Disability-inclusive Development - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:57 pm on 13th December 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Thomas of Winchester Baroness Thomas of Winchester Liberal Democrat 2:57 pm, 13th December 2018

My Lords, I salute the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for securing this short debate on a very important subject which I fear has not made the headlines that it deserves—in this country, anyway. However, those of us who live in the disability landscape are used to comparative invisibility. It is very good for us here to lift our eyes from our travails for once to look outwards to the wider world, where we see millions of disabled people far worse off than we are.

I also pay tribute to the Secretary of State for this ground-breaking initiative. Formerly, she was Minister of State for Disabled People, a role that meant our paths often crossed. I am sure her experience in that department influenced her thinking on the global stage.

The strategy is right to emphasise the importance of access to education, particularly that of women and girls, which is not seen as important everywhere, even if a woman is not disabled. I spoke to Noshila in Pakistan on Sunday, who told me that women’s education, particularly in rural areas, could not be taken for granted, meaning that those who are widows or disabled struggled to earn any money. Because all disabled people find it so difficult to get jobs, some questioned why they should go to school, let alone university. She said that the whole mindset had to change.

I also had an interesting conversation with Rabia in Pakistan, who is almost blind. She is 25 and has a degree in international relations, but is finding it very difficult to get a job. Getting about is obviously a challenge for her. Dogs, even guide dogs for blind people, are not looked on favourably in Pakistan and I am told that even walking down the street with a white stick is sometimes ridiculed. I asked Rabia if she ever saw people using wheelchairs; she replied that this was uncommon. In any case, there is an acute shortage of wheelchairs in Pakistan, and many roads are too rutted for them. Interestingly, there is a jobs quota for companies in Pakistan to employ disabled people, which has recently been raised from 2% to 3%, but it is not enforced. We here know all about the question of no enforcement.

Turning briefly to the humanitarian context, this will be particularly important in war-torn countries such as Somalia. Perhaps the Minister might write to me about that, particularly the Garasbaley Community Development Organization, a self-help group in Mogadishu, which is doing great work. There must be hundreds of young people with disabilities as a result of the conflict there.

It is absolutely crucial that disabled people themselves must be involved at every stage. “Nothing about us without us” will not sound so poetic in other languages, but the sentiment should always be attempted and we must not think that we have all the answers. We should be eager to learn from other countries, where disabled people have to be far more creative in finding ways to live with a disability that we have to be, simply because there is no alternative.

As a newcomer to DfID, I am struck by its soaring rhetoric, although I am not sure about the image conjured up by “taking concrete leaps forward”. I see that there is to be DfID-wide disability inclusion delivery board and I make a plea that disabled people should not just be represented on it, but will be members of it.