Over the past few weeks the International Development Select Committee has been holding their first inquiry into disability and development and this culminated this week with Lynne Featherstone MP, parliamentary under secretary of state for development, giving evidence to the committee.
This inquiry is a unique opportunity for the Department for International Development (DfID) to take an in-depth look at the issues surrounding disability and development. The link between extreme poverty and disability is clear, and the government must acknowledge that without addressing the needs of disabled people they are preventing some of the poorest people in the world benefiting from international development. Currently DfID has no policy or strategy on disability.
15% of the world's population are disabled and a great many of these people live in developing countries. One key element of this problem, which has been recognised by DfID, is the data deficit and the lack of statistical information on disability and development. Hence frequently the debate stops here. Globally, governments keep very few records on prevalence of disability and the unmet demand and equally, the UK government aren't keeping records or monitoring if disabled people are benefiting from its development programmes. We simply don't know if large scale aid efforts are reaching disabled people at all and this is a big omission from the UK's aid efforts.
However, we have seen some commitment from the government in this area and Lynne Featherstone has led the way in drawing attention to the issue of disability and development. Last year DfID pledged that all schools that it funded would have disabled access. And whilst this should be welcomed, it seems hard to believe that as a world leader in international development we got to 2013 without making this commitment.
Disability and development isn't an easy area to tackle. Sense International supports deafblind children and their families and one of the challenges that we often face is identifying and finding deafblind children. They will often be shut away from their local communities, having received no formal education and little healthcare. Actually finding these children and making sure that they can benefit from international development programmes can be extremely difficult and this is not just limited to deafblindness but other disabilities as well. This is why disability must have its own strategy and be given specialist support. Disabled people have unique needs and we cannot expect this group to just be absorbed in general aid or international development programmes. Instead we must provide targeted support that benefits this vulnerable and often forgotten group.
The inquiry has heard from a number of experts from a wide range of NGO's including Sense International representative for Kenya Edwin Osundwa who spoke about his experiences working with deafblind children in East Africa. I hope that the information the committee has been provided with will help them in making key recommendations for DfID and more importantly that these recommendations will be implemented by the government.