Dan Jones, Campaigns Manager, reports on a major campaigning success for RESULTS and our partners…
Yesterday, on 3rd December – International Day of Persons with Disabilities – RESULTS UK welcomed the launch of the UK Department for International Development (DFID)’s first ever ‘Disability Framework’ at a Parliamentary event we helped organise as part of the Bond Disability & Development Group.
The event was chaired by Lord Low of Dalston CBE, one of RESULTS’ great parliamentary champions, and it saw Baroness Northover, the DFID Minister, launch the framework as well as great speeches from Fiona O’Donnell MP (a member of the International Development Committee in parliament), Dr Ray Lang from Leonard Cheshire Disability, Vladimir Cuk, who leads the International Disability Alliance, and it was also the first public engagement for Beverley Warmington, DFID’s Director for Asia, Caribbean and Overseas Territories and their newly-appointed ‘Senior Managerial Disability Champion’.
The launch of the framework comes after literally years of campaigning and advocacy by RESULTS and our many NGO partners working in close and powerful collaboration. Many of our grassroots groups will remember actions we took around the London 2012 Paralympic Games, and even before then, to raise the issues of disability and development and particularly how UK aid should support more children with disabilities to access a basic education.
Why is disability an important issue for international development and UK aid? The DFID framework makes this clear: one billion people globally have a disability, and 80% of these live in developing countries. Disability is both a cause and a consequence of poverty. One in five people living on under $1 a day has a disability. Discrimination and stigma about disability is still widespread in many countries (the UK cannot pretend we are above this) – and as a result, many people with disabilities are invisible, hidden away or excluded, prevented from participating in their communities and families. Children with disabilities are more likely to be out of school than any other group of children in many countries. People with disabilities are routinely excluded from sexual, reproductive and neonatal healthcare because it is too often assumed that they are not sexually active and not at risk of infection. People (especially women and children) with disabilities are at a much greater risk of violence and abuse. And people with disabilities face much greater barriers to gaining livelihoods and jobs than others. In Burma, for example, studies show that 85% of people with disabilities are unemployed, compared to a national average of 3.5%. A similar situation exists in many other countries. As Baroness Northover concluded at yesterday’s event “DFID is a poverty-relief agency – if we’re not reaching disabled people, what are we doing?”
All of these statistics risk ‘othering’ people with disabilities and making them sound like victims. They’re not, and describing the scale of these challenges in numbers isn’t enough. DFID’s new framework helpfully emphasises that “like everyone else, everyone with a disability has their own specific needs and experiences barriers in different ways”. The term ‘disabled people’ groups together a very wide range of individuals and different impairments, from physical to sensory to intellectual. Different approaches are needed, but what we hope this framework does is demonstrate both to DFID staff and to partner governments, other donor agencies and global initiatives that the UK is serious about prioritising, reaching and supporting individuals with disabilities. UK aid can lead a transformative change which enables more people with disabilities to become visible, overcome discrimination and isolation, and be the empowered, ambitious individuals we all want to be – contributing to our societies, making our own decisions, learning and earning a living to support ourselves.
It’s been a year of exciting progress in raising this issue up the political agenda, and tributes were paid at the event to Lynne Featherstone MP, the former DFID Minister (now at the Home Office) who first announced that DFID would do more to “tackle the great neglect of disability” in development, and who committed last year that all schools built in developing countries with UK aid funding would be made accessible to children with disabilities. Lynne ‘dropped in’ to the event to emphasise her support for the framework. At the end of the event Ade Adepitan, the Paralympian and Broadcaster, also dropped in to voice his support (Ade has been engaged on this issue for many years, and travelled to Uganda with Lynne Featherstone last year to highlight disability issues).
I was thrilled that Fiona O’Donnell MP also spoke at the event. She has been a champion for this issue, and as a member of the International Development Committee in Parliament, was instrumental in the Committee’s inquiry on Disability and Development earlier this year which delivered ambitious recommendations to DFID. Fiona spoke powerfully about how civil society had tirelessly lobbied, advocated, influenced and campaigned on this issue and had had such an impact on the Committee, other MPs, and of course DFID.
I thoroughly recommend reading the new Disability Framework yourself. It’s a powerful document laying out both a grand vision for UK aid to become inclusive, as well as a practical living document which details work that will be done at DFID, by DFID staff, to turn the vision into a reality. We welcome the fact that this is also an honest framework – DFID don’t pretend to have all the answers to disability-inclusion, and they shouldn’t. It’s complex, challenging and beyond the scope of any one organisation to ‘fix’ all the barriers faced by disabled people in developing countries. Rather, DFID rightly emphasises that the framework reflects a process of learning for them and their partners. Crucially, their plan of action focuses on the next 12 months, with a commitment that the framework will be reviewed and re-published each year, with the annual stocktake checking the extent to which progress is being made, and revising the framework as a result to maintain momentum.
RESULTS will aim to be a continuing advocate on this issue, and engage constructively with DFID to continue to push for tangible action throughout their work, on the ground in the countries they work in, and ultimately to the benefit of people with disabilities. “Leaving no-one behind” is the strapline of the new framework, and this must be the goal for all of us working in international development from now on.