hand on wheelchair

30th July 2021 • My Family Our Needs

This week marked the launch of the Government’s eagerly awaited National Disability Strategy. The strategy sets out 100 immediate commitments supported by £1.6bn of funding alongside an ambitious agenda for future reform. 

The strategy builds on the Disability Discrimination Act which enshrined protections for disabled people when it comes to employment, transport, education and provision of goods and services. 

All commitments are backed by the personal drive of the UK Government department’s Ministerial Disability Champion and progress will be reported on every 12 months. 

Findings from the UK Disability Survey, which had over 14,000 respondents, showed many disabled people feel held back in their everyday lives by the negative attitudes of others, ranging from awkwardness and misguided empathy to outright hostility. 

A welcome ‘first’ step 

National charity, United Response provides person-centred support to around 2,000 adults and young people with learning disabilities, mental health needs or physical disabilities – including some of the most vulnerable people in our society.  

Mark Ospedale, Director of People and Communications at United Response, said, ‘Improving access to education, accessible housing and employment for disabled people is a good start, and the pledge to produce yearly progress reports hints at a longer-term commitment and ‘transformative’ approach from Government. 

Yet, despite the Strategy proving a welcome ‘step’, the charity awaits the practical steps. Mark Ospedale told MFON,

‘Unfortunately, the strategy gives far too little detail on how specific Government departments aim to bring these plans to life and deliver positive outcomes for disabled people – both in the short and long-term. Today’s strategy is a solid enough beginning but it must become more. Government must now outline the practical steps it will take to be truly transformative on a range of issues affecting disabled people every single day. 

‘We eagerly await Government’s first progress report next summer on a year of solid actions – not words – which have helped disabled people live better lives.’ 

Investing in school accessibility and capacity 

The school day can be challenging for some disabled children. According to the Government strategy, In the UK, 8% of children are disabled as defined under the Equality Act 2010. 

Despite progress, there remains a big disparity in qualifications achieved. 23% of disabled people had a degree or equivalent in 2020, compared with 39.7% of non-disabled people. 

The Government has said they will: 

Improve support for children and young people in England with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in the financial year 2021 to 2022. Which includes: 

  • Completing a wide-ranging review to improve outcomes.
  • An extra £730 million high needs revenue funding for children and young people with more complex needs. 
  • An extra £300 million to improve existing school provision and accessibility. 
  • Boost professional development for those supporting children and young people with SEND. 
  • Support improvements to the supported internships programme. 
  • Increase the number of disabled people entering into apprenticeships and ensure that those who start an apprenticeship go on to thrive. 

The Government has invested £365 million over the period 2018 to 2021 to create new school places and improve existing provision for children with SEND. 59 new special free schools for children with complex SEND have been opened and a further 75 are in the pipeline. 

Accessible housing 

Registered social housing provider, Habinteg, says the Disability Strategy misses a golden opportunity on accessible housing. Habinteg wants to see the building regulations ‘accessible and adaptable’ standard established as the minimum requirement for all new homes as well as a national expectation for a proportion of all homes to be built to wheelchair accessible standards. However, according to Habinteg, the strategy stops short of these steps. Instead, it commits the Ministry of Housing Community and Local Government to: 

  • Confirm plans to improve the framework to deliver accessible new homes by December 2021. 
  • Commission new research to develop statutory guidance on meeting Building Regulations covering access to and use of buildings. 

MFON really wanted to hear reaction from people who live in accessible homes. Kerry Thompson, an award-winning disability campaigner, wheelchair user and Habinteg tenant said, ‘It’s so disappointing that the Government has missed the opportunity to make a firm joined up link between accessible homes and other key policy areas. Without accessible homes disabled people are held back from ‘levelling up’ in so many ways. It’s harder to work, to raise a family, to study or even just build relationships with neighbours and friends. These are all basic things that most non-disabled people don’t think twice about. 

Kerry added, 

‘The Government’s own figures show that the number of people who want to move to find somewhere more accessible is increasing. At the same time, there are 400,000 wheelchair users living in homes that are neither adapted nor designed to be accessible. It’s simply not ok that so many people are making do in unsuitable homes. If we’re serious about equality and inclusion this must change now before it’s too late.’ 

Habinteg believes that adequate housing is fundamental to inclusion and equality for disabled people. Home is the starting point for every day, whether that be a day of work, study, parenting, volunteering, or leisure. Yet currently only 9% of homes in England offer even the most basic level of accessibility and this puts disabled people at a severe disadvantage in all aspects of life. 

‘Transformative’  

Despite the strategy proving a welcome first step for some, there has been some criticism this week regarding the language used by the Government. Prompting wider discussions on whether the Government has really listened to the people at the heart of this strategy. 

Get in touch 

We would really like to hear your thoughts and views on the Strategy, get in touch with us by contacting us on Twitter @weareMFON 

Visit the Government website to read the Disability Strategy in full.