Opinion

Tories want to make UK better for disabled people. It counts for nothing if we can't survive winter

The Disability Action Plan is just another way for the government to act like they care about us while doing anything tangible to improve our lives

spring budget/ disabled people

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This week saw the much-anticipated launch of the government’s Disability Action Plan. The plan delivered jointly by the Department for Works and Pensions and The Disability Unit is about “making this country the most accessible place in the world for disabled people to live, work and thrive,” apparently.  

This is almost laughable when you consider that for the last year at least the Tories, and especially the DWP, has seemed committed to this fresh wave of demonising disabled people and trying to restrict our support. 

So let’s look at the plan, which the (junior) minister for disabled people Mims Davies boasted in her announcement “sets out 32 measures which will help improve the daily lives of disabled people.” Yet to me, the whole plan lacked tangible actions beyond looking into and highlighting the need for better support for disabled people.  

I don’t think this should be something a government who has been in power for 14 years should need reminding of, unless of course they’re the reason life is so hard for disabled people in the first place.  

There’s a lot that the plan either skims over or completely misses out that would make a real difference to disabled people. There was nothing about access to work, or how they’ll make work more accessible, considering they want to make it the most accessible place to “live, work and thrive”. There was nothing on tackling disability hate crime and the attitudes against disabled people, though I suppose the call would be coming from inside the house on that one. Apart from a tiny section on the cost of living crisis, there was no real plan to help us survive the winter and it didn’t even touch on benefits.  

There was nothing on accessible social housing, social care, accessible transport, or urban planning that would actually make the country accessible and our lives easier. As campaigner Katie Pennick put it on Twitter “nothing, nothing nothing”. 

So what was actually in it? Well there’s a big focus on getting disabled people into elected office, which is great because obviously we need more representation, but I wouldn’t say it’s in any way a priority to most disabled people. The actions to reinstate the fund also wouldn’t come into play until 2025, after this year’s still unannounced election, so it’s not an immediate solution, which the action plan is supposed to provide. It also wouldn’t need to happen at all if the government hadn’t scrapped the Access to Elected Office Fund in 2020. 

There’s also the plan to include BSL interpreters in Downing Street briefings, but I feel like this is something we should’ve already had. They can’t swoop in four years into a pandemic where most deaths have been disabled people and try and make themselves the heroes on this one when most other governments started doing it at least four years ago. 

There’s been a lot of boasting about their plans to stop access refusals of guide dogs, but we already have laws that are supposed to stop refusals. Instead of more awareness and making disabled people do the educating again, we need to force organisations to adhere to the laws that already exist. There’s also loads around making businesses more accessible but again this seems to be a ‘purple pound’-style scheme which will benefit businesses and make them look good more than helping actual disabled people.  

Two other huge priorities are helping families with disabled children and accessible playgrounds. In theory these are great, but there’s no funding attached to any of the plans to enhance awareness of disabled kids and young carers or support for the families and schools, so again its just an empty promise. The accessible playground action points are again giving councils information, with no funding involved. When councils are already struggling I can’t see how these can be implemented.  

It’s all well and good helping disabled kids (although they barely are), but disabled kids hopefully will grow into disabled adults, who the Tories spend most of their time demonising and refusing to support. 

I fail to see how most of these things will actually help disabled people in the short term. To me the Disability Action Plan is just another way for the government to act like they care about us while doing anything tangible to improve our lives. They can boast all they want about making Britain the most accessible place for disabled people, but that counts for nothing if disabled people can’t even survive the winter. 

Rachel Charlton-Dailey is an award-winning disability rights journalist, author, speaker and activist.

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