are also ‘invisible’ from official statistics, left out and as a consequence disempowered in society.

Since 2006 when the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was ratified, a slew of activity has taken place including the significant inclusion of disability in the SDGs.

As the first ever host of a Global Disability Summit I am proud the UK Government is leading the way in this area. Yesterday's strategy is an important symbolic step, but we must not rest on our laurels and ensure the global political momentum that has been created is not lost if we are to meet the SDGs. As the Secretary of State, Penny Mordaunt said "now is the time to turn those ideas into action"