Social Justice

Tories unveil plan to make UK 'most accessible place in the world' – but does it go far enough?

'It doesn't matter how accessible you make the country if disabled people can't even survive the winter,' a disability activist said

disability

The government wants to make the country more accessible - but can it succeed with this plan? Image: Unsplash

The Conservative government has unveiled its Disability Action Plan to make the UK the “most accessible country in the world”, but campaigners have said that the “proof will be in the pudding”.

The measures in the 32-point plan include online resources to make accessible playgrounds, helping disabled people get into elected office, protecting people with guide dogs from being illegally refused entry to businesses, and to explore hosting the 2031 Special Olympics World Summer Games.

Mims Davies, the minister for disabled people, health and work, claimed: “We are building on this government’s really strong track record of supporting and delivering for disabled people by using their key feedback to deliver vital, everyday changes to their lives and we have listened to their asks and are truly determined to deliver on them.

“This new wide-ranging plan means disabled children can rightly enjoy the fun of the playground, disabled customers can use the services they’re entitled to and businesses who break laws around assistance dogs will be firmly held to account among other impactful changes.

“I look forward to seeing the immediate impact of the Disability Action Plan while we deliver on long-term reforms to make this country the most accessible and importantly equal place to live in the world – so everyone can live their lives to the full and thrive.”

But it comes amid significant criticism of the government around disability rights. Ministers have repeatedly pushed for people to be driven into work, leading to fears around what that might mean for disabled people and those with mental health conditions.

The government has a £2.5bn Back to Work Plan which is intended to “help thousands more disabled people and people with health conditions to start and thrive in work”, although campaigners feel it will drive people into unsuitable work and exacerbate poor health.

Rachel Charlton-Dailey, a disability activist and journalist, posted on X: “It doesn’t matter how accessible you make the country if disabled people can’t even survive the winter.

“There’s literally nothing on how they’ll help to make work more accessible for disabled people.”

Nil Guzelgun, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, said: “The Disability Action Plan as nowhere near ambitious enough and needs to take real action on impact of the cost of living crisis on disabled people. We are pleased that the plan focusses on the impact of the rising living costs on disabled people.

“Two years into a devastating cost of living crisis, many people with mental health problems are still struggling to put food on the table, wash themselves, and heat their homes. With cost of living payments due to run out in spring 2024, and no sign that prices will return to pre-pandemic levels any time soon, the recognition the recognition of the need to understand the cost of living for disabled people is welcomed’. 

“However, despite this recognition of the financial challenges disabled people face, we’re concerned that employment as an issue is entirely missing from the plan. This is particularly worrying as the UK government is pushing for more disabled people to be back in work. It’s vital that the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people is closed and we want to see ambitious new targets in this area.”

Richard Kramer, chief executive of the national disability charity Sense, said: “While it’s a relief to see government has listened to the feedback on its Disability Action Plan and created more ambitious proposals than previously published, the proof, as always, will be in the pudding. The government has set itself six and 12-month reporting milestones, and Sense will be monitoring these carefully to see if the plan turns into actions.

“The plan contains many positive proposals including the commitments to measure the effectiveness of policies for disabled people and to ensure British Sign Language interpretation for Downing Street briefings.

“But we also know from our research that the issues that matter the most to disabled people include pressures from the increasing cost of living, challenges with the benefits system and the ongoing social care crisis. These require long-term solutions to create a just society for disabled people. In a year where we will be heading to the polls, we hope to see all parties commit to creating the bold changes disabled people desperately need.”



A spokesperson for Scope said: “This plan includes some positive short-term actions. But it needs to be properly resourced if it’s to improve the day-to-day lives of disabled people.

“In the long term, new approaches are urgently needed. Disabled people are too often marginalised. Whether it’s at work, navigating public services, or when bearing the brunt of the cost of living crisis.

“This plan doesn’t exist in a vacuum, either. The government has spent much of the last year making disabled people’s lives harder. Whether it’s failing to grasp the scale and impact of the cost of living crisis or making the benefits system even more hostile. This must change.

“Ensuring this plan delivers the impact it needs to have will require commitment across government. We will keep holding the government to account to make sure the plan lives up to its promises. Disabled people can’t afford to be let down again.”

James Taylor, the executive director of campaigns, communications and strategy at Scope, added: “Some positives on playgrounds and funding for disabled candidates (from 2025?!?) Missing anything on work, rising prices or welfare. You know, actual big issues.”

Laura Cockram, Head of Campaigns at Parkinson’s UK, said: “While we welcome that the government plans to address negative attitudes towards disabled people, the plan does not address the most dire issues that people living with long-term health conditions, like Parkinson’s, face.

“Based on feedback from people living with the condition, the issues that matter most to them include financial pressures from the cost of living crisis and a failing benefits system, the lack of employment support and opportunities to access work (if they’re able), a lack of access to disabled facilities grants, and issues receiving Blue Badges and using public transport.

“These issues need to be addressed if the government wants to truly ‘improve disabled people’s lives’ as outlined in the Disability Action Plan, and Parkinson’s UK is keen to work with the government to improve life for people living with the condition.”

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