Disability-inclusive Development - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:24 pm on 13th December 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development 3:24 pm, 13th December 2018

My Lords, I thank all who have taken part in this debate, which has very much brought us together. My noble friend Lady Anelay led it in her characteristic style, with great expertise and knowledge drawn from being a distinguished Minister in the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development. Her ongoing passion has been expressed through the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Street Children. She spoke about people with disabilities being invisible and in the form of statistics.

The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, focused his contribution on the sustainable development goals and the need to make sure that, although there might be explicit references in only five of the 17 goals, there are, through No One Left Behind, implicit references in all of them. My noble friend Lord Holmes reminded us of that great parliamentary moment, which I think will go down in history, when Secretary of State Penny Mordaunt was the first to announce the disability summit in British Sign Language at the Dispatch Box. He also spoke about how technology, far from creating barriers, can remove barriers and create great inclusion. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, spoke about access to education by women and girls, particularly in conflict situations. My noble friend Lord Shinkwin talked about the disability strategy having a clear sense of purpose and urgency, bringing people together.

My noble friend Lord McColl reminded us to approach all our dealings, strategies and actions with a sense of humility. He reminded us of the struggles that we went through to provide a decent service for people with disabilities as recently as the 1980s. My first job in government was in 1993 when I was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Minister for Disabled Persons, Nicholas Scott. Some of the work that we did then paved the way for the Disability Discrimination Act, which was ground-breaking legislation. On a personal note, that Act and the Modern Slavery Act are probably the two pieces of legislation that I am most proud of being associated with.

My noble friend Lady Jenkin, who has done extensive work in promoting female involvement in our democratic processes, reminded us of the Voice & Vote exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall organised by Sightsavers. In democracies, exercising a vote and standing for election are very powerful ways in which people can become visible and ensure that their needs are addressed fully.

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, made a very profound point, saying that it was important to get better at involving people with disabilities in driving forward these changes, both in DfID operations and in programme delivery in-country. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about how education was critical in giving people a pathway out of poverty. However, people with disabilities are the most excluded of all groups from that important right, and that needs to be addressed.

My challenge in the remaining eight minutes is to respond to 22 questions and to read the speech that has been prepared. I should say to my noble friend Lord McColl that since the 1980s the nature of the Civil Service has changed dramatically, particularly in the Department for International Development. They are very much focused on the “service” part of their title.

There are an estimated 1 billion people with a disability worldwide—that is, 15% of the global population—yet people with disabilities and their families are still poorer than people without disabilities in every social and economic area. My noble friend Lady Anelay reminded us that during the UK Government’s first ever Global Disability Summit in July 2018, which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and many others were party to, the world promised to do more for disabilities. The Secretary of State for International Development—the former Minister for Disabled Persons and currently the Minister for Women and Equalities across government —said that the UK will take a lead in working towards a fairer world in which no one is left behind. At DfID we have been working diligently on this and have already met a significant number of the commitments that we made at the summit. Over 170 Governments made commitments, and civil society and private sector organisations made new global and national commitments at the summit, with over 320 organisations signing our Charter for Change.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned the importance of civil society, particularly trade unions, in raising the issue of increased access for those with disabilities. We must work together with our partners and hold each other to account and, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Anelay and Lady Thomas, reminded us, learn from one another. Alone, we cannot achieve our vision of a world where all people with disabilities are engaged, empowered and able to access and enjoy their rights on an equal basis, but, together, we can. Unless all truly put disability inclusion at the heart of everything they do, we will not eradicate poverty and deliver on the sustainable development goals, as the noble Lord, Lord McColl, mentioned, or uphold and implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and others. That is why the new disability inclusion strategy, which my noble friend Lord Shinkwin, referred to, lays out how we can raise our ambition beyond the summit and build on our achievements to date.

The strategy identifies four thematic areas where DfID can make a significant difference and where we will focus our work. The first is ensuring that all children with disabilities can access high-quality education—my noble friend Lord Shinkwin gave some powerful personal testimonies as to how things were in this country not so long ago, while the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, urged us to take more action in that regard. The second area is working with other Governments to ensure that social protection systems, referred to by my noble friend Lady Jenkin, are inclusive of people with disabilities and their families. Thirdly, we should ensure that people with disabilities have access to economic opportunities, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned. Finally, we must promote a fully inclusive humanitarian response in conflict situations, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas.

The strategy highlights three cross-cutting themes that will run through our work. The first is tackling stigma—the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, gave testimony in relation to Pakistan, and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, spoke of his personal experience in his work with DeafKidz International, an organisation that I have visited and am enormously impressed by. The second theme is empowering women and girls and, the third, enabling access to life-changing technology, of which my noble friend Lord Holmes reminded us. I pay tribute to the work of my noble friend through the Global Disability Innovation Hub and share his pride at the worldwide legacy of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games. We have also committed to step up our efforts on mental health and psychosocial disabilities, an area that has been seriously neglected by the international community for too long.

Let me try to answer as many of the specific questions asked in the debate as possible. My noble friend Lord Shinkwin asked about education. We will support millions of children with disabilities out of school and are delivering targeted interventions to improve learning outcomes. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, asked about conflict situations in Somalia. Our office in Somalia is developing an action plan on disability inclusion. It will do more to get reliable and comparable data on disability and push its partners to prioritise the issue. The noble Baroness talked also about women’s and girls’ access to education. We are committed to supporting women and girls with disabilities who are marginalised both for their gender and their disability. The Girls’ Education Challenge has supported 40,000 girls with disability into education and we will continue that work.

My noble friend Lord Holmes asked how we could make greater use of technology. Access to appropriate assistive technologies such as wheelchairs, prosthetics, hearing aids and glasses—mentioned also by my noble friend Lord McColl—is a key enabler and can be transformative. We have now launched with the Global Disability Hub the AT 2030 programme, which we hope will take action towards that end. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, asked whether we could assist countries to integrate the disability strategy into their own policies. Across the department, every country team will be expected to meet a set of standards by the end of 2019, including standards on leadership, engagement with disabled people’s organisations, influencing programmes on collecting data and shaping systemic reform.

My noble friend Lady Anelay asked what progress had been made on the global tracker on the International Disability Alliance website. A database of all commitments made at the summit is being developed on the IDA website, to be launched early next year. The “one year on” report is looking at initial progress made against the commitments and will be published later in 2019. My noble friend asked about progress on disaggregation of data. Key international partners made commitments at the summit to collect and use disaggregated data. For instance, the World Bank committed to include the Washington Group’s short set of questions for disability aggregation in at least 12 countries, with the upcoming household surveys reporting back to the bank by 2020. My noble friend asked what measures we were taking to ensure that the strategy addressed the needs of street children. Street children are among the most vulnerable people in the world. We have said that we will intensify our commitments to protect them. Our support around the world helps us develop systems, services and policies to that end.

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, asked how many disabled people were employed by DfID. As part of the disability strategy, we have committed to increasing the attraction, retention and career progression of people with disabilities within DfID. One of our aims is to ensure that our workforce reflects the proportion of disabled people within the wider UK population. It is not compulsory for staff to declare that they have a disability. In September 2018, about 9% of staff within DfID confirmed to us that they had a disability. Our aim is to reach 12% in the next few years.

My noble friend Lord McColl asked how we were leading the way as an example to developing countries. We have some of the strongest equalities legislation in the world, including the Equality Act 2010, which my noble friend Lady Jenkin also referred to. The Government do not limit themselves to upholding the rights of disabled people in the UK; they champion disability rights across the world.

With my 12 minutes up, I thank again my noble friend Lady Anelay for leading a powerful and persuasive debate which, in this week of all weeks, has brought all sides of this House and all persons in it together.