The National Disability Strategy was published in July 2021, it is a cross-government strategy to improve the lives of disabled people.

In January 2022, the High Court ruled the strategy unlawful, based on a case brought by four disabled people in relation to the consultation process. The Government has applied for permission to appeal. In June 2022, the Government announced it intends to pause parts of the strategy while the legal case is pursued.

What’s in the strategy?

The National Disability Strategy was informed by the UK Government’s Disability Survey, which ran from January to April 2021,  engagement with disability stakeholders, some disabled people, academics, charities and think tanks.

The strategy is UK-wide but individual policies vary across the nations. For details of the devolved strategies please the Library briefing, Disability strategies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It is split into three parts. Overall, it aims to address difficulties people with disabilities face daily, including:

  • Living in a home not adapted to their needs.
  • Difficulty accessing the transport network to get out and about.
  • Difficulty navigating inaccessible and inflexible workplaces or education settings.
  • Facing limited choice and additional expense when shopping for goods and services.
  • Unresponsive and fragmented public services that don’t meet their needs.
  • Feeling excluded from leisure opportunities and socialising.
  • Finding themselves barred from exercising rights, such as voting and serving on a jury.

The first part (Part 1: practical steps now to improve disabled people’s everyday lives) sets out immediate actions the Government will take under the following headings:

  1. Rights and perceptions: removing barriers to participating fully in public and civic life and wider society
  2. Housing: creating more accessible, adapted and safer homes
  3. Transport: improving the accessibility and experience of everyday journeys
  4. Jobs: making the world of work more inclusive and accessible
  5. Education: ensuring children and young people fulfil their potential
  6. Shopping: more consumer choice and convenience
  7. Leisure: widening access to arts, culture, sport and the great outdoors
  8. Public services: making access as smooth and easy as possible

 The second part (Part 2: disabled people’s everyday experience at the heart of government policy making and service delivery) deals with longer term structural change to the way Government works with, and for, disabled people by:

  • Putting disabled people at the “heart of government policy making and service delivery”
  • Tracking progress

Part three (Part 3: a cross-government effort to transform disabled people’s everyday lives) sets out each government department’s commitments.

Many of the commitments rely on other Government work, including:

How was the strategy received?

The response has been mixed. The concept of having a cross-departmental Government strategy was generally welcomed. The last strategy, Fulfilling Potential: improving the lives of disabled people, had not been updated for many years.

There were positive comments on the description of inequalities experienced by disabled people and on some of the Government’s plans. The disability equality charity, Scope, said in a press release there were “promising” areas: “such as the commitment to get companies reporting on disability figures in the workplace, the creation of an accessible technology centre, action to improve public transport, and a taskforce to look at the extra costs that disabled people face.”

However, critical commentary said the strategy’s content was not new. The Disability News Service said: “Many of the ‘practical actions’ have already been announced, amount to nothing more than updated guidance, or are subject to further consultation, discussion or review”.

Criticism also focused on a lack of detail about commitments, targets and funding. Disability Rights UK CEO, Kamran Mallick said the strategy was “disappointingly thin” in relation to immediate action, medium-term plans and longer-term investment. He called for radical plans: 

The Strategy has insufficient concrete measures to address the current inequalities that Disabled people experience in living standards and life chances.

There are scant plans and timescales on how to bring about vastly needed improvements to benefits, housing, social care, jobs, education, transport, and equitable access to wider society.

While we welcome the Government’s recognition that Disabled people are much less likely than non-Disabled people to have a job, qualifications, to own a home, or to live in an accessible home, we haven’t been given the bold plans that will fix these huge issues.

A vision is not enough. Admitting change won’t happen ‘overnight’ isn’t enough. We need radical plans, timescales, and deep financial investment to make change a reality.

Strategy declared unlawful

After its publication, four disabled people took the DWP to court for failing to conduct a proper consultation process. They argued the UK Disability Survey of spring 2021 did not meet the standards required for a government consultation, as it didn’t give respondents an opportunity to shape the strategy. Respondents were asked only to respond to specific questions.

On 25 January 2022, the High Court’s judgment in R(Binder & Others) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions declared the strategy to be unlawful due to failures in the consultation process.

The following week, the DWP was refused an opportunity to appeal against the High Court’s ruling. The High Court confirmed the whole strategy was unlawful, not just the consultation.

On 13 June 2022, Chloe Smith, then-Minister for Disabled People, updated parliament. She said the Government had applied for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal and in the meantime, some of the policies in the strategy were paused.

 In September 2022 a parliamentary question, PQ47712 asked which policies had been paused. Chloe Smith said 14 policies of the 100+ in the strategy were affected:

  • BEIS will publish proposals to ensure that every disabled person who wants to start a business has the opportunity to do so.
  • BEIS and the Cabinet Office will set up an Extra Costs Taskforce, bringing together disabled people, regulators and businesses, to better understand the extra costs faced by disabled people, including how this breaks down for different impairments – by summer 2022.
  • DWP will work with the Disability Confident Professional Advisers Group (PAG) and the Business Leaders Group this year to review and strengthen levels 2 and 3 of the scheme, to support employers to increase disabled people’s employment opportunities.
  • DCMS will build the evidence base about the nature and scale of the inaccessibility of private sector websites, and explore how the government can effectively intervene including possible legislative options.
  • MOD will explore how to increase opportunities for disabled people to serve as part of the Armed Forces reserves by the end of 2023, including guaranteeing interviews for disabled reservists who meet the minimum requirements when recruiting for those roles.
  • DHSC will establish a new disability data working group in 2021 to look at health and social care datasets and address priority areas where there are gaps in the data.
  • DU will publish an annual report which summarises the progress we have made in implementing the strategy.
  • DU will oversee the implementation of the 5 elements featured in the strategy and report on progress.
  • By summer 2022 the Disability Unit will publish, following engagement with disabled people, a set of indicators and a dashboard to track the impact of the National Disability Strategy.
  • DU will review the way the UK government engages with disabled people, in discussion with disabled people, disabled people’s organisations and charities.
  • The Disability Unit will invest up to £1 million in 2021 to 2022 to develop a new Centre for Assistive and Accessible Technology, reporting on progress by summer 2022.
  • Cabinet Office will consult on workforce reporting on disability for large employers, exploring voluntary and mandated workplace transparency, and publish a set of next steps.
  • Cabinet Office will appoint a Disability Crown Representative to help unlock the innovation and economic benefits of disability inclusion through the government’s commercial activities.
  • Cabinet Office will consider how we can best support those standing for public office and those who hold public office.

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