Disability chief slams government

The Chairman of the Disability Rights Commission has attacked the government for sidelining disabled people.

Geoff Adams-Spink

BBC News website age & disability correspondent

Mr Massie attacked government for its lazy fatalism

During a speech in central London, Bert Massie said the problem lay in “a lazy fatalism and a low expectations culture” over those with disabilities.

He said targets for reducing poverty and increasing the number of people in work risked being missed.

Mr Massie told the BBC housing policies failed disabled people, while teaching with phonics excluded deaf children.

The DRC is launching an advertising campaign to highlight the impact of discrimination on the lives of disabled people.

Mr Massie told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme the needs of disabled people needed to be considered at the beginning of government policy.

Our argument is that disability, disabled people, has to be at the centre of government policy across all policies, otherwise those policies will fail

“You consider the needs of deaf children immediately at the beginning of the policy, not as a little add-on towards the end,” he said on phonics.

“…You might go for phonetics, provided you build in provision for disabled people straight away.

He said: “Across a whole swathe of public policy, disabled people have not been taken into account and because of that, the government is going to miss the target it’s setting for the whole population.

“What we’re actually facing – I think – in government, is a lazy fatalism,” he said.

“Our argument is that disability, disabled people, has to be at the centre of government policy across all policies, otherwise those policies will fail.”

‘Left behind’

During his speech at Westminster Hall, Mr Massie was joined by Conservative leader David Cameron and disability minister Anne McGuire.

According to the DRC, recent figures show that the number of disabled adults and people with long-term health conditions living in poverty has grown in the past ten years.

“The inequality experienced by disabled people affects us all,” said Mr Massie.

“It stands between this government and the ability to achieve its core ambitions for Britain – despite positive steps in some areas, public policy is in danger of leaving disabled people behind.”

The DRC chairman says that addressing some of the key challenges in public policy – unemployment, child poverty, a lack of skills – means having to consider the circumstances of disabled people.

“Only by putting disability at the heart of public policy can policy succeed today and in the future,” he said.

“But for some reason…public policy makers are not thinking about disability – it’s considered something ‘over there’…something to do with wheelchairs and ramps.”

The DRC points out that four out of ten people who are out of work have disabilities.

It says that the rate of income poverty amongst working-age disabled adults is double that of non-disabled adults and had risen over the past decade.

Expectations

And in addressing the skills shortage facing the UK economy, the DRC points out that a third of people who have no qualifications at all are disabled – a gap which has widened since 1997.

“Successive governments have failed to break the culture of low expectations that holds disabled people back – including the present administration,” said Mr Massie said in his speech.

“There is a lazy fatalism that too often shapes the perceptions that politicians have of disabled people.”

Mr Massie said the failure to address disability stood between the government and its own targets.

As examples, Mr Massie cited:

The introduction of phonics in literacy teaching which takes no account of deaf children

The steep rise in the institutionalisation of people with learning disabilities and mental health problems

The refusal to introduce lifetime homes standards – which would make the housing stock more accessible and more easily adaptable – which fails to consider people’s long-term needs

The issue could be better tackled, he thinks, if perceptions changed.

“Society still tends to come from the point of view that its best response to disability is through, care, welfare and charity rather than extending rights, opportunities and citizenship,” he says.

“Our historic approach to disability has been to institutionalise low expectations of disabled people.”

The government has taken a number of steps since 1997 to reduce the inequalities between disabled and non-disabled people.

Although the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act came into being under a Conservative administration, it has been progressively implemented by Labour governments.

And it was Labour that established the DRC in order to oversee disability rights in the UK.

The 2005 Disability Discrimination Act was passed just before the last general election and further extended the rights of disabled people.

And a year ago the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit published a report – Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People – which set out an ambitious 20 year plan for dealing with inequality and discrimination

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