DFID DISABILITY LEADERSHIP MUST NOT BE DILUTED IN MERGER
Disability rights campaigner, TV presenter and Leonard Cheshire ambassador Sophie Morgan reflects on the progress made since the UK’s first Global Disability Summit.
Two years ago today, I presented the UK’s first Global Disability Summit.
The event in London brought together more than 1000 delegates from governments, donors, private sector organisations, charities, and organisations of persons with disabilities.
Complete with an optimistic hashtag #nowisthetime and a Charter for Change (signed by over 300 governments and organisations) it offered a platform for progress, with the UK government pivotal in ongoing disability development.
Alongside me on stage was then Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt. She called on all of those engaged in development to ‘step-up’ efforts to focus on improving the lives of people with disabilities and in December 2018, DFID published its first ever Disability Inclusion Strategy.
A total of 968 individual commitments were made around four central themes: ensuring dignity and respect for all, inclusive education, routes to economic empowerment, harnessing technology and innovation. Work is reported to be underway on 74% of these and 10% are reported as already completed*, contributing towards an improved and increased visibility of disability inclusion within international development.
The Global Disability Summit was a landmark event and displayed real leadership from the UK.
But the government’s recent announcement in parliament on the merger of the Department for International Aid (DFID) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has cast a shadow over this progress and there’s a mixture of disappointment and bafflement within the international development community.
It was certainly curious timing. Sir Keir Starmer spoke of “the tactics of pure distraction” in the wake of the announcement, coming as it did amid an economic downturn and a staggering death toll from COVID 19.
One hopes the decision — that also contradicted the advice of the cross-party International Development Committee — was not a diversionary tactic.
There are disabled people across the world benefitting from the UK’s strategic aid and this must not be jeopardised by political posturing. The true effects of the global pandemic have yet to be realised in the global south and we must remember that DFID have led the way in ensuring disabled people are included in international development.
I have seen for myself in Kenya where Leonard Cheshire’s DFID funded Girl’s Education Challenge offers hope to thousands of disabled kids. I met the likes of Vanessa Achieng from Kisumu town, who is now starting secondary School with further education aspirations and Vilda Ayieno, studying at Masinde Muliro University with a view to becoming a social worker. I would find it deeply upsetting if such projects were compromised but after fearing the worst when Boris Johnson dismissed overseas aid as “a giant cashpoint in the sky, that arrives without any reference to UK interests”. I am encouraged to hear that work on girl’s education is going to be protected.
As a disabled person, I’m not alone in being at odds with existing government policy. One only has to look at the United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston’s damning verdict on the way policies of austerity have blighted the lives of people with disabilities in the UK.
This naturally makes you doubt that sentiments expressed at the summit in London still fit in 2020 and whether we’ll continue to exhibit strong leadership that outlines synergies with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the wider 2030 Agenda.
But the merger is now a political reality and we are looking for assurances that DFID’s expertise, not to mention their ongoing projects will not simply be digested whole in a trade hungry machination.
We should be proud of the fact that under David Cameron — one of three prime ministers to criticise the merger — the UK became the only G7 nation to follow through on the commitment to ringfence 0.7% of GDP for international aid.
There are many questions to be answered, and I hope the International Development Act of 2002 and its golden thread of poverty reduction still means something and are still perceived as being in the national interest.
And I hope trade does not completely eclipse aid.
*Global Disability Summit — One Year On — Accountability Report September 2019