My Lords, the Global Disability Summit in July was co-hosted in London by DfID, the Kenyan Government and the International Disability Alliance. It marked the first time that the humanitarian and development sectors had come together formally to plan action on making aid more inclusive of people living with disabilities. More than 800 delegates from Governments, civil society and the private sector attended and discussed four broad themes: addressing stigma; supporting inclusive education; promoting economic empowerment; and the importance of the effective use of technology and the reasons for providing better access to it. Of course the summit was important, but we can judge how important it was only when we consider the global challenge faced by people with disabilities and how effective the results of the summit prove to be.
On Monday last week, DfID again showed welcome leadership on the issue by taking the further step of publishing DfID’s Strategy for Disability Inclusive Development 2018-23 to establish the ground rules for the UK’s fulfilment of pledges made at the summit. It sets out a renewed vision of disability-inclusive development. My right honourable friend Penny Mordaunt, the Secretary of State, made clear the scale of the challenge when she said:
“One billion of the world’s population have a disability, with an estimated 80% of people with disabilities living in developing countries”.
They are one of the hardest groups to reach. They often face exclusion by their communities or even their families, which limits their voice, choice and control over their own lives. Too often, international aid does not reach them. Too often, they are not involved in decision-making processes about the delivery of policies that should assist them.
Penny Mordaunt recognised that the UK and the world as a whole have made far too little progress in tackling the root causes of the stigma, discrimination and abuse that hold back those who live with disabilities. She committed the UK to raise our efforts and be more accountable for them. The new disability strategy therefore focuses on four strategic pillars of action: social protection, routes to economic empowerment, humanitarian action to strengthen inclusive humanitarian approaches and inclusive education.
I have a few questions for the Minister that follow on both from DfID’s commitments made at the summit and the publication of the strategy last week. At the summit, DfID said the UK would set up, fund and lead the new inclusive education initiative that is to become operational next year. What progress has been made on that? Is the Minister still optimistic that tangible results should be delivered before 2021? More substantively, when will DfID set out clearly how it will implement the strategy for disability-inclusive development in the long term? The importance will be in that detail.
How will DfID measure change in the lives of people with disabilities, and by when? Will the strategy encompass a whole-of-government effort? For example, has DfID had discussions with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the principles underlying the strategy and the implications for FCO procedures in awarding its grants to NGOs for overseas projects?
I have witnessed the delivery of outstanding work by projects overseas funded by both DfID and the FCO in my travels as a Minister and as a Back-Bencher, and I admire the work of our diplomats and DfID officials, often in areas where the security environment is highly challenging—countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq or South Sudan. However, I am all too aware that there is often an assumption in government, here and around the world, that development policies and programmes targeting extreme poverty will automatically include people with disabilities. It is becoming clear that this is not always the case. They can be routinely excluded from development and its benefits. Too often, disabled people are invisible from official statistics, left out and, as a consequence, disempowered in society.
I am one of the co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Street Children and therefore have a particular concern for street-connected children living with disabilities. They are visible on the streets but usually invisible from official statistics. They have increased vulnerability to violence, abuse and exploitation; more difficulty in overcoming the barriers to accessing services for their welfare and protection; and are more vulnerable to the harms that can be caused by institutionalisation. How will DfID ensure that its strategy addresses the needs of street-connected children with disabilities?
I appreciate that unless data is disaggregated it is difficult to learn how best to target resources and ensure that people with disabilities are not overlooked. This issue was raised frequently at the Commission on the Status of Women, which I attended in New York earlier this year. I therefore welcome the UK’s commitment, in section E of DfID’s form for submitting pledges at the summit, published online on
“DFID’s Inclusive Data Charter Action Plan will be finalised and launched in autumn 2018”.
On rather a chilly day in December, I ask my noble friend: what progress has been made and what lessons have been learned in preparation for that? I also welcome DfID’s commitment, published on
“Working alongside our co-host, the International Disability Alliance (IDA), we will soon be publishing a new global tracker on the IDA website to ensure we all deliver on the promises made”.
What progress has been made on that matter?
I am grateful to those who have provided briefing for this short debate: Sightsavers, our redoubtable House of Lords Library and the Conservative Friends of International Development, whose founder, my noble friend Lady Jenkin, is taking part in our debate today. I very much look forward to hearing the contributions of all noble Lords around the House. It is only by working together that we can make sure that people living with disabilities around the world see positive changes in their lives.
I welcome the leadership that has been so clearly shown by DfID. The strategy is an important symbolic step, but symbols need to be turned into reality. We must ensure that the global political movement created by the summit is not lost if we are to meet the goals of the SDGs. As my right honourable friend Penny Mordaunt said, now is the time to turn those ideas into action—and how.