Positive first steps but a long way to go: Parliamentary Inquiry into DFID’s work on disability

Author:Rachel Aston
Posted on: Friday, 1st March, 2019

The Parliamentary International Development Committee (IDC) is considering evidence from a number of stakeholders, including CBM UK, about the Department for International Development’s (DFID) work on disability. This provides a valuable opportunity to evaluate and improve the way that UK aid and development efforts include people with disability, so CBM UK submitted a detailed report to the IDC based on our experience of implementing disability-inclusive development programmes around the world. This blog sets out some of the key points in our submission.

Launched in December 2018, the Inquiry came hot on the heels of DFID’s new Disability Strategy, also launched in December, and six months after the Global Disability Summit. It seeks to identify whether the Strategy and the Summit commitments are sufficient to deliver disability-inclusive development, whether DFID is spending enough on disability and has the necessary expertise, and whether people with disabilities are being sufficiently consulted.

CBM UK welcomes the Strategy and particularly the inclusion of some key areas that our work around the world has found needs further attention. For example, we were pleased to see the Strategy’s focus on mental health and psychosocial disabilities and it is refreshing to read a government document that says it will ‘challenge and change unequal power relations between men and women’ and ‘systematically tak[e] a gender and disability inclusive lens to all our work to redress power imbalances and promote the rights of people with disabilities’.

We are reassured to see the Strategy’s cross-cutting focus on women and girls and the policy coherence with DFID’s Strategic vision on Women and Girls; but there is considerable work for the UK to do in its international advocacy efforts, in light of the vague commitments to women and girls with disabilities made at the Global Disability Summit.

CBM has seen that people with disabilities are among those most affected by disasters and least likely to be able to access humanitarian aid. So DFID’s focus on people with disabilities in humanitarian settings is also hugely encouraging and timely, and CBM’s experience has been that the UK is one of the most proactive donors in furthering disability-inclusion in this space.

That the Strategy is not a new vision but a description of mostly existing work creates a sense of missed opportunity - that DFID could have set out an ambitious vision for the future with challenges to discrimination and exclusion at the deepest levels but instead was directed largely by what lay within the funding pipeline. Noticeably absent are also systematic references to how the Strategy fulfils the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) or the Sustainable Development Goals, which again is a missed opportunity to present the UK’s work on disability as an internationally galvanising force.

Whilst the delivery plan outlines a roadmap for the Strategy, it would be more robust with a greater level of detail, for example how DFID will support partner governments on actions, which specific programmes the deliverables emanate from, and what the budget is.

The Committee’s questions around DFID spending on disability are especially difficult to answer, not just because it is rather arbitrary but also because it is difficult to assess what is being spent throughout DFID’s programme portfolio, especially in relation to mental health – and even more so in relation to its influencing work. Few, we imagine, would say that DFID should spend less on disability, but as important as spending enough is to spend on the right things, including on the twin-track of mainstreaming and disability and impairment specific initiatives; and CBM UK has urged the Government to target its spend towards the poorest, as well as under-invested areas such as mental health. 

As well as ensuring sufficient financial resources, DFID needs to ensure it has the necessary skills and knowledge on disability-inclusion, and we concur with ICAI’s assessment that DFID would benefit from stronger in-house expertise on disability and mental health. Perhaps once the civil service is being less absorbed by Brexit, there may be greater opportunity to expand this capacity.

The voice and views of people with disabilities must be the guiding force behind disability-inclusive development – that “nothing about us without us” is the guiding principle. DFID’s efforts to engage and consult with disabled people and their representative organisations are vital to ensuring this and that the fundamental principles of the Strategy - that people with disabilities are engaged, empowered and able to exercise and enjoy their rights on an equal basis - are realised. Feedback from our DPO partners suggests that whilst consultation occurs, it is, unfortunately, inconsistent and within too short a timeframe. Some groups are regularly left out, such as those with psychosocial, intellectual or multisensory disabilities; whilst others have felt overwhelmed in countries where DFID has multiple programmes and relies on the same groups for consultation. In this respect, there needs to be greater strategic analysis of how DFID’s portfolio impacts local communities and national networks, and consultation on in-country capacity before launching funding for programmes or other initiatives.

To an extent, it is too early to assess the Disability Strategy’s effectiveness, given it is only two months old; and too early to assess the implementation of the Summit commitments, especially as the monitoring and accountability mechanism is not yet in place. However, given that much in the Strategy is based on pre-existing work, as are many of the Summit commitments, the IDC should be able to offer some fair judgement.

At this stage it is also interesting to look back at DFID’s 2000 issues paper Disability, poverty and development to get a greater sense of the Department’s progress on disability inclusion. Clearly, DFID has moved further towards a rights-based approach and away from prevention as the top priority; but at the same time there are messages that could have been written today, such as the ongoing lack of data on disability.  

Overall, the most important recommendations for DFID to take note of are the calls to a) deeply embed understanding of inclusion throughout departmental practice, at central and country level, so that it becomes second nature, and to influence other government departments to do so; and b) to meaningfully consult people with disabilities and their representative organisations in decision making – not just on disability specific programmes but across the board in DFID policy, programme, funding and operational decisions. This, we believe, will enable the UK to be a world leader in delivering disability-inclusive development.

Following a review of written evidence, the IDC will also invite oral evidence at a number of meetings in Parliament and in its final report the Committee will make a number of recommendations to DFID.


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