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Disability Action Plan welcome but lacks focus on key issues, say campaigners

Parts of a new action plan to improve the lives of disabled people have been welcomed but campaigners criticised a lack of focus on cost of living, employment and social care support.

The Government has announced a 32-point Disability Action Plan including efforts to make playgrounds more accessible, better support for people who have assistance guide dogs and help for aspiring disabled politicians.

Mims Davies, minister for disabled people, health and work said the plan aimed to “improve the daily lives of disabled people”.

Mims Davies, minister for disabled people, health and work, announced the Disability Action Plan (Roger Harris/UK Parliament/PA)
Minister for disabled people, health and work Mims Davies said the Government’s ‘clear focus’ was on improving disabled people’s daily lives (Roger Harris/UK Parliament/PA)

Steps included committing to provide British Sign Language interpretation for Government press conferences and briefings from spring 2024 onwards, a new fund to support disabled people who wanted to be elected to public office and an online information hub for local authorities on creating accessible playgrounds.

A new working group would educate businesses on the legal rights of assistance dog owners, with Government saying this would make it easier to report when people with guide dogs were refused access to a business.

The Government said it was also leading new research into emerging issues affecting disabled people in the UK over the next 20 years.

As part of the plan, the Cabinet Office’s disability unit would work with other Government departments to look into bidding for the UK to host the 2031 Special Olympics World Summer Games.

Campaigners have welcomed parts of the plan, but warned they would be watching to check whether promises were kept on the various steps and noted elements they said were missing.

The Government said the plan sat alongside the National Disability Strategy, which it described as outlining a longer-term vision for transforming disabled people’s lives.

Ms Davies said: “Taken together, the Disability Action Plan and the National Disability Strategy demonstrate this Government’s clear focus on improving disabled people’s daily lives in the here and now, and in the years to come.”

Richard Kramer, chief executive of the national disability charity Sense, said it was a “relief” to see that Government had listened to feedback on the plan and “created more ambitious proposals than previously published” but added that “the proof, as always, will be in the pudding”.

He said key issues such as the rising cost of living, challenges with the benefits system and an ongoing social care “crisis” were of utmost importance in the lives of disabled people and warned these “require long-term solutions”.

He said: “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.”

Jackie O’Sullivan, acting chief executive at learning disability charity Mencap, said the plan showed “encouraging steps forward” but added that it “is unlikely to bring about the change people with a learning disability need from our government”.

The charity said the positive steps contained in the plan “do not address the most pressing issues for people with a learning disability: access to social care, healthcare, employment and cost-of-living support”.

Mel Merritt, from the National Autistic Society, also welcomed parts of the plan but said it was “limited in scope and fails to address the key issues that autistic people face in society”.

Stephen Kingdom, campaign manager of the Disabled Children’s Partnership, said it welcomed some elements of the plan such as increasing the accessibility of playgrounds.

But he added: “However, the plan doesn’t amount to a complete strategy to address the systemic failures for disabled children and young people.”

Labour echoed calls for more to be done to help disabled people with rising living costs, while the SNP called for ministers to scrap “cruel” work capability assessment reforms.

Shadow work and pensions minister Vicky Foxcroft told Parliament: “There is one glaringly obvious issue that this action plan fails to address.

“The top concern for disabled people right now is the cost-of-living crisis, and this is not just my assumption, it is what disabled people are telling me and what charities are finding on the ground.”

Ms Davies reminded the Government’s critics that households on low incomes would receive a £299 cost-of-living payment this month.

The minister also defended reforms on work capability assessment which she said were “not about punitive sanctions”.

She said: “This is not about punitive sanctions, it is about giving disabled people the opportunity to take part in wider daily life that we all take for granted, and this action plan is absolutely about that.”