Why Do We Ignore Disability in International Development?

Why Do We Ignore Disability in International Development?

Today the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, made a speech in support of foreign aid. He defended Government spending in this area and reaffirmed the Liberal Democrats commitment to a 0.7% spend of GDP. His speech was a positive statement on why the UK should continue to support people in the world's poorest countries and indeed we can be proud to be world leaders in this area.

However there is one significant group that seems to forever be a footnote or to receive little attention in international development, and this was once again reflected in the Deputy Prime Minister's speech today.

There are one billion disabled people in the world and around 80% live in developing countries. Often disabled people are the poorest and most disadvantaged in the world. Rarely do disabled people have equal access to basic goods and services and their basic rights are regularly denied which in turn affects the possibility of the economic, political and social integration of them and their families. In fact, of the 57 million children worldwide estimated to still be missing out on school, more than a third are disabled.

Today, the only mention of disabled people, was in praise of Lynne Featherstone MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Development, and her work on accessible education. This is a step forward for disabled people, but there is a lot more that needs to be done. Currently, DFID has no policy or strategy on disability and this is reflected in the small amount of targeted support that disabled people receive.

This begs the question, why have we always ignored disability in international development? Is it because we prefer the easy wins? Problems we can solve with short term outcomes. Or perhaps because we forget about this marginalised group, who are often shut away without a voice? If one billion people who could not access education nor health services all lived in one single country then they not be so easily ignored.

Earlier this year the International Development Select Committee undertook their first every inquiry into disability and development. They heard from a raft of experts including those who support disabled people in emergencies and those who support people with complex disabilities such as deafblindness. Disability isn't a simple issue. Building wheelchair ramps into schools is important, but this is just the start of how the UK Government needs to support disabled people in international development.

The report the committee produced highlights some of DFID's current impressive programmes including a commitment to ensure all school buildings built with DFID funding are designed to be accessible, but it also recognises that a strategy is needed in order to ensure this impetus continues.

A strategy would ensure that support for disabled people is targeted and consistent throughout the countries DFID operates in. In the Committee's report it was highlighted that out of 27 countries in which DFID operates, only two, Afghanistan and Palestine, mention disability in any substantive manner in their strategies. Without clear targets and a definitive framework in place, disability will remain a cinderella service within international development.

During the inquiry Lynne Featherstone MP said that a strategy on disability would be too much paperwork. This is unfortunate and appears to be a flippant dismissal of something very necessary. I fear that without a clear strategy, the rights and needs of disabled people will continue to be overlooked in the UK's international aid. It is now a matter for DFID to decide which of the Committee's thorough recommendations it will adopt and they are due to report back in the near future.

Whilst Nick Clegg's speech was a welcome commitment to UK aid, we need to see disability taking a lead in the debate. We are going seriously wrong if we aren't supporting the people that need it the most with our aid efforts.


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